Political Movements & Theories

The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”

Timothy Sandefur has begun a guest-blogging stint at The Volokh Conspiracy, whence he will regale us with theses from his book, The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty. Sandefur’s first post is “The Conscience of the Constitution: An Introduction.” In it, he writes:

The theme of my book is that the clash of these two conceptions of liberty—the right of the individual to be free, and the alleged right of some people to tell others how they may live—sets the background for understanding many of the most important conflicts in constitutional law. I argue that the central value of the U.S. Constitution is to protect individual liberty—the “sheep’s view” of freedom—and not, as the consensus of today’s lawyers, judges, and law professors seems to hold, the “wolfish” notion that people have a basic right to control the lives of others. I argue that the primacy of liberty was the basic premise of the classical liberalism that lies at the foundation of American constitutional system—that is articulated in the Declaration of Independence—and that ought to guide our interpretation of the nation’s fundamental law. I call this the “conscience” of the Constitution.’

The American founders held that people are inherently free—that is, no person has a basic entitlement to dictate how other people may lead their lives. Although today it’s common for intellectuals to dismiss the notion of natural rights as mysticism or emotionalism, it is actually a sound philosophical position. People are “created equal” in the sense that they possess their own selves (and can’t give them up; hence “inalienability”). Given that initial position of individual freedom, there must be some good reason for limiting freedom.

Let’s start with the easy part: the first sentence of the second-quoted paragraph. Did the founders really hold that people are inherently free? All founders, including slave owners? All people, including slaves? Or did the founders simply want to relocate the seat of power from London to the various State capitals, where local preferences (including anti-libertarian ones) could prevail? Wasn’t that what the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation were mainly about? The Constitution simply moved some of the States’ power toward the national capital, and then mainly to establish uniformity in the conduct of foreign policy and war-making, to eliminate intra-State trade barriers, and to establish a uniform policy with respect to international trade.

On the whole, the original Constitution as amended quickly by the Bill of Rights was largely a “States’ rights” document. Certain individual rights were recognized by the central government, but it was left to the powers-that-be in each State to decide where to draw the line between individual rights and governmental powers. (As an aside I note that the Constitution remained a States’ rights document until the ratification of Amendment XIV. And then, over the decades — and through a combination of legislative, executive, and judicial actions — it became a central-government-powers document, from which much anti-libertarian mischief has emanated.)

In sum, Sandefur’s premise is wrong. The Declaration and Constitution are not libertarian manifestos — as Sandefur, in effect, characterizes them. Despite the rhetoric about “We the People,” “inalienable rights,” “liberty,” and the rest of it, the Declaration and Constitution are about who governs, and about the division of rights and powers between “the people” and government..

The essential problem with Sandefur’s analysis lies in his Manichean approach to rights. In his view, they are either inherent in individual persons or they are granted by government. (He denies the second possibility, of course.) There is a third way, which doesn’t figure in Sandefur’s post (though perhaps he addresses it in the book). The third way is hinted at in the paper by Randy Barnett, “A Law Professor’s Guide to Natural Law and Natural Rights,” to which Sandefur links: “natural rights…. describe how others ought to act towards rights-holders.”

In other words, the thing (for want of a better word) that arises from human nature is not a set of rights that each person “owns”; rather, it is an inclination or imperative to treat others as if they have rights. This idea of being inclined (or compelled) to “act toward” is more plausible than idea that “natural rights” inhere in their holders. It is so because “act toward” suggests that we (most of us) learn that it is a good thing to leave others alone as long as they do no harm to us or mean no harm to us. That is a much more plausible explanation of rights than the claim that rights inhere in individuals as rights-holders.

Given the more plausible view that rights are a matter of “acting toward” others, it should be evident — to all but romanticists of Sandefur’s ilk — that rights are not a priori (“inherent”) but arise from interpersonal bargaining (at best) and governmental edicts (at worst). It cannot be otherwise, for even if human beings are wired to leave others alone as they are left alone, it is evident that they are not wired exclusively in that way. Thus claims about “natural rights” are not only foolish but futile. Rights, inescapably, are a matter of persuasion (at best) and power (at worst, unless the power happens to be on the “right” side).

That said, as Sandefur observes in “Teleology without God,” he and I “agree on the qualities of … rights once their existence is granted.” Specifically, we seem to agree that negative rights are the only rights worthy of the name because only negative rights can be held universally.

Among those of us who agree about the proper scope of rights, should the provenance of those rights matter? I think not. The assertion that there are “natural rights” (“inalienable rights”) makes for resounding rhetoric, but (a) it is often misused in the service of positive rights and (b) it makes no practical difference in a world where power routinely accrues to those who make something-for-nothing promises of positive rights.

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Note: Much of the foregoing is borrowed from “Evolution, Human Nature, and ‘Natural Rights’,” my last entry in an exchange of posts with Sandefur on the subject of rights. He has not, as far as I know, issued a rejoinder.

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Related posts:

These are some of the many posts at this blog which bear on the origins, nature, suppression, and restoration of negative rights:

On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Unreality of Objectivism
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
More about Consequentialism
Atheism, Agnosticism, and Science
Line-Drawing and Liberty
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
Social Justice
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
“We the People” and Big Government
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”

The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”

Here we go again, into “all men are brothers” territory:

“Morality can do things it did not evolve (biologically) to do,” says [Joshua] Greene [author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them]. How can it do this? By switching from the intuitive “automatic mode” that underpins our gut reactions to the calculating, rational “manual mode”. This, for Greene, means embracing utilitarianism, “the native philosophy of the manual mode”. Utilitarianism takes the idea that “happiness is what matters, and everyone’s happiness counts the same”, generating the simple three-word maxim, “maximise happiness impartially”.

Greene is not the first to think that he has found “a universal moral philosophy that members of all human tribes can share” and that those who disagree are simply not being rational enough. Many a philosopher will raise an eyebrow at his claim that “the only truly compelling objection to utilitarianism is that it gets the intuitively wrong answers in certain cases”.

At least one strong objection is suggested by what Greene himself says. He knows full well that the kind of absolutely impartial perspective demanded by utilitarianism – in which the interests of your own child, partner or friends count for no more than any others – “is simply incompatible with the life for which our brains were designed”. Greene takes this as a flaw of human beings, not his preferred moral theory. But when someone, for example, dedicates a book to his wife, as Greene does, this does not reflect a failure to be appropriately objective. A world in which people showed no such preferences would be an inhuman, not an ideal, one. A morality that values human flourishing, as Greene thinks it should, should put our particular attachments at its core, not view them as “species-typical moral limitations” to be overcome.

That’s an excerpt of Julian Baggiani’s commendable review of Greene’s book and two others (“The Social Animal,” FT.com, January 3, 2014).

Greene makes two errors. First, he assumes that it’s wrong to prefer those who are closest to one, geographically and by kinship, to those who are farther away. Second, he assumes that happiness can be added, and that what should matter to a person is not his happiness but the sum of all the happiness in the world. The errors are so obvious that I won’t dwell on them here. If you want to read more about them, start with “Liberalism and Sovereignty,” “Inside-Outside,” “Modern Utilitarianism,” “The Social Welfare Function,” and “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty.” And by all means read “The Fallacy of Human Progress,” which addresses Steven Pinker’s rationalistic thesis about overcoming human nature (The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined).

Yes, human beings are social animals, but human beings are not “brothers under the skin,” and there is no use in pretending that we are. Trying to make us so, by governmental fiat, isn’t only futile but also wasteful and harmful. The futility of forced socialization is as true of the United States — a vast and varied collection of races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures — as it is of the world.

Despite the blatant reality of America’s irreconcilable diversity, American increasingly are being forced to lead their lives according to the dictates of the central government. Some apologists for this state of affairs will refer to the “common good,” which is a fiction that I address in the third, fourth, and fifth of the above-linked posts. Other apologists like to invoke the “social contract,” another fiction that Michael Huemer disposes of quite nicely:

[I]t is often said that the government derives its powers from a “social contract,” whereby the people have granted these special powers to the government. The only problem with this theory is that it is factually false—I have not in fact agreed to have a government, to pay taxes, or to obey the government’s laws.

A number of suggestions have been made as to how, despite my protestations to the contrary, I really have agreed to all those things. Here I will just mention one, because it is the one most often heard in conversation. This is the suggestion that I have “implicitly” agreed to have a government merely by residing in the government’s territory. (“If you don’t want a government, simply move to Antarctica!”) Very briefly, the problem with this suggestion is that it presupposes that the state owns all the territory over which it claims jurisdiction, or that for some other reason it has the right to exclude people from that area. But there is no way to establish such a right on the part of the state, unless one has already shown that the state has legitimate authority. This therefore cannot be presupposed in an argument designed to establish the state’s authority. In this case, the statist’s claim seems analogous to the leader of a protection racket claiming that his victims have voluntarily agreed to pay him protection money, merely by living in their own houses. There are other ways in which social contract enthusiasts claim that we have accepted the social contract, but as I explain in the book, each of them falls to equally serious objections, which show that the social contract does not come close to satisfying the generally accepted principles of real, valid contracts.

Another popular suggestion is that, in democratic nations (about half the world today), the democratic process confers authority on the government. The motivation behind this view is initially puzzling. Recall that the problem is to explain why the state may undertake actions that would be considered rights violations if anyone else were to perform them. Typically, if some type of action violates someone’s rights—for instance, theft, kidnapping, or murder—the action will not be converted into an ethically permissible, non-rights-violating one if a larger number of people support the action than oppose it. If you’re in a group of friends, and five of them decide they want to rob you, while only three oppose robbing you, this does not make it ethically permissible to rob you. Similarly, even if every law were directly authorized by a popular referendum of everyone affected by the law, it is unclear why this would render legitimate a law that would otherwise have been a rights violation. Matters are only more problematic in a society in which a minority of people vote, and they vote merely to select representatives who may or may not keep their promises, and may or may not do what their supporters wanted.

But doesn’t the government have to coerce us in the ways that it does in order to maintain itself in existence, so that it can provide law and order? And without government, wouldn’t society degenerate into a constant war of everyone against everyone? The first thing to note about this argument is that it could at most justify a tiny minority of all the powers claimed by any modern state. Perhaps the government must make laws against violence and theft and provide a court system to adjudicate disputes, in order to prevent a Hobbesian war of all against all. But why must the government control what drugs you may put into your body, what wages you may pay your employees, how much wheat you may grow on your farm, and whether you buy health insurance? Why must they subsidize agribusiness, send rockets to Mars, fund the arts, provide college loans, and run their own school system? The question is not, “Why are those programs beneficial?” The question is, “How are those programs justified by the threat of the Hobbesian war that would supposedly result from anarchy?”

Granted, sometimes it is necessary to use coercion to prevent some disaster from occurring. But having done so, one is not then ethically permitted to continue using coercion beyond the minimal amount necessary to prevent that disaster. If we really stand in danger of some sort of all-out Hobbesian war, then the state would be justified in employing the minimum coercion necessary to prevent the state of war from occurring. This would not justify their continuing to employ coercion whenever it strikes their fancy, or whenever they think they can achieve some benefit by doing so. (“The Problem of Authority,” Cato Unbound, March 4, 2013)

A point that Huemer doesn’t make in his essay is to compare Americans with the “boiling frog“:

The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.

The metaphor is apt. Americans — or a very large fraction of Americans — have been “boiled” stealthily:

Power has been passing to Washington for more than 100 years, in defiance of the Constitution, because of … the Nirvana fallacy, unrepresentative government, logjams and log-rolling, fiefdoms and egos, and the ratchet effect and interest-group paradox. Thus Washington is able to exert its power on the entire country, bringing big government to places that don’t want it….

[G]overnmental acts and decrees have stealthily expanded and centralized government’s power, and in the process have usurped social norms. The expansion and centralization of power occurred in spite of the specific limits placed on the central government by the original Constitution and the Tenth Amendment. These encroachments on liberty are morally illegitimate because their piecemeal adoption has robbed Americans of voice and mooted the exit option. And so, liberty-loving Americans have discovered — too late, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water — that they are impotent captives in their own land.

Voice is now so muted by “settled law” (e.g., “entitlements,” privileged treatment for some, almost-absolute control of commerce) that there a vanishingly small possibility of restoring constitutional government without violence. Exit is now mainly an option for the extremely wealthy among us. (More power to them.) For the rest of us, there is no realistic escape from illegitimate government-made law, given that the rest of the world (with a few distant exceptions) is similarly corrupt. (“‘We the People’ and Big Government,” Politics & Prosperity, November 16, 2013)

And, no, “we” — that is all of “us” — don’t want it to be that way:

If there is an “American psyche,” it has multiple-personality disorder.

What do you think when a snobbish European generalizes about Americans — a bunch of crude, gun-toting, money-grubbers? Do you think that such generalizations are correct? You probably don’t. And if you don’t, why would you think (or speak and write) as if Americans are like ants, that is, of one mind and collectively responsible for the actions of government? …

There’s no need to look abroad for inapplicable generalizations about America…. [C]onservatives and liberals have been separating themselves from each other. Only a cock-eyed optimist — the kind of person who believes that living in the same (very large) geographic requires unity — would call this a bad thing. As if proximity yields comity. It doesn’t work for a lot of families; it doesn’t work for most blacks and whites; it doesn’t work for upper-income and lower-income groups. Why should it work for most conservatives and liberals? …

But aren’t “we all in this together,” as proponents of big and bigger government are wont to proclaim? Not at all. The notion that “we are all in this together” is just a slogan, which really means “I want big and bigger government” to “solve” this or that problem — usually at the expense of persons who have done nothing to create the “problem.” “We are all in this together” is a call for action by government, not proof of a mythical “national will.” If “we” were “all in this together,” we wouldn’t need to be reminded of it. Like a good sports team or military unit, we would simply act that way. (Op. cit.)

It’s true that most human beings crave some kind of social connection. But the gap between that craving and the faux connectedness of one-size-fits-all big government can’t be bridged by ringing phrases (“We the People”), by appeals to patriotism, or by force.

Government can take my money, and it can make me do things the way “technocrats” want them done — and it can do the same to millions of other Americans. But government can’t make me (or those other millions) love the recipients of my money or feel happier because I’m doing things the “right” way. It can only make my (and those other millions) despise the recipients and detest forced conformity. Only divisiveness can prevent the complete destruction of liberty in the name of “society.”

Social unity is found not in government but in genetic kinship:

[G]enetic kinship is indispensable to society, where society is properly understood as “an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.” (“Genetic Kinship and Society,” Politics & Prosperity, August 16, 2012)

It takes overeducated dunderheads like Joshua Greene to denigrate the bonds of genetic kinship, even while openly prizing them.

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Other related posts:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Tocqueville’s Prescience
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
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Why Conservatism Works
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Rush to Judgment
Secession, Anyone?
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”

Not-So-Random Thoughts (IX)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

Demystifying Science

In a post with that title, I wrote:

“Science” is an unnecessarily daunting concept to the uninitiated, which is to say, almost everyone. Because scientific illiteracy is rampant, advocates of policy positions — scientists and non-scientists alike — often are able to invoke “science” wantonly, thus lending unwarranted authority to their positions.

Just how unwarranted is the “authority” that is lent by publication in a scientific journal?

Academic scientists readily acknowledge that they often get things wrong. But they also hold fast to the idea that these errors get corrected over time as other scientists try to take the work further. Evidence that many more dodgy results are published than are subsequently corrected or withdrawn calls that much-vaunted capacity for self-correction into question. There are errors in a lot more of the scientific papers being published, written about and acted on than anyone would normally suppose, or like to think. . . .

In 2005 John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist from Stanford University, caused a stir with a paper showing why, as a matter of statistical logic, the idea that only one . . . paper in 20 gives a false-positive result was hugely optimistic. Instead, he argued, “most published research findings are probably false.” As he told the quadrennial International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication, held this September [2013] in Chicago, the problem has not gone away. (The Economist, “Trouble at the Lab,” October 19, 2013)

Tell me again about anthropogenic global warming.

The “Little Ice Age” Redux?

Speaking of AGW, remember the “Little Ice Age” of the 1970s?

George Will does. As do I.

One Sunday morning in January or February of 1977, when I lived in western New York State, I drove to the news stand to pick up my Sunday Times. I had to drive my business van because my car wouldn’t start. (Odd, I thought.) I arrived at the stand around 8:00 a.m. The temperature sign on the bank across the street then read -16 degrees (Fahrneheit). The proprietor informed me that when he opened his shop at 6:00 a.m. the reading was -36 degrees.

That was the nadir of the coldest winter I can remember. The village reservoir froze in January and stayed frozen until March. (The fire department had to pump water from the Genesee River to the village’s water-treatment plant.) Water mains were freezing solid, even though they were 6 feet below the surface. Many homeowners had to keep their faucets open a trickle to ensure that their pipes didn’t freeze. And, for the reasons cited in Will’s article, many scientists — and many Americans — thought that a “little ice age” had arrived and would be with us for a while.

But science is often inconclusive and just as often slanted to serve a political agenda. (Also, see this.) That’s why I’m not ready to sacrifice economic growth and a good portion of humanity on the altar of global warming and other environmental fads.

Well, the “Little Ice Age” may return, soon:

[A] paper published today in Advances in Space Research predicts that if the current lull in solar activity “endures in the 21st century the Sun shall enter a Dalton-like grand minimum. It was a period of global cooling.” (Anthony Watts, “Study Predicts the Sun Is Headed for a Dalton-like Solar Minimum around 2050,” Watts Up With That?, December 2, 2013)

The Dalton Minimum, named after English astronomer John Dalton, lasted from 1790 to 1830.

Bring in your pets and plants, cover your pipes, and dress warmly.

Madison’s Fatal Error

Timothy Gordon writes:

After reading Montesquieu’s most important admonitions in Spirit of the Laws, Madison decided that he could outsmart him. The Montesquieuan admonitions were actually limitations on what a well-functioning republic could allow, and thus, be. And Madison got greedy, not wanting to abide by those limitations.

First, Montesquieu required republican governments to maintain limited geographic scale. Second, Montesquieu required republican governments to preside over a univocal people of one creed and one mind on most matters. A “res publica” is a public thing valued by each citizen, after all. “How could this work when a republic is peopled diversely?” the faithful Montesquieuan asks. (Nowadays in America, for example, half the public values liberty and the other half values equality, its eternal opposite.) Thirdly—and most important—Montesquieu mandated that the three branches of government were to hold three distinct, separate types of power, without overlap.

Before showing just how correct Montesquieu was—and thus, how incorrect Madison was—it must be articulated that in the great ratification contest of 1787-1788, there operated only one faithful band of Montesquieu devotees: the Antifederalists. They publicly pointed out how superficial and misleading were the Federalist appropriations of Montesquieu within the new Constitution and its partisan defenses.

The first two of these Montesquieuan admonitions went together logically: a) limiting a republic’s size to a small confederacy, b) populated by a people of one mind. In his third letter, Antifederalist Cato made the case best:

“whoever seriously considers the immense extent of territory within the limits of the United States, together with the variety of its climates, productions, and number of inhabitants in all; the dissimilitude of interest, morals, and policies, will receive it as an intuitive truth, that a consolidated republican form of government therein, can never form a perfect union.”

Then, to bulwark his claim, Cato goes on to quote two sacred sources of inestimable worth: the Bible… and Montesquieu. Attempting to fit so many creeds and beliefs into such a vast territory, Cato says, would be “like a house divided against itself.” That is, it would not be a res publica, oriented at sameness. Then Cato goes on: “It is natural, says Montesquieu, to a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist.”

The teaching Cato references is simple: big countries of diverse peoples cannot be governed locally, qua republics, but rather require a nerve center like Washington D.C. wherefrom all the decisions shall be made. The American Revolution, Cato reminded his contemporaries, was fought over the principle of local rule.

To be fair, Madison honestly—if wrongly—figured that he had dialed up the answer, such that the United States could be both vast and pluralistic, without the consequent troubles forecast by Montesquieu. He viewed the chief danger of this combination to lie in factionalization. One can either “remove the cause [of the problem] or control its effects,” Madison famously prescribed in “Federalist 10″.

The former solution (“remove the cause”) suggests the Montesquieuan way: i.e. remove the plurality of opinion and the vastness of geography. Keep American confederacies small and tightly knit. After all, victory in the War of Independence left the thirteen colonies thirteen small, separate countries, contrary to President Lincoln’s rhetoric four score later. Union, although one possible option, was not logically necessary.

But Madison opted for the latter solution (“control the effects”), viewing union as vitally indispensable and thus, Montesquieu’s teaching as regrettably dispensable: allow size, diversity, and the consequent factionalization. Do so, he suggested, by reducing them to nothing…with hyper-pluralism. Madison deserves credit: for all its oddity, the idea actually seemed to work… for a time. . . . (“James Madison’s Nonsense-Coup Against Montesqieu (and the Classics Too),” The Imaginative Conservative, December 2013)

The rot began with the advent of the Progressive Era in the late 1800s, and it became irreversible with the advent of the New Deal, in the 1930s. As I wrote here, Madison’s

fundamental error can be found in . . . Federalist No. 51. Madison was correct in this:

. . . It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. . . .

But Madison then made the error of assuming that, under a central government, liberty is guarded by a diversity of interests:

[One method] of providing against this evil [is] . . . by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable. . . . [This] method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished: and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionately increased. . . .

In fact, as Montesqieu predicted, diversity — in the contemporary meaning of the word, is inimical to civil society and thus to ordered liberty. Exhibit A is a story by Michael Jonas about a study by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“:

It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings. . . .

. . . Putnam’s work adds to a growing body of research indicating that more diverse populations seem to extend themselves less on behalf of collective needs and goals.

His findings on the downsides of diversity have also posed a challenge for Putnam, a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the pro-diversity camp. Suddenly finding himself the bearer of bad news, Putnam has struggled with how to present his work. He gathered the initial raw data in 2000 and issued a press release the following year outlining the results. He then spent several years testing other possible explanations.

When he finally published a detailed scholarly analysis in June in the journal Scandinavian Political Studies, he faced criticism for straying from data into advocacy. His paper argues strongly that the negative effects of diversity can be remedied, and says history suggests that ethnic diversity may eventually fade as a sharp line of social demarcation.

“Having aligned himself with the central planners intent on sustaining such social engineering, Putnam concludes the facts with a stern pep talk,” wrote conservative commentator Ilana Mercer, in a recent Orange County Register op-ed titled “Greater diversity equals more misery.”. . .

The results of his new study come from a survey Putnam directed among residents in 41 US communities, including Boston. Residents were sorted into the four principal categories used by the US Census: black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. They were asked how much they trusted their neighbors and those of each racial category, and questioned about a long list of civic attitudes and practices, including their views on local government, their involvement in community projects, and their friendships. What emerged in more diverse communities was a bleak picture of civic desolation, affecting everything from political engagement to the state of social ties. . . .

. . . In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to “distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle,” Putnam writes. . . . (“The Downside of Diversity,” The Boston Globe (boston.com), August 5, 2007)

See also my posts, “Liberty and Society,” “The Eclipse of ‘Old America’,” and “Genetic Kinship and Society.” And these: “Caste, Crime, and the Rise of Post-Yankee America” (Theden, November 12, 2013) and “The New Tax Collectors for the Welfare State,” (Handle’s Haus, November 13, 2013).

Libertarian Statism

Finally, I refer you to David Friedman’s “Libertarian Arguments for Income Redistribution” (Ideas, December 6, 2013). Friedman notes that “Matt Zwolinski has recently posted some possible arguments in favor of a guaranteed basic income or something similar.” Friedman then dissects Zwolinski’s arguments.

Been there, done that. See my posts, “Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists” and “Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism,” wherein I tackle the statism of Zwolinski and some of his co-bloggers at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. In the second-linked post, I say that

I was wrong to imply that BHLs [Bleeding Heart Libertarians] 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 [“Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists”] I would call it “Bleeding-Heart Libertarians: Crypto-Statists or Dupes for Statism?”.

*     *     *

Other posts in this series: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII

Getting It Almost Right

Philosopher Matt Zwolinski writes:

…Libertarians do not deny the importance of community any more than they deny the importance of moral virtue. What they deny is the necessity or appropriateness of centralized state coercion in bringing about either.

The libertarian vision of a society is one of free and responsible individuals, cooperating on their own terms for purposes of mutual benefit. It is a vision that draws its support from a wide variety of moral and empirical beliefs with deep roots in the public political culture. And it is one that contemporary critics of the market would do well to take much more seriously.

Here’s the rub: Zwolinkski seems to assume that just any old moral beliefs will support a “society … of free and responsible, individuals, cooperating on their own terms for purposes of mutual benefit.” But there are moral beliefs that do not support such a society. Where do we find such beliefs? Right here in the U.S. of A., among many places.

There are whole cultures that foment disrespect for and violence toward others, even fellow adherents of the culture. There are whole cultures that disparage responsibility and tear down those who venture to practice it. And instead of acting to diminish the influence of those cultures, the government of the United States, abetted by its leftist adjuncts, has sheltered them from criticism and, instead, turned against the nominally dominant culture that fosters responsibility, respect, and civility.

A while ago, I listed some criteria for a moral code that supports liberty. The list follows, with comments added in boldface:

1. A code must be socially evolved, not imposed by the state. (Though the state may enforce a moral code that reflects social norms.) Norms in the U.S. have been subverted by state sponsorship of easy divorce, abortion, illegitimacy, and pornography — to name some.

2. A code that fosters beneficent behavior must conform to the Ten Commandments, or to the last six of them, at least. See #1.

3. Those who dissent from the code must be able to voice their dissent; otherwise, the code ceases to be socially evolved…. The voices of dissent have been muffled by campus speech codes and dominant left wing of the media. Dissent is characterized as “extremist” and “loony.” Leading politicians are cheerleaders for the stifling of dissent, and have succeeded in penalizing many who think “wrong” thoughts (“hate” crimes) and too openly express their opposition to state-sponsored social change (prosecutions under the “equal rights” mantra).

4. Those who cannot abide the code must be able to exit society’s jurisdiction, without penalty. See #7.

There is more, if a society is part of a larger polity.

5. That polity is illegitimate if it overrides the otherwise legitimate moral codes of its constituent societies. See #3.

6. That polity is illegitimate if it honors inimical moral codes, either overtly or by making acts of obeisance to them…. See #3.

7. That polity is illegitimate if, in overriding those moral codes, it effectively negates voice and exit. (This has happened in America, where we are hostages in our own land.) See this post for more.

Zwolinski admits that libertarianism, as envisioned by most libertarians, is a hollow shell. What he fails to admit is that the hollow shell can be filled with moral precepts — both evolved and state-imposed — that suppress liberty. One need not look beyond these shores to find such suppression.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Refuting Rousseau and His Progeny
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
The Consequences of Roe v. Wade
The Old Eugenics in a New Guise
The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence
Moral Luck
Consider the Children
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Equal Time: The Sequel
Marriage and Children
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
More on Abortion and Crime
Peter Singer’s Agenda
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
Singer Said It
A “Person” or a “Life”?
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
Crime, Explained
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
The Left’s Agenda
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
The Left and Its Delusions
Burkean Libertarianism
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Society and the State
Are You in the Bubble?
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
“Conversing” about Race
Defining Liberty
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War

Conservatism as Right-Minarchism

W. Winston Elliott III delivers an apt appreciation of Russell Kirk and conservatism:

[Kirk’s The Conservative Mind] does not supply its readers with a “conservative ideology”: for the conservative abhors all forms of ideology. An abstract rigorous set of political dogmata: that is ideology, a “political religion,” promising the Terrestrial Paradise to the faithful; and ordinarily that paradise is to be taken by storm. Such a priori designs for perfecting human nature and society are anathema to the conservative, who knows them for the tools and the weapons of coffeehouse fanatics.

For the conservative, custom, convention, constitution, and prescription are the sources of a tolerable civil social order. Men not being angels, a terrestrial paradise cannot be contrived by metaphysical enthusiasts; yet an earthly hell can be arranged readily enough by ideologues of one stamp or another. Precisely that has come to pass in a great part of the world, during the twentieth century.

Edward Feser puts it this way:

Tradition, being nothing other than the distillation of centuries of human experience, itself provides the surest guide to determining the most rational course of action. Far from being opposed to reason, reason is inseparable from tradition, and blind without it. The so-called enlightened mind thrusts tradition aside, hoping to find something more solid on which to make its stand, but there is nothing else, no alternative to the hard earth of human experience, and the enlightened thinker soon finds himself in mid-air…. But then, was it ever truly a love of reason that was in the driver’s seat in the first place? Or was it, rather, a hatred of tradition? Might the latter have been the cause of the former, rather than, as the enlightened pose would have it, the other way around?) (“Hayek and Tradition“)

As for conservative governance, I turn to Michael Oakeshott:

To some people, ‘government’ appears as a vast reservoir of power which inspires them to dream of what use might be made of it. They have favourite projects, of various dimensions, which they sincerely believe are for the benefit of mankind, and to capture this source of power, if necessary to increase it, and to use it for imposing their favourite projects upon their fellows is what they understand as the adventure of governing men. They are, thus, disposed to recognize government as an instrument of passion; the art of politics is to inflame and direct desire….

Now, the disposition to be conservative in respect of politics reflects a quite different view of the activity of governing. The man of this disposition understands it to be the business of a government not to inflame passion and give it new objects to feed upon, but to inject into the activities of already too passionate men an ingredient of moderation; to restrain, to deflate, to pacify and to reconcile; not to stoke the fires of desire, but to damp them down….

It is not, then, mere stupid prejudice that disposes a conservative to take this view of the activity of governing; nor are any highfalutin metaphysical beliefs necessary to provoke it or make it intelligible. It is connected merely with the observation that where activity is bent upon enterprise the indispensable counterpart is another order of activity, bent upon restraint, which is unavoidably corrupted (indeed, altogether abrogated) when the power assigned to it is used for advancing favourite projects. An ‘umpire’ who at the same time is one of the players is no umpire; ‘rules’ about which we are not disposed to be conservative are not rules but incitements to disorder; the conjunction of dreaming and ruling generates tyranny.

Political conservatism is, then, not at all unintelligible in a people disposed to be adventurous and enterprising, a people in love with change and apt to rationalise their affections in terms of ‘progress’…. Indeed, a disposition to be conservative in respect of government would seem to be pre-eminently appropriate to men who have something to do and something to think about on their own account, who have a skill to practise or an intellectual fortune to make, to people whose passions do not need to be inflamed, whose desires do not need to be provoked and whose dreams of a better world need no prompting. Such people know the value of a rule which imposes orderliness without irecting enterprise, a rule which concentrates duty so that room is left for delight…. (“On Being Conservative,” Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition., pp. 431-5)

Now, returning to Kirk, I redact his six “canons” of conservatism to conform to my “canons” of right-minarchism:

(1) Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience…. 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 equilitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems. (3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes…. Society longs for leadership…. (4) Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic levelling is not economic progress…. (5) Faith in prescription [traditional mores] and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.” Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite…. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse. (6) Recognition that change and reform are not identical….

Religion isn’t necessary to right-minarchism, though neither is it ruled out. Basic religious precepts (as in the Ten Commandments) form the moral foundation of civil society, which depends not so much on orders and classes as it does on order (as opposed to lawlessness) and respect for the persons and property of others. There is little else on which to differ with Kirk.

Therefore, in my taxonomy of politics, Kirk’s conservatism is located in right-minarchism — which is a distinct branch of libertarianism. Right-minarchism rejects the nihilism and strident anti-religionism which are rampant in strains of libertarianism, namely, anarchism and left-minarchism. Anarchists and left-minarchists believe, foolishly, that liberty is to be found in the rejection of order and social norms. Liberty would be the first victim of the brave new disorder that they wish for.

So, here’s to right-minarchism, the nexus of true conservatism and true libertarianism.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Democracy and Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
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
Accountants of the Soul
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
More about Consequentialism
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
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Fighting Modernity
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Defining Liberty

Defining Liberty

When philosophers get together, you can be sure of one thing: A lot of words will be spilled to little or no effect. This proposition is amply demonstrated by a virtual symposium on “The System of Liberty” at The Online Library of Liberty.

Thousands of words leave the reader in search of a useful definition of liberty — any definition of it, for that matter. This is as good as it gets:

[I]n conventional English, the words “liberty” and “freedom” appear to be used to refer to variety of related but not identical things. My view is that “freedom” and “liberty” are not in the first instance philosophical concepts, unlike, say, “epistemic justification” or “social contract.” Instead, these are conventional concepts in natural language, though they are concepts that philosophers appropriately take great interest in. Thus, there is a default presumption that philosophers should yield to common usage when discussing what “liberty” really means….

In closing, I think there are three main questions about liberty:

1. What is it? …

There’s a lot of hooey about Hobbes and Locke, and so on, but it’s all to no avail.

Well, what is liberty? Bereft as I am of indoctrination in the mumbo-jumbo of philosophy, I am especially qualified to tell you. It is a social construct that cannot be defined by a priori philosophizing.

Thus:

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.

Therefore:

Liberty … is a social construct, without a fixed meaning. Further, harm is not a single thing; it is many things, each of which is socially defined. Each harm refers to a right; the right not to be killed without (specified) cause, for example. The collection of rights (anti-harms) defines the scope of liberty in a particular society. Liberty is therefore divisible, to some extent; that is, a person might enjoy most of his socially agreed rights, but not all of them, because of this action by government or that action by a compatriot or enemy. (It is wrong, however, to assume that one can divide rights between social and economic categories; what is called economic activity is nothing more than a particular aspect of social activity, and the denial of certain economic rights is also a denial of social rights.)

However, when I say that

liberty is a social construct …. is a realistic position, not a morally relativistic one. I am quite prepared to be judgmental of societies and polities. There is a “best” morality. It was widely practiced in Old America [see this]. Though it is still practiced in the remnants of Old America, it is vanishing from the United States, mainly because government has sundered social bonds and usurped the role of  society as the arbiter of morality. The government of the United States and the governments of most of its political subdivisions are illegitimate because their legal impositions are, for the most part, rooted in envy and power-lust — and not in Judeo-Christian morality.

I am in danger of philosophizing, so I’ll leave you with a specific definition of liberty:

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior

To sum up:

The problem with [the usual definitions of liberty] should … 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 [the usual definitions] — 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.

If you prefer to read thousands of words, go here:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
What Is Conservatism?
Law and Liberty
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
Facets of Liberty
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Why Conservatism Works
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society

Not-So-Random Thoughts (VIII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

I begin with a post of mine, “Civil Society and Homosexual ‘Marriage’“:

[A]s sure as the sun sets in the west, the state will begin to apply the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in order to protect homosexual “marriage” from its critics. Acting under the rubric of “civil rights” — and  in keeping with the way that anti-discrimination laws have been applied to date — the state will deal harshly with employers, landlords, and clergy who seem to discriminate against homosexual “marriage” and its participants.

And right on schedule:

[T]he New Mexico Supreme Court has found that a photographer who declined to photograph a gay “wedding” was at fault… (Tom Trinko, “New Mexico Takes a Stab at Nullifying the Constitution,” American Thinker, August 25, 2013)

See also my post “Abortion, ‘Gay Rights,” and Liberty.

*****

Keir Maitland nails the pseudo-libertarian mentality:

Libertarians are being torn apart from within. Two groups are responsible for this: the libertines and the liberal bigots. ‘Liberal bigots’ is a phrase that I have stolen from Peter Hitchens and I am using it to describe a group within the libertarian movement who are more concerned about being politically correct than defending anybody’s right to discriminate. By libertines, I mean simply those who view libertarianism as a rebellion against tradition, hierarchy, morality and authority….

The former, the liberal bigots, in my view are often ‘thin libertarians’ of the worst kind: libertarians who believe in the nonaggression axiom and nothing else. These people can only think in terms of libertarian legal theory and, as cultural Marxists, will defend anybody’s way of life, except, oddly enough, a traditionalist and antiegalitarian way of life. The latter, however, are usually ‘thick libertarians’…. Thick libertarians are libertarians who, in addition to being well-versed in libertarian law, think about how a libertarian society would, could and should function. Thick libertarians judge not only whether or not something is legal, but whether it is conducive to libertarian ends. However, sadly, the modal thick libertarian is a libertine: someone who believes that prosperity, happiness and other good ends, for which we all strive, are achieved not through a ‘sensible’ lifestyle but through a relatively reckless one. (“Libertines and Liberal Bigots,” Libertarian Alliance Blog, August 22, 2013)

Maitland’s assessment harmonizes with my own, which I’ve expressed in several posts, including “Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians“:

(Pseudo) libertarians like to demonstrate their bogus commitment to liberty by proclaiming loudly their support for unfettered immigration, unfettered speech, unfettered abortion, unfettered same-sex coupling (and legal recognition thereof as “marriage’), and unfettered you-name-it.. In the minds of these moral relativists, liberty is a dream world where anything goes — anything of which they approve, that is….

Another staple of (pseudo) libertarian thought is a slavish devotion to privacy — when that devotion supports a (pseudo) libertarian position. Economists like Caplan and Boudreaux are cagy about abortion. But other (pseudo) libertarians are less so; for example:

I got into a long conversation yesterday with a [Ron] Paul supporter who took me to task for my criticisms of Paul’s positions. For one thing, he insisted, Paul’s position on abortion wasn’t as bad as I made it out, because Paul just thinks abortion is a matter for the states. I pointed out that in my book, saying that states can violate the rights of women [emphasis added] is no more libertarian than saying that the federal government can violate the rights of women.

Whence the “right” to abort an unborn child? Here, according to the same writer:

I do believe that abortion is a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….

This train of “logic” is in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court’s manufactured “right” to an abortion under the Fourteenth (or was it the Ninth?) Amendment, which I have discussed in various places, including here. All in the name of “privacy.”…

It is no wonder that many (pseudo) libertarians like to call themselves liberaltarians. It is hard to distinguish (pseudo) libertarians from “liberals,” given their shared penchant for decrying and destroying freedom of association and evolved social norms. It is these which underlie the conditions of mutual respect, mutual trust, and forbearance that enable human beings to coexist peacefully and cooperatively. That is to say, in liberty.

*****

A recent foray into constitutional issues unearthed this commentary about the opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts in the case of Obamacare:

Oh, how far we’ve deviated from our Founders in just over 200 years.

The entire country is pouring over an incoherent, internally contradictory, ill-conceived and politically motivated decision by Chief Justice Roberts, which grants Congress the power to regulate anything that moves and the power to tax anything that moves and anything that doesn’t move….

If we take the reasoning of Roberts to its logical conclusion, Congress would be able to coerce individuals to buy broccoli once a week, so long as they levy a tax on those who fail to comply with the law.  Putting aside the facial absurdity of Roberts’s tax power jurisprudence, his opinion on the Commerce Clause is nothing to cheer.  While Roberts clearly stated that the Commerce Clause does not grant the federal government the right to regulate inactivity (although it can evidently tax inactivity), he obliquely upheld their authority to regulate any activity under that misconstrued clause.

Amidst the garrulous analysis from the conservative pundit class on the Roberts decision, there is a one-page dissent from Justice Thomas (in addition to his joint dissent with the other 3 conservatives) that has been overlooked….

Take a look at this paragraph from Thomas’s dissent (last two-pages of pdf):

I dissent for the reasons stated in our joint opinion, but I write separately to say a word about the Commerce Clause. The joint dissent and THE CHIEF JUSTICE cor­rectly apply our precedents to conclude that the Individual Mandate is beyond the power granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Under those precedents, Congress may regulate“economic activity [that] substantially affects interstate commerce.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 560 (1995). I adhere to my view that “the very notion of a ‘substantial effects’ test under the Commerce Clause is inconsistent with the original understanding of Congress’ powers and with this Court’s early Commerce Clause cases.” United States v. Morrison, 529 U. S. 598, 627 (2000) (THOMAS, J., concurring); see also Lopez, supra, at 584–602 (THOMAS, J., concurring); Gonzales v. Raich, 545

….

Justice Thomas is hearkening back to the Founders.  Not only is every word of Obamacare unconstitutional and an anathema to every tenet of our founding, most of the other programs created in recent years are as well.  The fact that Roberts said the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause don’t apply to inactivity is not a victory for constitutional conservatives.  The implicit notion that the federal government can regulate any activity is appalling to conservatives.

Here’s what James Madison had to say about the Commerce Clause in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell in 1829:

For a like reason, I made no reference to the “power to regulate commerce among the several States.” I always foresaw that difficulties might be started in relation to that power which could not be fully explained without recurring to views of it, which, however just, might give birth to specious though unsound objections. Being in the same terms with the power over foreign commerce, the same extent, if taken literally, would belong to it. Yet it is very certain that it grew out of the abuse of the power by the importing States in taxing the non-importing, and was intended as a negative and preventive provision against injustice among the States themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government, in which alone, however, the remedial power could be lodged.

….

The reality is that not only is Obamacare unconstitutional, almost every discretionary department, welfare program, and entitlement program is unconstitutional…. (Daniel Horowitz, “Thomas Dissents: It’s All Unconstitutional,” RedState (Member Diary), June 29, 2012)

On the general issue of the subversion of constitutional limits on governmental power, see “The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration.” Specifically related to Obamacare and the individual mandate: “The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate,” “Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?,” “Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?,” and “Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper.”

*****

Also from RedState, a story that reads in part:

Sadly, we have deviated from our constitutional form of government over the past century.  That’s why Mark Levin has written The Liberty Amendments, a set of proposed constitutional amendments that will unambiguously downsize the federal government by targeting specific loopholes that have allowed the statists to adulterate our Constitution.  Far from this being a radically new vision, Levin proves – through founding documents and floor debates at the Constitutional Congress – how his ideas are in line with what the Founders envisioned in our Federal government.  It’s just that after years of deviating from the Constitution, it has become clear that we need very specific limitations on federal abuses – abuses that have gone far beyond the imagination of our Founders – in order to restore the Republic. (Daniel Horowitz, “Mark Levin’s Liberty Amendments,” Red State (Member Diary), August 13, 2013)

The story includes a good summary of Levin’s amendments. Recommended reading.

A New, New Constitution” covers the same ground, and more. It’s long, but it closes a lot of loopholes that have been opened by legislative, executive, and judicial action.

*****

I turn, finally, to a pair of items by James Pethokoukis with self-explanatory titles: “The Great Stagnation: JP Morgan Declares US Potential GDP Growth Just Half of What It Used to Be” (AEIdeas, August 12, 2013) and “Why Wall Street Thinks the Future Isn’t What It Used to Be” (AEIdeas, August 13, 2013). Read those pieces, and then go to “The Stagnation Thesis” (and follow the links therein) and “Why Are Interest Rates So Low?” (which is replete with more links). The latter post concludes with this:

As long as business remains (rightly) pessimistic about the twin burdens of debt and regulation, the economy will sink deeper into stagnation. The only way to overcome that pessimism is to scale back “entitlements” and regulations, and to do so promptly and drastically.

In sum, the present focus on — and debate about — conventional macroeconomic “fixes” (fiscal vs. monetary policy) is entirely misguided. Today’s economists and policy-makers should consult Hayek, not Keynes or Friedman or their intellectual descendants. If economists and policy-makers would would read and heed Hayek — the Hayek of 1944 onward, in particular –  they would understand that our present and future economic morass is entirely political in origin: Failed government policies have led to more failed government policies, which have shackled both the economy and the people.

Economic and political freedoms are indivisible. It will take the repeal of the regulatory-welfare state to restore prosperity and liberty to the land.

Amen.

As for how the regulatory-welfare state might be repealed, read “Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead.

The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy

UPDATED BELOW

Ilya Somin describes it and gives an example:

People fall prey to the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy any time they make an argument to the effect that “bad people believe X, therefore X must be wrong.” The flaw in this reasoning is that bad people can still be right about some things. In the abstract, almost everyone recognizes that. But many still fall prey to the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy in practice, even if they understand its flaws in theory.

Unfortunately, the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy often crops up in conservative and libertarian reactions to PC excesses on the left. I suspect it’s an additional reason for the sympathy that some libertarians and conservatives display towards the Confederacy, especially if they do so out of ignorance. It’s easy for such people to decide that if PC leftists hate the Confederacy, that must mean that the Confederacy was actually a good thing.

It’s not that simple.

PC leftists hate the Confederacy not only because of slavery (a hatred shared by anyone entitled to call himself a libertarian or conservative), but also because the Confederacy stands for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.

It is the idea of secession from such a government that rightly attracts many libertarians and conservatives. And it is that idea which rightly leads those libertarians and conservatives to detest PC leftists, whose anti-Confederacy stance is really a cynical defense of statism.

UPDATE:

Somin, in an addendum to his post, says that my response, which he quotes in full, “exemplifies the very fallacy the post [his post] criticizes.” He continues:

Even if PC leftists have dubious motives for hating the Confederacy, that does not prove that the hatred is unjustified or that the Confederacy is somehow good. Moreover, as I discuss here, the Confederates did not in fact oppose having “an unconstitutionally powerful central government.” They had not problem with constitutionally dubious federal power so long as that power was used to bolster slavery, as in the case of the Fugitive Slave Act. And they also didn’t have a principled commitment to state autonomy, as witness their efforts to coerce Kentucky and Missouri into joining the Confederacy, despite the fact that the majority of the population (including even the white population) in those states wanted to stay in the Union. Finally, as I have emphasized on several occasions (e.g. here), Confederate secession can only be considered a “rightful” exercise of popular sovereignty if you completely discount the views of the black population of the seceding states. If you count them as part of the people whose consent was required for secession, then it becomes clear that secession from the Union did not have majority support in any state in the South.

There is no doubt that some libertarians and conservatives are guilty of a reverse-Mussolini fallacy, as described by Somin. But he seems to have missed my main point, probably because I didn’t make it clearly enough.

I certainly said nothing to indicate that “the Confederacy is somehow good.” What I said was that “the Confederacy stands for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.” I should have made it clear that the Confederacy stands for (symbolizes) hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government because it represents a course of action (secession) with which many libertarians and conservatives sympathize, given the unconstitutional power wielded by today’s central government. I did not mean to say — and did not say — that the Confederacy itself stood for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.

Nor did I say — or mean to say — that the hatred of PC leftists for the Confederacy is unjustified, to the extent that it is legitimate. But it is a facile hatred, on a par with hating Hitler and Stalin. I give little credence to facile hatred when it is directed at a symbol of resistance to the very kind of government that PC leftists admire.

Further, it seems to me that PC leftists deliberately commit a logical fallacy when they make the following claim (as many of them do): Libertarians and conservatives want a government that is as limited in its power as, say, the government of the late 1800s; therefore, those libertarians and conservatives want to revert to the racial and sexual oppression that was rampant in that era.

Logical fallacies abound. But I didn’t commit one in my original post.

UPDATE 2:

To make explicit a point that is implicit in what I’ve said, admiration for what the Confederacy symbolizes — becoming free of an unconstitutionally powerful central government — is animated by hatred of that government. I very much doubt that admiration for what the Confederacy symbolizes has anything to do with the views of PC leftists.

As for my own view of the Confederacy:

1. I believe that secession was (and is) legal (see this, for example). But that doesn’t absolve the Confederacy of its sins …

2. The defeat of the Confederacy was salutary because it meant the end of slavery in the United States.

If some libertarians and conservatives actually admire the Confederacy, I am confident that they are in the vast minority among libertarians and conservatives. (I dismiss pro-Confederacy-Stars-and-Bars-waving yahoos, who no more deserve to be called “conservative” than today’s leftists deserve to be called “liberal.”)

UPDATE 3:

I should add that when it comes to secession, Somin and I seem to agree about the importance of separating legality (which is one issue) from cause (which is a separate ssue). (See the first section of this post.) Further, on the whole, I have bee favorably impressed by Somin’s writings at The Volokh Conspiracy. (See also this, this, and this.)

Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians

(Pseudo) libertarians like to demonstrate their bogus commitment to liberty by proclaiming loudly their support for unfettered immigration, unfettered speech, unfettered abortion, unfettered same-sex coupling (and legal recognition thereof as “marriage’), and unfettered you-name-it.. In the minds of these moral relativists, liberty is a dream world where anything goes — anything of which they approve, that is.

The aim of today’s sermon is to embellish what I’ve said previously in many of the posts listed at the bottom of this one on the subject of (pseudo) libertarians and (pseudo) libertarianism. I begin with Bryan Caplan.

My disdain for Caplan’s (pseudo) libertarian, pacifistic, one-worldishness is amply documented: here, here, here, here, here, and here (second item). Caplan has been at it again, in recent posts about immigration (as in opening the floodgates thereto).

Consider this post, for example, where Caplan tries (in vain) to employ Swiftian hyperbole in defense of unfettered immigration. In the following block quotation, each of Caplan’s “witty” proposals is followed by my observations (in brackets and bold type):

Libertarians’ odd openness to using immigration restrictions to protect American freedom has me thinking.  There are many statist policies that could indirectly lead to more libertarian policy.  If you’re open to one, you should logically be open to all.

Here are just a few candidates:

1. Make public schools teach libertarianism.  Sure, public education should be abolished.  But as long as public education exists, wouldn’t it be better if the schools taught children about the value of freedom and the wonder of markets?

[Well, yes, our course it would. But public schools don’t do that — and won’t do that — because they were long ago taken over by leftist “educators.” Next stupid idea…]

2. Discourage fertility of less libertarian groups.  If you really think that Muslims or Hispanics are unusually statist, their high birth rates should worry you.  Indeed, any birth rate above zero should worry you.  A moderate step would be to offer members of these groups extra subsidies for birth control.  From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to subsidized sterilization, tax penalties, or a selective One Child Policy.

[But why allow the immigration of statist-leaning groups in the first place? In fact, it would be a good idea to encourage them — and others — to leave. If the encouragement were financial, it would be a good investment.]

3. Censor statist ideas.  Sure, Paul Krugman has a right to free speech.  But the rest of us have a right to not be ruled by people swayed by Krugman.  It’s childish to deny the trade-off, no?

[It is childish to deny the trade-off. That’s why idiots like Caplan deny it. They believe that theft is wrong, but they don’t believe in preventing (or reducing) the amount of theft committed by government because statist ideas have been and are allowed to flourish. See below for more on this point.]

4. Subsidize vacations for less libertarian groups on election day.  Suppose the government gave members of unlibertarian groups free trips to Cancun that conveniently coincided with election day.  While some of the eligible would file an absentee ballot, there is little doubt that this would heavily depress turnout.  So why not?

[Better yet — and far less expensive — establish meaningful eligibility standards for voting; for example, being at least 30 years of age, owning one’s home, and being able to read and write at the 12th-grade level. This might empower more “liberals” than conservatives, give the tendency of educated persons to adhere to statism. But their power would be constrained by the sensible prohibition of speech that advocates theft in the name of the state.]

The first link in the block quotation is to an earlier post by Caplan, in which, for practical purposes, he joins with Don Boudreaux in proclaiming (psuedo) libertarian absolutism on such other matters as freedom of speech. As Boudreaux puts it,

Freedom may well destroy itself.  That’s a risk I’m willing to take, especially if the proposed means of saving freedom is to restrict it.

This reminds me of “it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.” It’s a position that defies logic; thus:

  1. Freedom is not merely literal freedom from captivity; it is the enjoyment of that freedom through the peaceful pursuit of happiness. (Freedom, as a general condition, is possible only if everyone’s pursuit of happiness is peaceful with respect to other persons and their property.)
  2. It is wrong to deny any person his freedom, regardless of his demonstrated enmity toward freedom as defined in 1. (This is Boudreaux’s stated position, which — taken literally — precludes the imprisonment of convicted murderers, rapists, thieves, and others whose acts deny to others the peaceful pursuit of happiness.)
  3. Freedom, therefore, consists only of literal freedom. (This conclusion, which contradicts the full definition of freedom given in 1, is the logical consequence of Boudreaux’s position. And yet, Boudreaux would be the last person to accept this limited definition of freedom.)

It doesn’t matter whether the person whose demonstrated hostility toward freedom (properly defined) is a thief or a socialist. One is the same as the other when it comes to the defense of freedom (properly defined). Boudreaux and his ilk would be consistent (though wrong) if they were to say that thieves shouldn’t be imprisoned, but I doubt that they would say such a thing because they are staunch defenders of property rights. Why then, do they defend the right of statists to spread the gospel of government control over our lives and livelihoods, which is nothing but government-sponsored theft and demonstrably more damaging than garden-variety theft?

As I say at the end of this post,

Liberty is lost when the law allows “freedom of speech, and of the press” to undermine the civil and state institutions that enable liberty.

There is a very good case for the view that the First Amendment sought to protect only those liberties necessary for the preservation of republican government. The present statist regime is a long way from the kind of republican government envisioned by the Framers.

Another staple of (pseudo) libertarian thought is a slavish devotion to privacy — when that devotion supports a (pseudo) libertarian position. Economists like Caplan and Boudreaux are cagy about abortion. But other (pseudo) libertarians are less so; for example:

I got into a long conversation yesterday with a [Ron] Paul supporter who took me to task for my criticisms of Paul’s positions. For one thing, he insisted, Paul’s position on abortion wasn’t as bad as I made it out, because Paul just thinks abortion is a matter for the states. I pointed out that in my book, saying that states can violate the rights of women [emphasis added] is no more libertarian than saying that the federal government can violate the rights of women.

Whence the “right” to abort an unborn child? Here, according to the same writer:

I do believe that abortion is a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….

This train of “logic” is in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court’s manufactured “right” to an abortion under the Fourteenth (or was it the Ninth?) Amendment, which I have discussed in various places, including here. All in the name of “privacy.”

Here, again, we see devotion to a value for its own sake, regardless of the implications for liberty. As I say here,

if privacy were an absolute right, it would be possible to get away with murder in one’s home simply by committing murder there. In fact, if there are any absolute rights, privacy certainly isn’t one of them.

(Psuedo) libertarians choose not to characterize abortion as murder. They prefer to think of it as a form of control over one’s own body. But an unborn child is not “one’s own body” — it is its own body, created (in the overwhelming majority of cases) by consensual sex between the mother and a male person. Abortion is nothing more than a murderous flight from personal responsibility, which is a trait highly praised (in the abstract) by (pseudo) libertarians. And it is a long step down a very slippery eugenic slope.

It is no wonder that many (pseudo) libertarians like to call themselves liberaltarians. It is hard to distinguish (pseudo) libertarians from “liberals,” given their shared penchant for decrying and destroying freedom of association and evolved social norms. It is these which underlie the conditions of mutual respect, mutual trust, and forbearance that enable human beings to coexist peacefully and cooperatively. That is to say, in liberty.

Related posts:
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty
An Immigration Roundup
Illogic from the Pro-Immigration Camp
On Liberty
Illegal Immigration: A Note to Libertarian Purists
Inside-Outside
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
The Folly of Pacifism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
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
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
Understanding Hayek
Rethinking the Constitution: Freedom of Speech and of the Press
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Privacy Is Not Sacred
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
Cato, the Kochs, and a Fluke
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?

Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead

Despite the narrowness of Barack Obama’s victory last November, there is much cause for despair by the remnant of liberty-loving Americans. Given the broad and bipartisan dependency of Americans on the welfare state, the overthrow of that state by an electoral revolution seems unlikely.

The entrenchment of the welfare state also means the entrenchment of the regulatory state. The two go hand-in-hand; both are born of economic illiteracy by way of power-lust. To put it another way, both are tools of “scientific” governance, which has no place for liberty, which is voluntary — and mutually beneficial — social and economic intercourse.

With that preamble in mind, let us consider the options (not all of which are mutually exclusive):

1. Business as usual — This will lead to more and more government control of our lives and livelihoods, that is, to less and less freedom and prosperity (except for our technocratic masters, of course).

2. Rear-guard action — This option is exemplified by the refusal of some States to expand Medicaid and to establish insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. This bit of foot-dragging doesn’t cure the underlying problem, which is accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Further, it can be undone by fickle voters and fickle legislatures, as they succumb to the siren-call of “free” federal funds.

3. Geographic sorting — The tendency of “Blue” States to become “bluer” and “Red” States to become “redder” suggests that Americans are sorting themselves along ideological lines. As with rear-guard action, however, this tendency — natural and laudable as it is — doesn’t cure the underlying problem: the accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Lives and livelihoods in every State, “Red” as well as “Blue,” are controlled by the edicts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central government. There is little room for State and local discretion. Moreover, much of the population shift toward “Red” must be understood as opportunistic (e.g., warmer climates, right-to-work laws) and not as an endorsement of “Red” politics. (There is a refinement of this option that I call “Zones of Liberty,” which also holds limited promise. Another variation, the Free State Project, is similarly unpromising.)

4. Civil disobedience — Certainly called for, but see option 5.

5. Underground society and economy — Think “EPA-DOL-FBI-IRS-NSA,” and then dismiss this as a serious option for most Americans.

6. A negotiated partition of the country — An unlikely option (discussed in this post and in some of the posted linked to therein) because “Blue” will not countenance the loss of control over millions of lives and livelihoods.

7. Secession — This is legal and desirable — as long as the New Republic of free states is truly free — but (a) it is likely to be met with force and therefore (b) unlikely to attract a critical mass of States.

8. Coup — Suggested several years ago by Thomas Sowell:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

Military personnel (careerists, in particular) are disciplined, have direct access to the tools of power, and many of them are trained in clandestine operations. Therefore, a cadre of properly motivated careerists might possess the wherewithal necessary to seize power. But a plot to undertake a coup is easily betrayed. (Among other things, significant numbers of high-ranking officers are shills for the regulatory-welfare state.) And a coup, if successful, might deliver us from a relatively benign despotism into a decidedly malign despotism. But given the nation’s present trajectory, a coup is our best bet for the restoration of liberty and prosperity under a government that is true to the Constitution.

Related reading:
Mark Thiessen, “The People Have Spoken … and They Must Be Punished,” AEIdeas, November 7, 2012
Jeffrey Lord, “Twinkicide: Death by Liberalism,” The American Spectator, November 20, 2012
Bill Vallicella, “A Case for Voluntary Segregation,” Maverick Philosopher, November 20, 2012
Patrick J. Buchanan, “Stirrings of Secession,” Taki’s Magazine, November 30, 2012
Gary Genelin, “On Secession: An Analysis of Texas v. White,” American Thinker, January 10, 2013

Related posts (listed chronologically):
How to Think about Secession
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Secession
The Interest-Group Paradox
Is Statism Inevitable?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
Secession Redux
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
A New Cold War or Secession?
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Census of 2010: Bring It On
The Near-Victory of Communism
A Declaration of Independence
Tocqueville’s Prescience
First Principles
The Shape of Things to Come
The Real Burden of Government
Zones of Liberty
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Re-Forming the United States
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
The Repealer
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
Constitutional Confusion
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
Secession, Anyone?
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Another Thought or Two about the Obamacare Decision
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
Secession for All Seasons
A New Constitution for a New Republic
A Zone of Liberty in the Making?
The Price of Government, Once More
America: Past, Present, and Future

Socialist Romanticism

Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms—

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

Barack Obama, echoing Jean-Jacques Rousseau (and his progeny, from Marx to Castro):

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Max Eastman, deflating Rousseauvian-Obamian romanticism:

A false and undeliberated conception of what man is lies at the bottom … of the whole bubble-castle of socialist theory. Although few seem to realize it, Marxism rests on the romantic notion of Rousseau that nature endows men with the qualities necessary to be a free, equal, fraternal, family-like living together…. (Quoted in The Great Quotations, p. 876.)

State-imposed “togetherness” is a kind of imprisonment in which the inmates suffer the illusion of freedom.

Anti-Americanism

As I say in “Americanism … from the Left,”

the left holds an unbounded view of Americanism: Everyone who wants to be an American, and to enjoy the privileges attaching thereto, should be considered one. How else could leftists — the enemies of the Constitution, the common defense, justice, and private property — claim to be my fellow citizens?

What a laughable claim. Leftists are no more American than their heroes, from Stalin and Mao to Castro and Chavez.

Now comes Olen Steinhauer, a novelist who is associated with Austin, Texas — a.k.a., the San Francisco of Texas — to affirm my observation. In a review of John le Carré’s latest outpouring, A Delicate Truth, Steinhauer writes about a character whose

appearance among the sophisticates of the Foreign Ministry is like a slap in the face, and while she’s ushered offstage quickly, you’d be forgiven for seeing in her caricature evidence of the accusation leveled at le Carré regularly these days: anti-Americanism.

Having lived in Europe for the last decade, I’m particular about how to use that label. To me, “anti-American” means just that: to be contemptuous of Americans, one and all. I’ve met those people. Blinded by their ignorance, they’re to be scorned. But then there is John le Carré, whose January 2003 argument against the Iraq war, printed in The Times of London, was called “The United States of America Has Gone Mad.” He made his ire plain: he was against the foreign policy of an American administration he despised. If this is what qualifies him, then half of our own population is anti-American.

This passage reveals Steinhauer as a sophist of the first order. Anyone who has read very much of le Carré’s oeuvre (as I have) knows that there is much more to his anti-Americanism than his dislike of a particular administration’s foreign policy. Anyone who knows American politics (as I do) knows that much of the opposition to G.W. Bush’s foreign policy was reflexive opposition to a president who was perceived as a defender of traditional American values. To be blunt about it, Bush’s greatest sin (in the left’s view of things) was to attack America’s enemies instead of “understanding” them and “respecting” their (twisted) values.

Based on the evidence of the last presidential election, it is not unreasonable to say that half of our own population is anti-American.

A Zone of Liberty in the Making?

I am breaking my silence — for the moment, at least — because I see a faint ray of hope for liberty. The source is not electoral politics, which has become liberty’s burial ground.

The source is an initiative that seems to be modeled on a proposal that I made almost almost seven years ago, in this post. There, I proposed an arrangement that I call the “zone of liberty.” What is it? As I explain here, it

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.)

Now comes a proposal for the establishment of the Commonwealth of Belle Isle, which seems to be modeled on my zone of liberty. The following explanatory material is from the FAQ page for the Commonwealth:

Where is Belle Isle?

Belle Isle is a 982 acre island located in the Detroit River, which separates the cities of Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.

What is Belle Isle used for currently?

It is owned by the City of Detroit.  It is uninhabited and functions as a public park.

What happens to Belle Isle … ?

Belle Isle is sold by the City of Detroit to a group of investors for $1 billion.  The island is then developed into a city-state of 35,000 people, with its own laws and customs, under United States supervision as a Commonwealth.  Set 29 years into the future, the book is a fictional, although the main characters are based on real people.

Is it possible to put 35,000 people on Belle Isle?

Yes.  The city-state of Monaco has 33,000 people on land half the size of Belle Isle.

What are expected to be the primary industries of Belle Isle?

The primary industries are expected to be finance, insurance and investments.  As land is very limited, no large plants will be built on Belle Isle.  However, it is highly likely plants will be built across the Detroit River in Detroit, with the engineering and management functions on Belle Isle.  Companies from all over the world will locate on Belle Isle, bringing massive amounts of capital and GDP to the area.  Detroit, the State of Michigan and the U.S. will benefit from this influx of capital and ongoing GDP growth.

How will someone become a citizen of Belle Isle?

There will be an application process which will be reviewed by a citizenship board.  Applicants will have to post a citizenship fee, which will probably be in the $300,000 range, plus have a working command of English.  The citizenship fees will repay the investors who funded the purchase of the island from the City of Detroit, plus built the infrastructure such as sewer, water, paving, electric and gas utilities and the monorail.

Will the citizenship fee pay for the purchase of any land for homes or businesses on Belle Isle?

No- that will be an additional cost.

What are the main principles of the Belle Isle society?

There are three:

1)      Government is limited in its scope and provides only services required for the benefit of all citizens.  This is the fundamental enabler of low taxation, itself a key factor in competitiveness.  Competitiveness in turn drives the economy, providing both job and wage growth.  Also, the government is highly transparent and overseen by an active “Anti-Corruption Group”, which employs strict measures to prevent, as opposed to catch after the fact, corruption.  The government operates at or below 10% of GDP, by constitutional dictate.  The social safety net is operated by charities, which are highly encouraged and supported by the government.

2)       Belle Isle has exceptional aesthetics.  It is a walking community without motor vehicles, except service vehicles in the middle of the night.  A monorail provides the primary transportation, both around the island and to the Transportation Center located on the Detroit side of the river.  The buildings conform to high architectural standards, overseen by a talented planning director, who is advised by the best architects and planners from around the world.

3)      One of the core values is respect for all its citizens, no matter their station in life.  Belle Isle doesn’t encourage anything which might cause divisiveness or envy among its citizens, by segmenting people into groups.  The culture is one of bringing people together, not dividing them.  Also, a command of English is required to be an immigrant, as a common language fosters common understandings.  Probably the most important personal value we like to see is that of “Self-Reliance.”  It is so important to individual freedom and a sense of worth, and is the key to limited government (55% of U. S. government spending is for entitlements).  It was one of the key principles on which America was based and has gradually been forgotten over the years.

What is the tax system of Belle Isle?

Taxes have to conform to three basic principles.  They need to be transparent, never levied on what is encouraged, and the costs of collection low.  Importantly, there are no income taxes on individuals or companies, and no taxes on interest, dividends, capital gains or estates.

There are three sources of revenue.  The first is user fees, which apply primarily to the monorail.  A 10% sales tax provides a second source.  Importantly, sales taxes encourage thrift and are collected outside the cost structure of the products. Real estate taxes provide the third, but the system is radically different than that employed in the U.S.  Only the raw land value is taxed, not what the owner builds on it.  This follows the principle of government only receiving compensation for what it provides.  Government didn’t pay to construct buildings on the owner’s land, nor does it bear the risk of loss.  We encourage development of property, not discourage it.

The goal, which is very achievable, is to have total tax expense limited to 10% of GDP of Belle Isle, compared to the 40% of GDP government expense in America.

Do Belle Isle citizens pay taxes to the United States?

Yes.  As a Commonwealth of the United States, Belle Isle relies upon the United States for its defense.  Belle Isle pays its share of the U.S. defense budget, based on its population.  It amounts to about $2,000 per person per year.

How does Belle Isle achieve a spending level of only 10% of GDP?

Belle Isle achieves 10% in substantial measure because people here are able to take care of themselves throughout their lives.  That’s where self-reliance begins.  Self-reliance will be possible as a result of the  abundance of jobs and strong wages arising from Belle Isle’s economic advantages.  The question Washington should ask every morning is “what can we do to permit our people to become more competitive?”  Small government, , low levels of taxation and taxing the right things, and competitive levels of regulation are where the conversation should start.  This is the question we asked when we envisioned Belle Isle with high levels of efficiency and a minimal governmental burden on her people.

There is much more that I will not reproduce here. But I must include this:

What are the chances this vision could become reality?

That is the $64 dollar question!  The hurdle is entirely political.  Will the U.S. allow this experiment to happen?  There are other commonwealths of the United States- namely Northern Marianas and Puerto Rico, so there is existing precedent.  The compelling political argument in favor of letting this happen is the benefit of Belle Isle being a game-changer for Detroit, which many will argue is the city in the U.S. most in need of a turnaround.  The influx of capital and jobs will be staggering.  The author [of the book on which the Commonwealth is based] estimates 200,000 job years will be created in the construction phase alone…. The author has no doubt, if allowed, it will happen as the book describes.  And once the discussion turns to the feasibility of the ideas in the book, rather than the politics of permitting it, the “impossible” will become the “inevitable.”  Detroiters will see this vision as the answer to their prayers, and how could the federal government deny Detroit a chance to turn itself around, accelerate its re-birth, all at no cost to the taxpayer?  How could they deny this long suffering population of over 700,000 their first real shot at the American dream.

Leftists will oppose the Commonwealth of Belle Isle for fear of its success, which would undercut their claim that a people cannot prosper and coexist peacefully absent heavy-handed government. Invoking”compassion” and “fairness,” the left will agree to the establishment of the Commonwealth only if it is subject to all of the laws and regulations of the United States — the same laws and regulations that now stifle Americans’ liberty and prosperity. Leftists will begin by insisting that the citizenship fee and language requirement are discriminatory and should not be imposed. They will go from there to demand acceptance of affirmative action, recognition of labor unions, conformance with edicts of the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve, and compliance with the myriad regulations and tariffs that burden America’s social and economic liberty — and prosperity — in the name of the children, the environment, fairness, consumerism, and the bogus threat du jour (e.g., anthropgenic global warming).

That said, any step toward a libertarian regime within the United States would be a step in the right direction. Let us hope that the developers of the Commonwealth have the political savvy and connections required to take that step successfully. Their success would be a step toward the establishment of a New Republic.

Related posts about Big Government and how to escape it (listed chronologically):
Finding Liberty
The Laffer Curve, “Fiscal Responsibility,” and Economic Growth
How to Think about Secession
The Causes of Economic Growth
In the Long Run We Are All Poorer
A Short Course in Economics
Secession
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
The Price of Government
Is Statism Inevitable?
The Interest-Group Paradox
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism and the Future of America
Secession Redux
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
A New Cold War or Secession?
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Price of Government Redux
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Near-Victory of Communism
A Declaration of Independence
The Mega-Depression
Tocqueville’s Prescience
State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
As Goes Greece
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
The Real Burden of Government
Zones of Liberty
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Re-Forming the United States
Unemployment and Economic Growth
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
The Real Multiplier
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
The Commandeered Economy
Stocks for the Long Run?
We Owe It to Ourselves
Stocks for the Long Run? (Part II)
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
In Defense of the 1%
Bonds for the Long Run?
The Real Multiplier (II)
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
The Burden of Government
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Economic Growth Since World War II
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
Secession, Anyone?
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
The Economy Slogs Along
The Obama Effect: Disguised Unemployment
The Stock Market as a Leading Indicator of GDP
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Where We Are, Economically
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
Secession for All Seasons
The Economic Outlook in Brief
A New Constitution for a New Republic
Is Taxation Slavery? (yes)
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Obamanomics: A Report Card

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.

*   *   *

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).

*   *   *

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)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

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.

*   *   *   *   *

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.)

*   *   *   *   *

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.

*   *   *

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.