Monday, February 18, 2019

The Not-So-Universal Libertarianism



I first came across Storey through a piece he wrote regarding his conversation with Frank van Dun.  To summarize: Storey viewed the medieval Church as the biggest hindrance to liberty and the promoter of centralized statism; van Dun set him straight.  Just how straight we will find in this book.

Storey has offered an introduction and outline to this work, through a piece published at the Mises site:

The study of Western Civilization has been all but eradicated. This was no accident but, rather, an aggressive policy of leftist academe which has used exclusionary tactics to dominate and pervert the culture and purpose of our universities since the 1960s and 70s. But, for us students, driven underground, Western history is the greatest treasure trove of almost every faculty. Not least of these is natural law.

I will cover the book over a series of several posts, beginning with this introduction.  The book is written in four parts: Natural Law, Socio-Biology, Politics, and Family.  You can imagine that one or more of these parts might touch on politically incorrect topics.

There are brief recommendations from individuals that will be well-known to readers here:

Gerard Casey: “Readers…won’t like [this] book – they will either love it or hate it!”

Walter Block: “I take my hat off to this author for his fearlessness and bravery.”

Frank van Dun: “[Storey] makes a compelling case for a conscientious libertarianism, rooted in the basic idea of the Western philosophical and Christian tradition…Storey effectively destroys the caricature of libertarianism as “globalist market fundamentalism” that became prominent in the Cold War era.”

Western civilization promoted, market fundamentalism demoted.  Something for everyone to hate!

Storey describes his own journey in his “libertarian beliefs regarding law/politics and their exclusively Western character and point of origin.”  Richard Duchesne and Frank van Dun are identified as his greatest influences.  Through these individuals, Storey discovered the value of the Middle Ages and Christendom to our Western tradition and law.

Moreover, [van Dun] was crucial in teaching me the nemesis of this order – modernism, specifically in the form of hyper- or Lutheran individualism.

Storey looks not only to historical causes of the decline of Western civilization, but even to more recent events like mass immigration from countries whose individuals do not hold to the same natural law tradition.  Such immigration is no accident:

Rather, these are deliberate acts, motivated by leftist ideologies which are dead set against the principles of natural law and justice and the hierarchical natural order – everything I have come to love about my dying civilization.

Conclusion

Like I said, there will be something in this book for almost everyone to hate.  Everyone on the left will hate it – including left-libertarians; everyone who views libertarianism primarily through an economic lens will hate it.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Going Old School


C. Jay Engel is introducing a new magazine, focused on Austrian Economics and libertarian ideas: Austro Libertarian, A Magazine for Liberty.

The Austro Libertarian Magazine is a physical print, quarterly published, premium magazine that seeks to promote, explain, and defend the tenants of Austrian Economics, Libertarianism, and cultural restraint in a world fascinated by the State and other Progressivist themes.

Like I said, going old school, both in format and also in cultural tradition.  The magazine is also available in digital format, of course.  Engel sees in his sights the work being done by the socialist publication Jacobin Magazine and considers that there is nothing similar in the tradition of Austrian Economics and Libertarianism.

Engel has made available online an essay from the inaugural issue.  This is done in conjunction with an interview at The Tom Woods Show by the author of the essay, Ben Lewis.  The title of the essay is Just Don't Call it Fusionism: Frank Meyer’s Defense of Freedom and Virtue. (PDF)  Again, going old school – to write of virtue in this age…. I will now focus on the essay, as I found it most worthwhile.

To the casual observer, Frank Meyer is well known as a fusionist – attempting to combine traditional conservatism and libertarianism.  It was a label he rejected:

…he disavowed the fusionist label, saying that he was not attempting to fuse two disparate elements together, but was simply attempting to show that “although they are sometimes presented as mutually incompatible, [they] can in reality be united within a single broad conservative political theory, since they have their roots in a common tradition and are arrayed against a common enemy.”

Meyer found an emphasis of freedom and virtue in the ancient Greeks and in the Old Testament, with both societies also separating earthly power from heavenly power.  The recognition of the dignity of each individual was found through the Incarnation of Christ.

One cannot separate these: the tradition that found the individual was also a tradition that emphasized the development of virtue.  Both are an anathema to the modern left, hence conservatism and libertarianism can – even must – walk together.

Meyer does perhaps his most meaningful work in examining the relationship of the individual to various societal institutions.  For instance, the family:

“The family as an institution,” he wrote, “cannot guarantee the raising of the young in the paths of virtue...only individual persons, acting through the form of the family, can do so.”

Yes, only individuals act; however they act through institutions.  It is the institutions that offer the forums for action.  Hence, placing family above the individuals that make it up is an inversion; yet the individual loses his ability to act without institutions.

Meyer was clear that virtue could not be brought on by the state – to teach and uphold virtue was not a political function.  Conservatives are right when they focus on virtue and virtuous behavior; they are wrong, however, in calling for the state to be the means toward this end.

Meyer also disagreed with libertarians who discounted the importance of virtue. 

These “libertines,” he thought, threatened civilization by removing all social restraints on individual behavior.  …“The first victim of the mobs let loose by the weakening of civilizational restraint will be, as it has always been, freedom – for anyone, anywhere.”

Virtue and freedom are inseparable.  The loss of one will result in the loss of the other; one is not possible without the other.  What Meyer wrote of decades ago is only more significant today.  As Lewis offers:

The decline of freedom and virtue that alarmed Meyer 60 years ago is now at such an advanced stage that one wonders whether either can be salvaged. What Meyer attempted to show was that to save one, we must rescue the other.

Needless to say, the Meyer as described here is one with which I can wholeheartedly agree.  His thoughts on the purpose and necessity of both institutions and virtue toward finding and maintaining freedom are exactly spot on.

The conclusion offered by Lewis – that we are now 60 years further away from a virtuous society than when Meyer wrote – is, of course, correct; the rate of decline seems, at times, to be accelerating.  As I have said before, it is time for Christian leaders to start acting Christian.  The work must start here.

There is much more in the essay: a thorough description of the dialogue between Meyer and Russell Kirk, a dialogue that seemed characterized by violent agreement; the dialogue between Meyer and Robert Nisbet, also characterized similarly – although perhaps not as conclusively; the dialogue between Meyer and Murray Rothbard, perhaps not in disagreement at all but just trying to work out the ideas.

I highly recommend the essay (PDF).  Also, check out the interview of Lewis by Tom Woods.  Finally, consider subscribing to the magazine.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Anorexic Libertarianism


Anorexia…is a psychological and potentially life-threatening…disorder.

One of my earliest endeavors at this blog was to work through libertarianism – the thinnest of thin libertarianism.  My approach was simple: take the non-aggression principle and deduce.  I honed my understanding by working through dozens of posts and essays by many libertarians, trying to understand if or how well the thinking conformed to the non-aggression principle.

Much of the writing that I analyzed veered to the left – various social causes having nothing to do with the NAP.  Having gone after many of these, I was challenged: “why don’t you take on Hoppe with the same gusto that you employ against left-libertarians?”

Well, I did.  And I found that Hoppe was correct.  But Hoppe wasn’t redefining the non-aggression principle – he wasn’t making it “thick”; instead, he offered that cultural boundaries were important if one is to maintain a libertarian society.  This understanding sent me on my path to consider libertarians and culture, tradition, and custom.

Around this same time I came across a discussion of libertarian punishment theory applied: the aggrieved property owner is free to decide the punishment for any transgression of his property.  Anything short of this and you are a thick libertarian.

What about shooting a child for picking an apple?  Yup, if that’s what the owner wants, then that is the libertarian answer.  Private property is inviolate, more valuable than life in all circumstances.

Well, that didn’t sit well with me.  I thought…there is no way such a society will remain free.  If punishment (along with dozens of other daily actions) does not conform to something approaching generally acceptable cultural norms, something like the opposite of liberty will be the result.

Now, in hindsight, I suspect one could conclude this punishment theory from the NAP –the aggrieved property owner decides.  Property is inviolate, and value is subjective.  Who but the farmer can say what the value is of his apple?  Well, you all know where this journey has led me: if liberty is the objective, then what must be added to libertarianism, to the non-aggression principle?

Any ideology taken to an extreme will result in totalitarianism.  Now, that isn’t such a stretch to accept for ideologies such as communism, socialism, etc.  But is it also true of libertarianism?  Taken to an extreme, perhaps the farmer does have the right to shoot the child for picking an apple; the aggrieved property owner can inflict any punishment on the offender – no matter how trivial the offense.

It might be the thinnest of thin libertarianism – an ideology taken to an extreme – but it sure won’t result in liberty.  It will result in pretty much the opposite. 

All well enough for punishment.  What about defense?  A child (yes, I purposely use children in these examples to drive home the point) takes a candy bar and walks out of the store.  The shopkeeper chases the child and shoots him in the back.  “Whew!”  That punk didn’t steal this one dollar candy bar.”

He defended his property, sure enough.  It could be argued that his action fully conformed to the non-aggression principle.  But what of liberty?  What happens down that road?  Any punishment that the aggrieved decides?  Any defense of property for even the most trivial transgression?  Yes, it might be thin libertarianism applied, but is it liberty-inducing behavior?  If you think so, there are many neighborhoods in places like Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore for you to find your liberty.  They live by such rules there.

What about the issue of encirclement, another issue that brings up some conflict between property and life?  And, dare I say, abortion?  Even for those who view it as a strict property rights issue – the mother owns the property of the womb – is killing the unborn child just punishment (or defense) for this supposed transgression of trespass?

Conclusion

We have purified libertarian theory based solely on the non-aggression principle enough already.  Let’s work on finding liberty.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Libertarian Red Line


Red Line: a limit past which safety can no longer be guaranteed.

The subject of abortion has received some attention lately, what with laws in New York and Virginia and governors celebrating the furthering of liberty to murder human beings.

It is a curious topic among libertarians, a situation where the question of which human has property rights in the womb – the mother or the unborn child.  If it is the unborn child, the mother is inconvenienced for nine-months; if it is the mother, the unborn child is inconvenienced for (usually) not nearly as long…but much more permanently. 

I have addressed this as a property rights issue in the past, merely for the sake of argument; the unborn child has the rights to the womb for the natural term of the pregnancy.  However, my fundamental view is grounded in the reality that the unborn child is a human being.

Why do I label it a “curious” topic?  By this, I don’t mean to trivialize it.  I find it curious that a portion of those who claim to adhere to non-aggression consider as acceptable the murdering another human being.  Specifically, in the case of abortion: murdering the only innocent individual in the situation; murdering the one individual in the situation least capable of defending himself.

Certainly for any libertarian who bases his concept of rights in the natural law, it is quite an inconsistency in thought.  There is no liberty at the end of this road.  If a principle of non-aggression cannot see its way clear on the aggression of abortion, it is a theory that cannot stand against any aggression. 

Andrew Napolitano has written a piece addressing the current issue.  He offers a couple of concluding statements which well-capture my view on this matter:

No society that permits the active or passive killing of people because they are unwanted can long survive.

I would also say that no political theory based on non-aggression that permits the active or passive killing of people because they are unwanted has any claim of legitimacy.

No society that defines away personhood has any claim to knowing right from wrong.

I would also say that no political theory based on non-aggression and defines away personhood has anything worth listening to when it comes the right and wrong of crossing the line of aggression.

Fortunately, libertarian theory cannot be used as a crutch to support abortion; both on property rights and on murdering of innocents, libertarian theory supports the unborn child.  Unfortunately, libertarians generally claim that the theory is supportive of abortion. 

I will suggest that those that do cannot hold claim to the label of non-aggression.  They make a mockery of both the term and of libertarianism.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Our Aim


Ira Katz has written a very thought provoking piece, entitled “The Praxeology of Revolution.”  For context, he discusses the demonstrations by the gilets jaunes in France; living in Paris as a naturalized French citizen and also one who is well-versed in libertarian and free-market thought, he has a view of these events not generally available to the rest of us.

[The demonstrators] certainly have some valid complaints. Taxes are too high. The state, centered in Paris, has its tentacles intertwined through virtually all aspects of life strangling initiative.

Unfortunately, their solutions veer toward more socialism as opposed to more liberty.  Why move toward socialism, given the deadly and murderous track record of this political philosophy?  A French leftist on the radio offered an answer:

…his critique of French President Macron as someone who only understands an Excel spreadsheet rang true.  Thus, it is not just for Macron, but also I think some libertarians might have this Excel mentality.

Katz offers an idealized example: a factory in France closes, in order to move production to a lower cost country.  A free-market libertarian would explain how society overall is better off for this move, but the displaced workers don’t see it this way.  Create enough displaced workers and one sows the seeds of revolution.  Katz offers: “This praxeology of revolution needs to be addressed in the libertarian analysis.”

Katz offers a section from the introduction to Human Action.  Subjective value takes us far outside of economics, to the entirety of choices available in life:

Choosing determines all human decisions. In making his choice man chooses not only between various material things and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another. Nothing that men aim at or want to avoid remains outside of this arrangement into a unique scale of gradation and preference.

Walter Block has often and rightly offered: a libertarian as libertarian has little to say about much of anything:

Libertarianism is SOLELY a theory of just law; it says that the only legitimate laws are those prohibiting the violation of persons or justly owned property; laws such as those prohibiting murder, rape, theft, kidnapping, etc. are the only licit laws. There are no other just laws.

But consider this in the context of subjective value as described in Human Action.  We are free to choose sublime or base, noble or ignoble.  Libertarianism says nothing about these choices of base or ignoble, merely offering maximum liberty to the individual; man is free to aim at any of these. 

Yet, while offering maximum liberty to the individual, does libertarianism offer the same for the society in which the liberated individual lives?  The French factory worker might disagree, just as those who prefer traditional western values might disagree.

While I have recently taken issue with the views of Edward Feser on self-ownership and social justice (more precisely, I have taken issue with his proposed prescription and not so much his diagnosis), Feser has done an excellent job of taking apart the modern philosophers (my commentary on his work can be found here, under “Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism”).

What is our liberty for?  To what do we aim?  Feser examines these through the natural law as derived by Aristotle and Aquinas.  Absent answering these questions, the base and ignoble are available to man on his subjective value scale.  Yet, in choosing these, do we move toward a free society or away from one?

Conclusion

Walter is quite right about the extent and limitations of libertarianism; Mises is quite right about the field of play for subjective value – it extends far beyond economics.  Libertarianism and subjective value make us free to aim at anything – even the base and ignoble.  But if our target is liberty, we must ask: will these alone allow us to hit the mark?

Epilogue

Katz offers: “To be clear, I am opposed to any kind of law penalizing a company for moving a factory.”  As am I.  But without properly wrestling with the entirety of the natural law as offered by Aristotle and Aquinas, I believe we will not find liberty.