Saturday, July 21, 2018

Open Secrets

The things that we’re concealing
Will never let us grow
-        Open Secrets, Rush

As you know, I am reading Gerard Casey’s Freedom's Progress?: A History of Political Thought.  I have read enough to know that I will be challenged.  Challenged?  How?

Closed for my protection —
Open to your scorn
Between these two directions
My heart is sometimes torn

When I began this blog, my political philosophy was about as dogmatically libertarian and individualistic as could be.  No one can be judged but the individual; no one can act other than as an individual…. I could defend the undefendable with the best of them.

I remember conversations from long ago: thinking about people in groups is the first step toward genocide; valuing any political unit beyond the individual was a path to hell.  “No it isn’t; you are just being politically correct.”   I don’t think so.  “Well, you may not think so, but you are.”  Or how about this: “there is no racism.”  Well, I know of the results of racism – or whatever you want to call this idea of deciding people’s fate by putting them in groups.  “Yes, but not in this country.” 

When our weary world was young
The struggle of the ancients first began
The gods of Love and Reason
Sought alone to rule the fate of Man

-        Cygnus X-1 Book Two: Hemispheres, Rush

One day I was challenged to take on Hoppe in the same way I took on the left-libertarians.  Well…you know where this road has led: it takes a little “thick” to make libertarianism work; if everything is “the individual,” then what we get is the state.  Not that I have fully reconciled this with what I still believe to be the danger of considering people in groups – there is a danger.

Well I guess
We all have these feelings
We can’t leave unreconciled

The Church?  If I described my denominational make-up, most of you would wonder how I didn’t end up in the funny farm…or maybe you would finally have the confession you need to conclude that which you already suspect: the funny farm is where I belong.  This post is probably convincing you of the same.

There is much that I have read so far from Casey’s book that buttresses my views – my views as you have come to know these via this blog.  But, I will also be challenged by Casey.  Challenged about individualism; challenged about the Middle Ages; challenged about the Church; challenged about things I am yet to read.  I am not saying all of my views will change.  I am just saying I will be challenged.

I think it may be possible, through Casey’s work, to reconcile and clarify many things about my thinking about the entire road from the Middle Ages through the Reformation, Renaissance, Enlightenment Classical Liberalism, and Libertarianism.  In other words, reconcile my views about “group” (both the good and bad side) with the value I place on the individual; reconcile the fact that I find both liberty and domination (libertarianism and communism) as a result of the Enlightenment.

I will push back.  I just don’t know that I will win.  Let me say this differently: I will win if I approach Casey with a reasonable amount of openness, because if I do this…then I will win – whether my views change or not.  I will lose if I stick to my views regardless of Casey’s presentation.

Now…I expect I will give as much as I will take…maybe.  In one page, Casey demonstrates that he understands more about whatever he is writing about than I demonstrate in any 20 blog posts.  Let’s just say I am attempting to punch above my weight class.


We can walk our road together
If our goals are all the same
We can run alone and free
If we pursue a different aim

Let’s see how I do.  Again, I am not saying that Casey will win on every argument.  What I am saying is that it is incumbent on me to argue fairly and honestly. 

I know many of you will hold me accountable – from both sides: the more “libertarian” of you on the one side, and the more “conservative” of you on the other.  I hope none of you have to hold me more accountable than I hold myself.

Let the truth of Love be lighted
Let the love of truth shine clear
Armed with sense and liberty
With the Heart and Mind united
In a single perfect sphere

Postscript: Whichever one of you convinced me to buy this book, I don’t like you very much right now!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Peterson on Trump

Jordan Peterson gives a very nuanced view about Trump and America; the last US election; a realistic view of politics and politicians; the most important thing a president can do (which Trump has done): 

He has not embroiled the US in an additional stupid war….How do you gauge the success of any American president?  Not engaging in a stupid war is a nice start.

Peterson is not looking for reasonable discussion by politicians, but “reasonable stupidity” from politicians.  Truly incisive.

The one thing Peterson does not capture is the ramifications if the left doesn’t change its ways and the chaos and violence that will then ensue.  But I think he has been clear enough on this point elsewhere.

Spend six minutes watching this video.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Freedom’s Progress?

When it comes to this blog, I don’t like being tied down.  What do I mean?  I have been asked to co-author papers, even books; submit articles to libertarian publications; write my own book; even “clean up my room,” meaning perhaps better organize blog posts to make certain ones easier to find.

I am humbled by such requests, but…I would rather just write.

I also am uncomfortable making big commitments in terms of what I will write.  I feel I have made one by diving into Rothbard’s Libertarian Forum, and although I have taken a break from this I know I will return to it at some point.

Well, I am about to enter this uncomfortable zone again, via Gerard Casey’s exhaustive work.   Approaching 900 pages, Casey explores the progress of freedom (the question mark is deliberate), beginning 200,000 years ago.  At least he is merely going to review human liberty, leaving the freedom of flora and fauna to others!

Anyone who has heard Casey speak knows of his wonderful sense of humor, and certainly this comes through in the Preface.  For example, in response to many Brits not knowing which Duke of Normandy invaded England and became its king, Casey offers:

…as Will Rogers noted, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects…

Per Oscar Wilde:

“In England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever,” before adding, gratefully, “If it did it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”

Two out of three teenage Americans can’t place the Civil War within 50 years of its occurrence; one in five cannot say who America fought in World War II. 

Memory is how we transmit virtues and values, and partake of a shared culture.

Of course, a culture is stronger if the memories are accurately transmitted and proper lessons are learned from this.  Far from being a failure of the education establishment, Casey rightly labels this ignorance of history as education’s crowning achievement.

Casey offers four concepts of liberty to contrast with his view of liberty – “thin” liberty as he refers to his view:

Metaphysical Liberty: Metaphysical liberty can be understood as encompassing freedom of the will in some sense or other.

How “free” is free will, if at all?  Whatever one’s view on this matter, much of the social and legal structure of society collapses completely to the extent the concept of free will in action is dissolved.  In any case, this is not the notion of freedom that Casey is chasing in this book.

Liberty as autonomy: where autonomy is to be thought of not merely as the absence of constraint but rather as the ability to set one’s goals in a way that is genuinely in accord with one’s status as a rational being.

…nothing outside of oneself can be allowed to determine one’s actions in any way.

This isn’t what Casey is after, either.  Goods inform our choices; in my way of thinking, reality always gets in the way of my free exercise of actions.

Republican or neo-Roman liberty: …as in the writings of Cicero…one is thought to be free if one is part of and able to participate in a political structure in which no other person has the political or legal power to determine one’s actions.

Sounds kind of like classical liberalism.  So what gives?  While classical liberalism is concerned with the use of force or the threat of its use as the only constraint, this neo-roman concept views that dependence itself is a source and form of constraint.  Not for Casey.

Substantive (or thick) liberty: …not just as the absence of external constraints on my actions outside the scope of the zero-aggression principle but as a lack of anything that limits my actual choices.

I think no clarifying statements are needed for this one.

Casey is focused on thin liberty:

…to the extent that an agent is unconstrained in his actions by force or the threat of force, he is free…

Incapacity to attain a goal is not a constraint; freedom is nothing more than “independence of the arbitrary will of another,” as Hayek puts it.

Thin liberty is defined by “not”: not killing, not injuring, not stealing, etc.  This is justice.  Thick liberty requires, forcefully, helping the poor and disenfranchised.

Casey will explore the slow emergence of the free individual, freeing himself from group identity and groupthink.  While he sees this freedom of the individual as fundamental for libertarians, he offers that “liberty is the lowest of social values, lowest in the sense of being most fundamental, a sine qua non of a human action’s being susceptible of moral evaluation in any way at all.”

Citing Murray Rothbard, “Only an imbecile could ever hold that freedom is the highest or indeed the only principle or end in life.”  Liberty does not automatically mean random individuals living in the wilderness, atomized individuals without any social connection or hierarchy. 


Casey’s book traces history with one focus in mind – the “fitful journey” of liberty.  He realizes and admits that this approach is biased.  So what?  Everyone’s approach to history is biased.  Casey’s is biased toward this singular focus: liberty.  To which I say, thank God: 900 pages is long enough!

Casey has allowed the reader the liberty to read the book in order or skip to any section that catches the reader’s interest.  I will take advantage of this freedom and begin with the chapters that cover the medieval period.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Centrally Planned Decentralization

Either that or an excellent example of a strawman argument.  Or both.

Recently, some of my friends singled out this piece by Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute, as truly awful. When I actually read it, however, it seemed like a reasonable presentation of a plausible view.

You know, I always say you can tell about a man by the company he keeps.  While Caplan refers to the piece as “reasonable” and “plausible,” his friends see it as “truly awful.”  What do his friends see as “truly awful”?  We can’t know for sure, other than to perhaps infer something from the lines of Deist’s speech cited by Caplan:

[L]ibertarians are busy promoting universalism even as the world moves in the other direction…. Mecca is not Paris, an Irishman is not an Aboriginal, a Buddhist is not a Rastafarian, a soccer mom is not a Russian…. Or would our time be better spent making the case for political decentralization, secession, and subsidiarity? In other words, should we let Malta be Maltese?

We should prefer states’ rights to federalization in the US, and cheer for the breakup of EU. We should support breakaway movements in places like Catalonia and Scotland and California.

Now maybe these are the parts Caplan finds “reasonable”; maybe these are not the parts Caplan’s friends find “truly awful.”  You might get some sense of this when you find that Caplan is to the left of the United Nations on open borders and immigration.  I leave to you to decide the reason why Caplan’s friends regard Deist’s piece as “truly awful.”

But where is the “centrally planned” stuff hinted at in my title, or the “strawman” introduced shortly thereafter?

The strawman will be found with Caplan’s opening objection – really a rhetorical question:

But does decentralization alone really promote liberty or prosperity?

Now, you know my view: more choices, it’s all about more choices.

But I won’t speak for Deist.  Did anyone say anything about “alone”?  A words search on Deist’s piece yields exactly zero results for the word “alone.”  It doesn’t seem to be a point raised by Deist.

Suppose further, however, that there is zero mobility between these countries. Labor can’t move; capital can’t move. In this scenario, each country seems perfectly able to pursue its policies free of competitive pressure.

Why does Caplan “suppose” this?  Deist certainly doesn’t suppose this in his piece.  I think it is “reasonable” (to borrow that word from Caplan) to “suppose” that some of these decentralized governance entities will support controls on capital and labor to a greater or lesser degree than others…you know, kind of like what happens today.

Why would Deist even think to bother introducing this issue of “mobility,” that this even need be said?  Why does Caplan introduce this?  The questions answer themselves.

So much for the strawman.  The central planning will be found in Caplan’s requirements for this decentralized world offered by Deist:

The story would change, of course, if you combine decentralization with resource mobility.

Government large or small doesn’t matter to Caplan; what matters is “resource [labor and capital] mobility.”  In other words, open borders and open immigration.  Of course, the simplest solution to achieve this is one world government….


From Deist’s speech (and cited by Caplan):

We should, in sum, prefer small to large when it comes to government.

I can’t think of a way to disagree with this from a libertarian standpoint: smaller in size, smaller in geography, smaller in regulations, smaller in military, smaller in population, etc., etc., etc.  Is there anything non-libertarian about “small” as opposed to “big” when it comes to modern government?  Caplan believes so:

If you can decentralize without changing anything else, great.

Impossible.  You can’t change just one thing.  Either Caplan doesn’t understand the reasons why people might want to decentralize (they want “change”; I know this seems too obvious to have to point it out, but there you have it) or he purposely introduces conditions that make decentralization impossible for libertarian support.

Otherwise, hold your applause until you’ve carefully analyzed decentralization’s net effect on liberty and prosperity.

In other words, “liberty and prosperity” must be centrally planned, and defined only as Caplan and other universalist utopians define the terms; based only on their value scale and not the value scale of those who want to decentralize.  Decentralization is only worthwhile if all governments (and all people) first embrace Caplan’s view of “liberty and prosperity.”


Regarding the subject piece by Jeff Deist, I wrote something on it at the time.  You might find it of interest.