Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why Culture Matters

In the little corner of the world occupied by libertarians of all stripes, discussion often ranges far and wide on matters that can be broadly labeled “culture.”  Posts and commentary can be found on issues ranging from those commonly labeled as “left-libertarian” (gay marriage, open borders, be nice to everyone, break down all hierarchical structures) to issues commonly labeled as “right-libertarian” (traditional lifestyle choices, managed borders, governance via family, church and community).

Why?  Why do libertarians find it necessary or valuable to comment on such matters?  Of course, a simple answer is that individuals who identify as libertarian have many other interests.  But it is clear that there is something more – the two spheres, “culture” and “libertarian,” seem to overlap inherently.  If it was random, we might expect to read just as many commentaries by (and passionate arguments amongst) libertarians on sports or cooking, for example.

What is it about culture that draws libertarian writers into its circle?  I will offer my thoughts on those traditionally labelled “right-libertarians.”  For the left – I have offered my thoughts plenty of times.

What Do I Mean by “Culture”?

Culture – in this context – is all of the behaviors in our lives that are not answerable by or even addressed by the non-aggression principle.  The non-aggression principle addresses when it is proper to use aggression; it is a political principle.  The NAP says nothing about many things: haircuts, clothes, religious affiliation (or not), car color, etc.  It speaks to the proper use of force, nothing more.

What is Libertarianism?

Libertarianism is the non-aggression principle built on a foundation of private property.  It is not appropriate to initiate aggression against the life or property of another; aggression is appropriate only in defense of life or property.

The definition is itself quite thin – I imagine in the abstract most people in the world would agree with this principle (one or both of the golden rule and silver rule, while not perfect matches, has/have a home in all of the various major religions of the world). 

The application of the principle sometimes becomes an issue.  For the majority this difficulty begins with the intellectual or emotional inability to apply the NAP to state actors: for too many, initiating aggression is acceptable if the aggressor wears a badge (or uniform or any other state-sanctioned license).

For those of us in this more radical corner (both left and right), we apply the NAP to all individuals – state actors or not; in fact, by applying it to all individuals, most of us find the concept of “state actors” inherently to be in contradiction to the NAP.

How to Achieve and Maintain a Libertarian Order?

What do I mean by “libertarian order”?  A society that respects private property and the non-aggression principle.  As there is much more to life, the rest will be filled-in by individuals, communities, churches, etc.  Libertarian theory has nothing to say about any of this.

While there are many different variants, it seems to me that the most reasonable path to achieve a libertarian order is through education.  It strikes me as self-evident that the biggest growth in the movement came via Ron Paul and supported by the foundation built by Lew Rockwell at the Mises Institute and LRC.  But I won’t argue if you work through different means toward the same ends – the more, the merrier.

How is a libertarian order to be maintained?  There is the rub, there is where culture comes in – and it is here where I believe the commonly labeled “left” and “right” part ways, and where I maintain that the “right” has it…right.

Despite the fairy-tales floated by certain left-libertarians, in a world populated by humans there will always be prejudices, biases, and preferences.  Further, it is an inherent characteristic of private property that it is exclusionary, and the owner has the right to “exclude” on any basis he chooses – call this “discrimination” if you like.  For a private property order to mean anything, the property owner’s right to discriminate must be respected.

In other words, in order to maintain a libertarian order, it must be recognized that humans are…human.  To act on the basis that humans will ever be anything else is to ensure future conflict – the surest path to maintaining support for state solutions.

Despite the fairy-tales floated by certain left-libertarians, in a world populated by humans there will always be hierarchy and there will always be governance – governance, not government (as that term is understood today). 

There will never arise a human-populated world of a flat organizational structure – people will join organizations voluntarily, and those same people will voluntarily submit to the authority in these organizations.

Who – or what – provides the governance is the only question: will it be a monopoly provider, or will it be a decentralized and varied combination of countless voluntarily-joined, hierarchical entities?  In a libertarian order, there is only one acceptable answer.

The most ubiquitous governance-providing institution is the market.  The market provides governance – there is discipline necessary to effectively deliver service to customers, with pressure to improve coming from all sides.  Merely look around you every day – the order in a grocery store, the effectiveness of a bank transaction; consider the governance required to deliver such service.

The most important foundation for governance is the family – the government knows this, which is why they work constantly to destroy it.  There is no theoretical possibility of a world of 7 billion separately governing entities, but perhaps 1.5 billion (or however many households there are in this world). 

Family as an organized governance structure is as old as recorded human history, and until it can be demonstrated that something even more decentralized can function reasonably well, this is as far down the decentralization path that I believe is feasible – in theory and in practice.

Beyond this is the community, the church, various volunteer groups, insurance companies, etc.  Each providing governance in different ways, in different spheres.

So what does this have to do with culture?  Culture is another institution that provides governance. 

I will begin with a simple example: any of you Yankees been to London?  What do you see in big letters written on the ground of every crosswalk?


Why is that?  The answer to this question starts one down the road of understanding the importance of culture in a voluntary-governance society. 

The better that the “rules of the road” (only a slight pun intended) are broadly understood and accepted, the lower the likelihood for conflict.  Culture helps to answer questions about acceptable behavior in the spaces where the NAP is not a suitable guide; there are numerous questions that inherently the NAP cannot answer. 

How much labor is to be mixed with land or other unowned resources in order to transform these from unowned to owned?  The NAP does not answer this question; local custom and culture will.  How much punishment fits the crime?  The NAP does not answer this question; local custom and culture will (save the extreme, bound by the NAP). 

What are acceptable family relationships?  Absent clear violations of the NAP, the NAP does not answer this question.  What is an acceptable greeting between two businessmen?  No answer in the NAP.

Proper attire?  Greeting a person of the opposite sex?  Hand holding in the park?  All cultural questions.

Which way do I first look before I cross the street, left or right?  The words painted in the intersection remind visitors to London of the local culture, and by following the norms of the local culture the chance for conflict (your head aggressing against my bumper) is greatly reduced.

In many of these cases, a wide range of answers will be valid within the thin definition of the NAP.  But a common understanding and acceptance of the specific answer to each question “around here” will greatly reduce the possibilities for conflict.

So what does culture have to do with maintaining a libertarian order?  This, to me, is quite simple: the less conflict, the less chance that some self-proclaimed and self-pitying disadvantaged group will look to a savior to deliver them from their perceived suffering.

The less conflict the less chance that people will look for someone to do something about it.  The “someone” will ultimately be the monopoly provider of fixing all things for all people.

And there goes the libertarian order – or even the possibility of moving closer to one.

Culture Ain't Got no Feelings, it’s Made of Rubber

As in Dumbo’s case, wrong. 

Culture doesn’t like revolutionary change.  Culture evolves slowly and gradually – this has been true throughout history and such change is a very natural human condition.  It is the unnatural human condition that brings this topic to the fore; the unnatural human condition brings revolutionary change, not evolutionary change.

What do I mean by the “natural human condition” in this context?  Culture evolving via market forces, via introduction of the new via voluntary interactions and voluntary acceptance.  Day-to-day these are imperceptible changes, noticeable only when looking back over a period of years or even decades.  This is how a culture evolves naturally.

What do I mean by the “unnatural human condition”?  Much of the world today.

War, for example, is tremendously culture-destroying.  Of course, the Great War marked a significant turning point in Western culture.  War – certainly on such a scale – is only possible via the presence of the state and state control over much of societal activity. 

But what of today?  I will expand on only one example, one issue very much in the news and in the debate between libertarians left and right: immigration and open borders. 

The mass migration of refugees into Europe today is quite unnatural – they are moving by the millions solely due to the condition of a multi-decade war.  There is no doubt that the numbers of migrants would be merely a trickle if they were not fleeing their impossible condition.

Further, this is not a mass migration from and to people and places with common cultures – and absent a common culture, there is increased chance for conflict despite anyone’s wishes that humans behave differently than they have throughout recorded history.

Other examples are in the recent news – the state forcing the issues of gay marriage upon private property owners; (supposedly) bringing liberal democracy via war.

In any case, with increased conflict, there will be increased call for the state to take action.  And with increased call for the state to take action, the state will take action.  And this provides the clue, the hint.  The chaos, brought on by the state, will result in further demands for solutions to be enacted and enforced by the state.

Which raises an interesting – and terribly important – issue: take the case of refugees and open borders.  There are many libertarians who offer that the borders should be left open.  There are others who feel the opposite.  Both sides believe they have libertarian theory on their side.

Yet only one of these positions greatly increases the possibility, to the point of certainty, of greater state intervention.  After all, the state already “manages” the border.  To continue managing the border does not increase state intervention.  To stop managing the border – as Germany has so far done – will not result in less intervention, but in significant increases in state intervention and power; this due to the significant risk imposed to the existing culture.

The issue is not one of “different” or “the other.”  The issue is the pace of change and the forces behind the pace; the issue is one of conflict certain to follow forced and rapid change; the issue is one of the state stepping in to provide a “solution” to the manufactured conflict.

If culture doesn’t govern, the state most certainly will.  And there goes any movement toward, let alone the possibility of maintaining, a libertarian order.


Libertarian theory is thin.  How to achieve and maintain a libertarian order?  Culture matters.  And I believe this is why libertarians associated with the right defend ideas of culture.

It isn’t an issue of right vs. left.  It is an issue of moving toward vs. away from a libertarian order; it is an issue of reducing the influence of the state.

Is it an appropriate objective to reduce the role of the state in society?  On the importance of culture, the so-called (and inappropriately labeled, for the reasons outlined above) right libertarians are right.


  1. This is something I think libertarians, myself included, are starting to accept: culture is everything. It unites people more than any other aspect of human life, save for maybe religion. What this means is that libertarianism cannot exist in a vacuum, for it is not and does not claim to be a complete moral theory. So it needs cultures whose values and beliefs complement libertarianism. What this also means is that some cultures by their very nature are incompatible with libertarianism due to mutually exclusive values.

  2. I don't think it can be fixed. The state isn't going to enforce the borders without stoking hatred. It isn't going to open the borders without stoking hatred.

  3. Like. Plus. Plus.

    Culture fills in the gaps that the NAP leaves wide open. Individuals within that existing culture are 'free' to do that.


  4. Libertarianism - the concept of the individual as a sovereign - may be construed as a species of anti-culture, since much, if not all culture is arbitrary and coercive. Nearly all sets of societal forms - cultures - have inflexible sets of norms, which are enforced in ways that cannot be rejected by a theoretically free individual born into those cultures - a subject - without a cost that cannot be survived. The fact that one is born into a culture, or a state , and continues to breathe within that culture or state, despite not having had a say in its creation or maintenance, neither implies acceptance of that societal system, nor the legitimacy of its claims of legitimate coercion.

    Rothbard was adamant that children have rights and are entitled to opt for new parents. Systems of belief seem to favor the law of the jungle, or "might makes right." Culture as religion says that stoning humans to death (Judaism and Islam) when they are at odds with a culture, or shunning them until they starve and/or freeze to death (Christianity), or leaving helpless, sick infants to die on mountaintops (ancient Sparta), etc., is not only acceptable, but prescribed as righteous and moral.

    This commentor feels that adults with similar values, such as being able to sleep at night in quietude, stroll about without being eaten by pitbulls, not view litter or public displays of private bodily activities, should be free to form gated communities with microscopically-limited membership agreements and/or constitutions. For claim sof "culture" or other arbitrary forms of coercion based on superstitions or cults of personality is the antithesis of freedom for the individual.

    1. Even if I grant that children are free to opt for new parents, this does not imply that any other parents must be required to take those children.

      As to your historic examples, none of these exist today in any of the cultures of the typical readers of this blog. Perhaps a lesson can be learned about evolution of culture?

      In any case, I was clear regarding the foundation of the NAP. Is it an NAP violation to drive on the left side vs. the right side?

      Finally, in your cultureless society: there will be governance from somewhere. That you ignore this suggests you haven't met very many humans.

  5. Except, if I understand you, and I am not at all certain that I do, that the individuals involved would have agreed by contract without *any* coercion to these cultural norms. Full stop.

    1. I suggest that people accept these because they reduce the risk of conflict, just as we accept - without law or explicit contract - on which side of the street to drive.

      I also suggest that individuals are free to challenge the existing culture - this is a natural occurrence (to the extent there is anything that is NOT manipulated by the state in western society today) in musical tastes, hairstyles, etc., for example.

      I suggest that it is natural that the prevailing culture evolves - if one does not accept the prevailing culture, he is free to do something different (again, not in violation of the NAP) and suffer the consequences - if any. He is also free to leave.

      I guess I am saying that governance will come from somewhere, and the NAP isn't enough. Culture can be viewed as the way society governs itself.

    2. Dear bionic mosquito,

      I agree with you completely here. I apologize that I was not clear that in this instance I was responding to Anonymous November 17, 2015 at 6:07 PM whose post I find to be incomprehensible.

      He/She writes a sentence such as this one conflating "culture" with "arbitrary forms of coercion" thus missing or pretending to miss the very starting point of our brand of libertarianism which holds the NAP most dear.

      Anonymous: "For claims of "culture" or other arbitrary forms of coercion based on superstitions or cults of personality is the antithesis of freedom for the individual."


  6. Jim, not true. I've been all around the world and seen secure borders that did not involve hatred of foreigners. The hatred appears when people have had the element of choice, their agency, denied to them by the government. Up until a few days ago the French government and the media had been telling us 24/7 that there is no way to deal the border and yet after the Paris incident the President of France was able to close the border as if by magic. This is proof that this migration is coercive.

    Open borders libertarians advocate policies that result in NAP violations on me. What I find, however, is that quite often open borders libertarians are not quite honest about what they are hoping open borders will achieve. I have heard open borders libertarians say that open borders is required to fight white supremacy (by having white people demographically subjugated). I'm white and I would like a place to live in peace. The idea of being subjugated in order to fight "white supremacy" doesn't appear to me at all!

    1. I'm not an open border libertarian. I'm also not a closed border libertarian. I'm a libertarian who looks at the border issue, with regards to the state, the same way he looks at every other thing that the state does, even if it were something I wish would be done (not by the state):

      Will the politicians and enforcement organs that actually exist now with the incentive structure that actually exists now actually improve anything with regards to outcome? And if they do improve it now, what will it morph into over time as the added authority and resources and their effects work through the bureaucracy?

      I don't foresee anything good coming of it. You can make a tactical decision that the chaos that comes from the state not patrolling the borders is less (or more) than what comes from the state patrolling the borders, but I think it is highly speculative.

      When we talk about what the ramifications of a minimum wage are we talk about them to the extent that the minimum wage deviates from the lowest wage someone would work for, i.e. to the extent that the minimum wage is an infringement on the market/voluntary/private property respecting exchange, i.e. to the extent that it is a STATE action in the way that differentiates the state from everyone else.

      The war on illegal immigrants is likely to have the same effects as every other war D.C. wages -- it will make things worse, imo.

    2. >I have heard open borders libertarians say that open borders is required to fight white supremacy

      While I'd like to see incidents like these provided with a source, it meshes with my observations that the libertarian movement appears to have turned into strom drain where leftists who longer believe the economic program run off to. It would certainly explain why we're seeing a wave of "libertarians" completly indistinguishable from bog standard progressives and SJWs.
      Sadly libertarians are ill-equipped to deal with such entryism and the culture these people choose to import into the movement. In due time libertarianism may very well end up as Free Market SJWism in the future.

  7. LIBERTARIANISM has one big problem: They propose their three basic tenets as a solution to the multitude of complex decisions in the life of people.

    As I read it they define their belief as
    --- The Non Aggression Principle,
    --- Everybody's inviolable right to private property
    --- The Golden Rule of: Do unto Others as you would want them to do unto You.

    This has major problems for the average person seeking answers. All the names which count in Libertarianism were/are heavy-weight intellectuals.

    I suspect that the distribution graph would show that 90% of any population are seriously intellectually challenged. They are incapable of extrapolating the three heady Libertarian tenets into complex issues in real life.

    Think for a moment about the religious books, which are trying to achieve similar goals. They each have thousands of pages spelling out their nitty-gritty at a very low level. There are pages and pages of Parables by Prophets, Disciples, Gurus, and Sages, giving facile examples of what to do under any circumstances.

    The Christian and Muslim Clergy and proselytizers give a references with paragraph and line numbers for any conceivable doubt or event. They spend their whole lives committing all these to memory.

    Libertarianism has only three sizes "fit all" and then very philosophical ways of applying them. I go one better with just one Tenet. "Intellect understands all under any circumstances"

    My Summary: libertarianism is only understandable and only works for those who have cracked the Intellect barrier. It is not a coincidence that more than 90% of the US totally misses what the Libertarians are trying to say and do.


    1. Graham, you may very well be correct in your general premise; but this is a subject for another day. I only offer that your third item is not an inherent part of libertarianism. Closer would be the silver rule - do NOT do unto others what you would not want done to you - but even this isn't a perfect fit.

      I only introduce these because these are reasonable approximations of the NAP, and these approximations are present in many major religions.

  8. Bionic, I am glad you are finally admitting some thickness. I maintain that there are no thin libertarians. See this drawing for reference:


    Everyone is thick in application, because applying the NAP requires interpretation and a theory of property. However, you are alluding here to strategic thickness, but also thickness from grounds. What are your grounds for being a libertarian? I would say a big part of it is culturalism and the belief that libertarianism will protect local cultures. I believe you are arguing for an entailment loop between culturalism and libertarianism.

    The question at hand then becomes: which will you choose when your culture, or attempts at its preservation, clashes with the NAP? I posit that people will always choose based on their grounds. This does not mean they will reject the NAP. Rather, they will interpret, apply, and twist the NAP to avoid any conflict with their grounds.

    A great example of this is your support for closed borders, which you believe is requires for cultural preservation. Clearly this calls for massive State power, which does not seem very libertarian at a first pass. So you have to come up with all sorts of convoluted arguments to justify it. In the end, you claim that since we pay taxes, we sort of own the government land and are justified in putting a fence around it based on property rights. Never mind the fact that the same argument can be used to justify any sort of government action, such as income taxes. After all, income taxes are just a sort of homeowner's association fee, right?

    So what is the libertarian positions on culture? Well, from an NAP perspective, there isn't one, of course. But my grounds are individualism. I became attracted to libertarianism because I was primarily an individualist. I believe in an entailment loop between libertarianism and individualism. I believe my case is stronger and that my grounds are stronger, but that is an issue for another time.

    I would just like to add this. Culturalism and individualism are often enemies. A huge portion of world literature is devoted to the clash between the individual and an oppressive culture. Or think of the Bollywood industry, which thrives on the conflict between love and familial pressure. What do you think is more important, the culture or the individual? I am curious as to what you would answer.

    If we are gonna be localists, let's take it all the way, past the level of the family,to the individual. Let each individual develop his or her own culture, if they so desire. Libertarians should be individualists.

    1. That's all very well, but I think you may be missing the point. Libertarianism is about what we must not do, it's strictly negative. We must not initiate aggression against others. But, the question being considered here is, what *should* we do? Should I spend every penny I make, or save it? Should I have sex with my girlfriend, or hold off? That sort of thing. It's easy to say, do whatever you want. Very well, very well. But what consequences will that have down the line?

      We know from centuries of experience that forgoing present gratification often yields greater rewards later. But doing so is flat-out unnatural. Culture, then, is what we use to trick ourselves into doing the unnatural but ultimately beneficial.

      So, no, no one should be forced to do it. But it would be a good idea if they did.

      Igor Karbinovskiy

    2. Ed, my position on borders is nothing more than an extension of my position regarding the borders to my property. The reality is, the borders to my property are not "closed." Entrance by another is always possible with my permission.

      This isn't "open" or "closed," it is property.

  9. you want less conflict, and then you associate with a culture that search conflict.. as Hoppe do. The right - i mean the right of right libertarians like Hoppe -have a culture of homogeneity, that is not "i go with the people i like to stay with", but is based on disgust for diversity. They despise a lot of people: black, hispanic, jew, gay, libertines, people who want an alternative life style.. And they preach that to mantain a libertarian order we must go with a planned society on ethnic, religious, sexual, and other, ground. They are no anarchist, don't believ in spontaneus order, don't believe in catallaxy. They are suprematist that want to superimpose suprematism to libertarianism.

    For me to avoid conflict is better a culture of tolerance and respect for diversity, that search for pacific cohabitation (live and let live), and the right libertarian culture is far far far far far away from that. Racism, suprematis, homophobia, etc.. are forces that create conflicts. Sorry..

    Anonymous KKK

    1. Last time I looked it wasn't libertarian rightists who march in lockstep with a bunch of elite-supported Red Guard wannabes.

      >forces that create conflicts

      As opposed to identity politics, the oppression olympics and the special snowflakeism enabled by the PC left and thier "libertarian" vanguards, right?

    2. This is silly. What world do you live in? "And they preach that to mantain (sic) a libertarian order we must go with a planned society on ethnic, religious, sexual, and other, ground" Links, or it didn't happen. I, for one, have never once heard or read any genuine libertarian propose that.

      "They despise a lot of people: black, hispanic, jew, gay, libertines, people who want an alternative life style" Again, links. Otherwise you just sound like you heard from someone else that this is what libertarians are about and never thought to question it. Not really surprising, I guess.

      Diversity? What do you mean, diversity? Like in the universities, where now if you go against the PC dogma and offer an alternative viewpoint you may have cause to fear for your safety? Is this what you consider "live and let live"?

      Igor Karbinovskiy

    3. read Hoppe.. is full of hatred for gay and the others i mentioned.. he associates gay, alternative life style, criminals, poor, black, leftist, as if they are the same human garbage and deserve the same treatment. There is a long story of rebuttal of Hoppe "rightism" by Walter Block.. search Mises.org you will find it.

      With that "culture" conflict is everywere.

      Anonymous KKK

    4. I did a quick search and found mention of his "Democracy". I think that's what you're referring to. I haven't read it but just from the description it's clear that he's referring to the Right of Association. All of us have the right to choose whom we associate with, and whom we do not associate with. I challenge you to argue that if a person does not wish to spend time with a Jew, then the state should put a gun to his head (ie pass a law) and force him to. That would tell us everything we need to know about where you really stand on statism-anarchism continuum.

      No one should have any say in whom I choose to spend time with. This position does not equal to hatred of the groups you mentioned. On my property, I am absolute authority except when it comes to another's property (such as their bodies or personal effects etc).

      The only way this can lead to conflict is if you have the entitlement mentality and imagine that people are entitled to be on my property, because reasons.

      Igor Karbinovskiy

  10. As regards the importance of culture, ask yourself this- whom would you rather have as a neighbor? A Rothbardian/Hoppean ancap who constantly has loud parties, keeps his yard a mess, discharges the occasional firearm, and has strange characters coming and going all hours of the night? Or a dopey liberal Bernie Sanders type, who advocates outright socialism but has a nice quiet family, good kids who study hard, a tidy yard, and volunteers at the food bank?

    1. I haven't fully thought through this or anything but, I don't see why the ancap neighbor would behave that way, or why the socialist. I've never met an ancap who's loud or vulgar. They're usually well read, respectable, and respectful of others wishes. The kind of person who recognizes the easiest way to keep neighbors from resorting to violence is to keep neighbors happy--at least as a marginal incentive.

      Socialists, who implicitly accept state violence as a means to conflict resolution are marginally less likely to be affected culture norms and more likely to be affected by law as laid out by the state. I other words, if partying and being an obnoxious neighbor is legal, they would be the more likely neighbor to exhibit that behavior. The ancap I think would be more likely to avoid conflict and strive for behaving in a way that has the least ill-effects on the community.

  11. When arguing with Leftists in general, one of the biggest red buttons that gets pushed is when I state that America has a unique and valuable culture. We are bound by an idea that transcends ethnic lines (I refuse to use "race", which is a bastardization of culture), binds us together with common values, and separates the country from others more effectively than lines on a map. It's interesting to see which issues bring the most angry responses from the collectivists, and it lets you know what the main point of their agenda is if you didn't quite grasp it before.

    The American Dream is to be free of slavery, to be free of the States of old Europe and their "systems". That basically it, and the rest of it, such as land ownership and being the master of your own destiny flows from this concept of freedom (...from all forms of slavery, what other definition of freedom can there be?). The only reason to despise American culture in this aspect is because as a collectivist you want to replace one set of masters with your preferred set of masters.

    Toward that end it seems that the Non Aggression Principle should not just be applied equally to all individuals in argument, but also toward "The State". If something is forbidden to an individual, it should likewise be forbidden to any form of "government" and all its agents. Arguing from this standpoint may be one way to increase the presence of libertarian culture and directly attack, and reduce, the collectivist assault on the larger culture.

    One of the biggest problems with the "right libertarian" viewpoint seems to be bleed through from former Republicans or ("Conservatives") who do not believe in the Non Aggression Principle. When confronted with this new idea, they will accept it on its face but carve out exceptions for it in their version of The State that they have been taught are necessary for order.

    If right libertarianism is to become simply "libertarianism" in toto, this will have to be addressed through an education campaign designed at influencing these refugees from the stilted New Right. The NAP is the Occam's Razor of anti-slavery politics.

  12. Two libertarian cultures need not conflict when coming into contact.

    Your argument then depends on the immigrants' being statist. But their statism is by your own definition precisely _not_ a cultural issue but a political one.

    Your argument becomes a pragmatic call not to import non-libertarians. But you yourself point out that we occupy "a little corner of the world." So, what's the worst that can happen?

  13. In other words, any conflict between two groups of people, if both groups are statist, will be due not to their cultural differences, such as regarding "haircuts or clothes," but to their political ones. Americans may want to murder or plunder Syrians, and vice versa. I admit this is a problem, but it's something libertarianism offers a solution to. Culture is a red herring.

    You seem to think that in order for there to be social peace, questions of "proper attire, greeting a person of the opposite sex, or and holding in the park" must be settled and be the same for all people on a given territory. But one thing libertarianism promises is precisely a chance for all people to pursue their happiness as _they_ see it. Multiple cultures are supposed to be able to co-exist under liberty -- liberty precisely to choose your favorite cultures, such as how to dress, etc.

    As Mises wrote, "A free man must be able to endure it when his fellow men act and live otherwise than he considers proper. He must free himself from the habit, just as soon as something does not please him, of calling for the police."

    1. Dmitry, the more that people have in common, the less possibility for conflict - even if both individuals share a belief in the NAP. When there is less conflict, there is less reason for someone to clamor that "something should be done.". This is self-evident.

      Label my argument as pragmatic if you like. In this world of today or a world of the future populated by human beings with human characteristics, a common culture reduces the possibility of conflict.

    2. So then the price of liberty is social conformity to a "common culture"? Seems on the contrary that conformity is a feature of statist regimes. When left free a society will quite naturally diversify in both production and consumption.

      You might argue, contra Mises, that most people are not free -- in their minds -- and _will_ call for the police in order to repress other cultures. But then there is no hope left for mankind's future. Is that your depressing conclusion?

    3. Dmitry, the choice is always yours - you have complete liberty in this. Did I write anything different?

      Take two societies - one with a common culture and one that includes individuals with beliefs and actions in complete contradiction one to another, yet both comprised of individuals generally respecting the NAP. In which you you believe there will be less strife, less call that "somebody should do something about it"?

      When answering, please keep in mind that both societies are made up of human beings, not some "new man."

      You might call this a depressing conclusion, I see it as a statement of fact. It can only be depressing to you today if you always believed man could be something other than himself. It can be depressing when one realizes that his beliefs were that of an innocent child.

      I believe there is hope for liberty; I also believe certain social conditions are more conducive toward reaching this goal. I also believe man is not god-like in his relationships with his fellow man.

      Please point to specifically where you believe otherwise.

    4. Given the way you've defined the two societies, I don't believe there will be more strife in the second one that will culminate in the second society's losing its NAP-protected liberties.

      Also, in the present world it may actually be easier, both technologically and morally, to bomb people 10,000 miles away, however un-terrorist looking, than to beat up a neighbor, however freakish.

      Surely, it is unrealistic to expect a common _global_ culture, yet the world is more tightly-knit than ever, so pining for a country of clones may be somewhat no longer relevant.

    5. "...that will culminate in the second society's losing its NAP-protected liberties."

      Dmitry, do you believe the NAP will defend itself? That we will somehow achieve a condition where conflict will never again result in the call by someone to do something?

      If this is your belief, then I suggest you should, in fact, be depressed - this day will never come to a world populated by humans.

      "...so pining for a country of clones may be somewhat no longer relevant."

      Are you suggesting that I am doing such "pining"? If so, please point to where I wrote anything like this.

    6. Maybe what you are saying, Bionic, is that while forcing a common culture is un-libertarian, if one happens to arise, don't mess with it, don't force or even promote "diversity" instead.

      I can agree with that. Certainly, forcing diversity is equally unlibertarian, and even glorying in it is a waste of time, especially in our present situation when the idea of human diversity has undergone the abuse by the left from which it may never recover.

      The prescription is then for a libertarian to avoid culture wars in general but stick to personally conservative values in particular, leading, as it were, by example.

      Nevertheless, a vast amount of natural (I think you like that word) diversity is I think what a normal free society will default to, and the possibility of "the call by someone to do something" is a risk we have to take.

      Think about it this way. Regarding interpersonal relations (i.e., other-regarding virtues), there is little diversity at all: you are either a thief or honest man, a false witness or truth teller, etc. One is bad, the other good. The natural law permits no deviations. Libertarianism is much concerned with this.

      Regarding personal (self-regarding) virtue, there is some diversity: some people are especially humble, others are particularly courageous; a personality is a harmonious union of a considerable number of virtues, and rules of what sort of person is best to be can be worked out in some detail. Still, each personality is fairly unique.

      And finally regarding the search for happiness, the diversity is enormous. No two saints (who are holy toward others and virtuous in themselves) lead the same life. A key aspect and limitation of economics is that it studies the search for narrow happiness (defined as satisfaction of desires, whatever they are) rather than the search for nature and virtue that must previously have been completed.

      So, if by culture you mean "personal virtue," than I agree that it occupies a middle ground where judgments of _other people's_ character are possible. We can say that an alcoholic ought to not just quit drinking but quit _wanting to drink_, and it's pointless to seek to satisfy a desire which one must eventually suppress.

      But I cannot agree with arbitrary judgments that saint X who is learning to fly a plane is somehow in the wrong relative to saint Y who enjoys cooking relative to saint Z who searches for treasure under the seas.

    7. Dmitry

      Your very well-reasoned comment deserves an appropriate reply; further, I think we are now communicating much better.

      “Maybe what you are saying, Bionic, is that while forcing a common culture is un-libertarian, if one happens to arise, don't mess with it, don't force or even promote "diversity" instead.”

      What I am saying is to neither force a common culture nor force a diverse culture. Culture develops and changes slowly over time in a natural condition – and I am personally pleased with this reality. I do not see nor wish for a society made up of 1.95 meter tall blond males married to 1.75 meter tall blond females with each couple having 2.3 children. I see natural movement, relocation, relationships – all developing, evolving as new people come and old people go.

      I see as natural the movement based on a reasonable (given the world we live in) respect of private property – I have personally benefitted as much from this type of movement as anybody. It is the force of action that can only happen via the state that is of concern – and the refugee situation in Europe is but one such example.

      “Nevertheless, a vast amount of natural (I think you like that word) diversity is I think what a normal free society will default to, and the possibility of "the call by someone to do something" is a risk we have to take.”

      I agree completely – again delineating both the “natural” evolution and diversity of culture, as opposed to the dislocations brought on by forced (state) action. If it evolves slowly, naturally, people get used to the change – it is almost unnoticeable. This minimizes the possibility of cultural change resulting in conflict.

      “But I cannot agree with arbitrary judgments that saint X who is learning to fly a plane is somehow in the wrong relative to saint Y who enjoys cooking relative to saint Z who searches for treasure under the seas.”

      I believe it is OK for me to have a personal opinion on this matter. The only issue is what action is taken based on this judgment or opinion. As long as there is no violation of the NAP by any of the above saints (and there is none in your examples), I have no ground to take action regardless of the “judgment” I might make.

  14. I'm a thin, absolutist libertarian who happens to be socially conservative. However I disagree that conservative culture is necessary to maintain a libertarian social order. All that's needed is a legal structure and common law that upholds private property rights.

    By recognizing the rights of individuals to do with their property whatever they will so long as it doesn't aggress upon others, libertarianism virtually guarantees libertine behavior. I think pornography and prostitution are morally reprehensible. But their success in free markets suggests that a private property society will produce a polycultural order. There's a reason it's called the "world's oldest profession".

    Even as a social conservative, I'm fine with that. Justin Raimondo is as principled a libertarian as they come, despite the fact that he's a homosexual and openly libertine. His lifestyle preferences are no threat whatsoever to libertarian order. Raimondo would only be an asset to Ancapistan -- especially given that gays are disproportionately wealthier (and hence more productive) than their heterosexual counterparts.

    The other issue is that culturally homogenous countries don't foster innovation and especially not excellence in the arts. One of the things I like about the US is that people here are far less xenophobic and tribal than culturally/ethnically homogenous Europeans and Latin Americans, despite the media's narrative that we're all backwards rubes.

    In summary, no one has a collective entitlement to culture. If an individual has concerns about cultural integrity in a libertarian society, the onus is on them to cultivate the culture they desire through their own actions, and associate with those who reflect their ideals if they truly seek segregation. They have a right to ostracize those with whom they share little in common, but it seems unnecessary and counter-productive to do so.

    Culture wars are just as potent a precursor to statism as libertine behavior.

    1. Common culture reduces the risk of conflict; a naturally evolving culture reduces the risk of conflict. You might label this conservative. I see it as obvious.

      When I write "the right has it right," I am not first - or even primarily - thinking about conservative culture: I mean the right has it right that: respect for the local culture will reduce the chance of conflict, humans will always have biases, there will be institutions that provide governance (beginning with the family - and on this point, you may label it conservative if you like).

      If the local culture is accepting of any (minority, sexual preference, family structure), then acceptance by a newcomer of this culture will reduce the chance for conflict.

    2. "Common culture" or "naturally evolving culture" are no problem as ideas ... so long as you can accept the varying human inputs without thinking your "structure" of said culture will dominate the resulting "output."

      This is (in my opinion) the main problem with having (or striving to have) only one political structure. There is no one answer that can work for everybody, all of the time. Conservative culture works well some of the time, and Libertarian culture works some of the time.

      Where do they meet for each individual situation, instead of trying to be "right" about everything (e.g. trying to "win")?

    3. Joseph, they might "meet" in many places and many circumstances. My favorite is in Turkish restaurants.

      In all seriousness, anyone who reflects on the last 20-40 years of their own life can see many examples of evolving culture; peaceful, gradual changes in what we accept as "normal."

      When not forced, we are often better for it (e.g., the aforementioned Turkish restaurants).

  15. Bionic,

    This is off topic but I believe it is an important thought so I want you to think about it.

    I don't think that using Trump as a club to beat the Republican Establishment is a safe game any longer. He's stoking a lot of the absolute worst impulses of the Republican base now. These hatreds won't subside quickly or easily. Anyone pouring gasoline on this fire isn't helping.
    Ron Paul took a principled stand against the government policies which cause social chaos without stoking animosities. This is why he wasn't a "serious leader" in the eyes of the political classes, as politics is all about the organization and activation of hatreds -- both the left and the right.

    1. Jim, are you suggesting that I am doing so?

    2. That wasn't my intention.

      This is a matter of tactics as I don't question the motivation of the people involved.

    3. Jim, accept my apology.

      In my opinion, publicly and strongly having a preference for a candidate that does not clearly demonstrate an adherence to principle (some principle of any kind) is a dangerous game, because the supporter is basically saying "I trust your judgment so much that I am willing to put my reputation on the line." A dumb thing to do when it comes to politicians.

      Without principle guiding decisions, we are left with unknown guide-stones. And we see what this means for most politicians once in office (let alone on the campaign trail).

      Ron Paul worked. While running for office, not purely libertarian but as consistently a strict an interpretation of the Constitution as one could find. One knew with almost virtual certainty where Ron would come out on every issue.

      Bernie Sanders might "work." Of course, not for anyone even touching the libertarian camp, but he seems a safe bet to go socialist on every issue that comes across his desk. If one wanted assurance that "socialism" was the answer to every question, one could safely advocate for Sanders.

      So I think if one wants to comment on this current crop of presidential candidates, best to point out the flaws in each individual, laugh at them, etc. Expressing a preference or advocating that one or the other be supported? Given the current choices, not my game.

  16. Thanks for the response.

    Picking your politician is like picking your STD, as the meme goes.

    There isn't even an arguably less bad among the "has a shot at winning". Hopefully they're all just playing to the camera and plan on being somewhat less suicidal once they have the throne.

    It is going to be an interesting 4 years. I think a moon colony is our best bet.

  17. In the past we in the west effectively had open borders. You could come and go as you pleased, as long as you were not from an enemy nation currently at war. The difference is that there was never any expectation that millions of foreigners would come to settle already settled nations, and if it did happen it wouldn't have been allowed.

    One big difference was that the state didn't grant citizenship to foreigners (citizenship is merely a sophisticated word for membership in a tribe). Today the state does grant citizenship to foreigners and thus they never leave. Since the tribe is an organically, biologically, culturally determined, what right does the state have to hijack it? I would suggest that it doesn't any many of our problems stem from this.

  18. BM,
    Wonderful article--well written with solid ideas. I've been silently lurking here for a long time and recommend your thoughts to many I come across. I do, however, come across one small nit.
    "... The non-aggression principle addresses when it is proper to use aggression..." and "...aggression is appropriate only in defense of life or property..."

    Not exactly accurate. Aggression is historically, at least to libertarians, defined as the initiation of force. It is never proper to use aggression. It is certainly proper to use force(coercion) in defense of aggression. The sticky point sometimes is what and how aggression is recognized.
    See: http://freihals.blogspot.com/2015/06/libertarianism-for-libertarianscan-we.html
    Best - freihals

  19. So I came across an interesting quote from Stanley Kubrick and I was reminded of this post. Asked about Alex's fondness for Ludwig Van Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick answered, "I think this suggests the failure of culture to have any morally refining effect on society. Many top Nazis were cultured and sophisticated men, but it didn't do them, or anyone else, much good."

  20. My response has been posted here:

    1. Paul

      I thought I was getting a reply from you on the open borders of Germany or Richman's comments on managed borders. Your post is regarding my post on why culture matters.

      Like with the woman who left me at the bar, I feel duped. :-)

      In any case, I will reply to your post as it seems to me - based on an initial quick read of your post - that perhaps we are not communicating clearly.

    2. Paul

      See my reply:


      As I am not registered at STR, I would appreciate if you would post this link as a comment to your post. But if you choose not to, that's OK too.

  21. re: parochial altruism and natural aggression

    thanks for the defense of traditionalism. it is both charming and annoying, as are many traditions!

    honoring traditions is necessary, but not sufficient.

    the continuation of reactionary tendencies between "right" and "left" seems mostly absurd given the rapid expansion of knowledge in fields like cognitive linguistics, memetics, complexity theory, evolution and ecosystems.

    modernism is a tradition based on overturning earlier traditions, so contradiction abounds.

    science, now very statist in its institutional operations and tending toward cults of expertise and corporatism, was originally part of the revolution of classical liberalism and the triumph of reason and individual achievement over hostile mythic-communal culture. as was sea piracy and frontier life in expanding, colonial societies.

    as your famous analysis of liberalism in the dark ages indicates, liberation from oppressive forms of culture cycles alongside the rise and fall of institutional autocracy and imperialism in state-religious-mercantile societies. (upscaled tribalism. Bowles and co, @ santa fe institute)

    Disruption in the material aspects of life, the "exteriors" so to speak, drives changes and adaptations to culture. agriculture and settlement would not have become dominant modes of culture unless the ice ages ended, releasing abundant levels of CO2 from melting ice which allowed for verdant plant life and farm surpluses. Marx showed that such objective insights into material conditions are more accurate ways of understanding cultural development that mythic religion.

    Given the disintegration of state-capitalism, global neoliberalism, under conditions of material disruption, it is hard to understand why the transitions from
    (1) traditional mythic dependent to
    (2) modern , rational independent to
    (3) postmodern, pluralistic interdependent tendencies in culture aren't obvious.

    As per Jean Gebser's "Ursprung und Gegenwart" (Ever Present Origin), each form/transition can have both integrative (liberating) and disintegrative (oppressive, autocratic) phases.

    The fact is that under postmodern conditions, complexity itself is a highly disruptive element of culture, and one that neither traditionalism nor classical liberalism can survive.

    The vehement denial of pluralism and planetary interdependence (as new culture form) by some on the right/conservative and of the spectrum (including comments here resurrected from cold war rhetoric) contains some nasty, reactionary jungian shadow projection. It reveals how fragile and exhausted the culture wars are, the inability to adapt and evolve.

    Your exercises in extricating tradition, as rooted in a theory of social cooperation, from oppressive politics and ideologies are excellent, as exercises. To be more robust in the real world, they need to incorporate evolution and holistic metatheory. Thanks, E.Pierce, Sacramento

    1. Mr. Pierce

      I have allowed for transition in culture, as this is a reality of life. I merely suggest that there is less chance for conflict if the transition is brought about naturally, that is through voluntary interactions, as opposed to unnaturally, that is via forced actions.