Thursday, March 9, 2017

Evolving Culture and Adherence to Abstraction

Sheldon Richman has written a piece entitled “In Defense of Extreme Cosmopolitanism.”  What does he mean by “cosmopolitanism”?

Original cosmopolitan liberalism, what we call libertarianism today….

Huh?  I guess I need to understand the definition of “cosmopolitan”:

Free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world.

What does this have to do with libertarianism?  Does libertarianism require one to be free of national prejudices or attachments?  Of course, the answer is no.  This is just plain goofy.  If libertarianism is only open to those who free themselves from tribal connection, Richman can go back to that proverbial telephone booth.  Talk about a small tent.

Richman is writing in response to something Steve Bannon said; suffice it so say it was regarding American nationalism.  Yet from this, Richman offers a strawman:

The “ideal” of a culture insulated from change is a chimera…

I cannot speak for Bannon.  But who on earth is cheering for such an ideal?  I cannot tell you how happy I am that I can eat Indian food anywhere in the world; this certainly wasn’t true even 100 years ago.  One (including Bannon…and me) can use the word “culture” without also requiring that this means “insulated from change.”

Culture evolves.  It has always evolved.  It will always evolve.  Given the communication and travel possibilities today, it will evolve faster than ever.  By knocking down his strawman, Richman demonstrates that he understands this:

In a freed society most change occurs at the margin — the world does not start afresh each day — because no central authority has the power to make society-wide decisions.

When culture evolves at its own pace, it can be wonderfully marvelous.  When cultural evolution is forced, it is a source of certain conflict.

We live in a world where it is forced: who we allow on our property, who we must associate with, who is allowed to use the women’s restroom…all of these things are dictated.  A libertarian cannot cheer when a private property owner is forced to bake a cake, take a wedding photograph, or allow an…mmm…open-door restroom policy…can he?

…the political program based on liberal cosmopolitanism — libertarianism — centers on unconditional free trade and freedom of movement…

There is no such thing as “unconditional free trade and freedom of movement” in a libertarian order.  To understand why Richman writes such a thing, please note the one thing he leaves off of his list – and in fact the most fundamentally important requirement for libertarianism to function; the only item that must be “unconditional” for a libertarian order to be established.  Can you guess what it is?

(Hint: private property)

“You, in the back – I see your hand raised.  What’s that you say?  Private property?  That’s right!  Unconditional respect for private property.”

And in a private property order, “people, capital, producer goods, and consumer goods” do not have “unconditional…freedom of movement” via “open borders.”  They may move only to those places upon which they are invited or allowed. There are no “open borders” in a libertarian society.  This is a contradiction in theory and in practice.

…that is, open borders for people, capital, producer goods, and consumer goods.

Why do open-borders libertarians insist on conflating goods, capital and people when speaking on this subject?  Nothing dictates that the movement of people will be as free as the movement of goods or capital.  As it is today, in a libertarian world trade and investment will likely extend much farther than will the people who produce the goods traded.

This program…embodies the understanding that the flourishing of flesh-and-blood individual human beings, like the division of labor, is limited by the extent of society and that therefore the boundaries of society should be expanded through peaceful voluntary exchange to include the entire world.

There is no “should” about including “the entire world” in libertarianism, unless you ignore private property.  Private property inherently involves discrimination.  “Peaceful voluntary exchange” by owners of private property will determine how geographically far society will extend and the form of that society – including the race, religion, and even sexual preferences of those who they will allow on their property. 

Once you ignore private property, you have no libertarianism.  You have the United States.  Best case.

What does “open borders” mean in such an environment?  If Richman thinks government control of borders stinks, just wait until every individual private property owner can decide what he will or won’t do with his property and what he will or won’t allow on his property.

I haven’t met a homeowner with an open border.  I have not driven by an exclusive and gated subdivision with an open border.  In all such cases, the property owner is free to manage his border.  Instead of a world with a couple hundred national borders, we will live in a world of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of private borders.

Left-libertarians think freedom of movement will be inherently enhanced by such a proposition?  Why?  Only if they ignore private property.

This program represents not merely an adherence to an abstraction, liberty…

People do not coalesce around an abstraction.  They coalesce around family, friends, religion, sports, work, politics, social clubs, common leisure activities, language, housekeeping and grooming practices, etc.  In other words, they coalesce around culture – the culture that they know.

It cannot be avoided that from the beginning of man’s recorded history, religion has been a part.  It cannot be avoided that family and kin is the most decentralized and longest-known form of governance devised.  It cannot be avoided that infinitely more people are drawn to the community of football than have ever been drawn to any “idea.”


Libertarianism requires unconditional respect for private property.  Private property results in discrimination; what is done with my property and who I allow on my property is my choice. 

Libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice.  There are no universal “shoulds” in decentralization.  If there were, it wouldn't be libertarianism or decentralization, would it?

Culture cannot be avoided when the libertarian theorist attempts to consider application in a world occupied by humans.


  1. There so many things wrong with Richman’s position.

    1. I thought a main corollary of libertarianism was that force was limited to defense of person and property. When people engage obnoxious behaviors or have bad thoughts and attitudes, the most you can do is avoid and/or boycott them. It’s not your place to go out and save the world by force. If libertarians can’t stand the idea of not using force against the obnoxious, how can we persuade the less ideological to abstain?

    2. Why wouldn’t an urbanized “cosmopolitan” city person want all of the rednecks, KKKers and Neo-Nazis to adopt the NAP? Seriously. So what if they want to have a “white-ethnic” enclave? They are not hanging around your neighborhood. I suppose one could still could petition the local private thruways to ban them from travel and thus one would not be completely without options to inflict pain upon them (if you had nothing better to do).

    3. Since I have hardly any “tribal” feelings at all, it does not bother me when other people do. Sometime I think I might be missing something. But what does that have to do with libertarianism and the NAP? Being tribal or not being tribal. It’s not a crime. Yet.

    1. All very good points, Bob. Thank you.

    2. You know Bob it is pretty funny to me that you and Richman have ostensibly the same philosophy considering how little your comments resemble his.

    3. I'm late - what is "the NAP"?

    4. The non-aggression principle; what underlies libertarian political philosophy.

  2. If I were a Richman,
    Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
    All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
    'Cause I'm a cosmo-POL-i-TAN!

  3. Actually there is a decentralized “should” and it is found in the selection of means to desired ends. For example if one wishes to start a fire one should use wood (or anything flammable.) Or, if one desires peaceful prosperity, one should adhere to cooperative interaction and exchange, while necessarily penalizing exploitation.

    Sheldon sometimes uses a cultural relationship as an acting entity. He is especially susceptible to using “society” as a collective humanoid being that thinks and acts, “nation” as well. This error is caused by a failure to maintain consistent differentiation between the concepts of identity and categories. JudyRae

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Libertarians crave separation of education and state. The state ought neither to mandate nor bar, subsidize nor create barriers to, whatever educational arrangements arise in society.

      Libertarians crave separation of church and state. The state ought neither to mandate nor bar, subsidize nor create barriers to, whatever religious arrangements arise in society.

      Libertarians crave separation of borders and state. The state ought neither to mandate nor bar, subsidize nor create barriers to, whatever migration arrangements arise in society.

      Cosmopolitanism has nothing to do with libertarianism. The Amish are insular in the extreme. In what sense are they *not* libertarian?

    2. I’m sorry…didn’t get your connection between my paragraphs and the Amish. If one wishes to use “cosmopolitan” as a description of a culture, the cultural relationship would include all people and their traditions, excluding aggressive actions when the desired culture is one of cooperation.

      Borders are inherent to every state, and always controlled by rulers.

      You are using the word “state” as an acting entity. It is a relationship between human beings; relationships do not act, they are the result of entity interaction, entities being causes and relationships the effects of the interaction. To resolve an undesirable effect, cause must be identified and replaced. Cause is also "means" to desired ends, the latter being effects. Choosing accurate means is necessary to acquiring and maintaining desired ends.

      In a state relationship, rulers confiscate the funding to compel obedience, serfs obey. The idea behind a state is a majority held perspective in which it appears that all disobedience to authority is a social threat to civilization, necessarily penalized by those exalted to supremacy over all, in the preservation of lives and property. The reverse is true; the cause of hostility/violence is aggression, whether called a state or a criminal.

      As Bionic wrote, individual property control (ownership) of honestly earned property and profits is required to preserve freedom. That control cannot be shared, rather it is ceded to authority in every state, and with it, freedom. Personal autonomy is replaced by permissions and prohibitions, favoritism for some, penalties for others. These penalties are handicaps, aside from criminality, unjustifiable, hence encouraging perpetual political activism for which the goal is not universal freedom, but additional favoritism. The resulting multiplication of laws is unstoppable within a relationship in which the only choices are exploit or be exploited.

  5. Well said, throughout. I hope that those clinging to the holy doctrine of "open-borders" like it was the Shroud of Turin are able to recognize this profound insight:

    "People do not coalesce around an abstraction. They coalesce around family, friends, religion, sports, work, politics, social clubs, common leisure activities, language, housekeeping and grooming practices, etc. In other words, they coalesce around culture – the culture that they know."

  6. Someone named Richman is arguing for rootless cosmopolitanism. I am shocked. SHOCKED I TELL YOU.

    Another confirmation for my view that Liberalism is rivaled only by Trotskyism in the scope of its tyranny. They love to frame their order and inevitable and resulting from organic processes (the end of history), however this is a lie. Why are all these people coming to America and Europe? Why is there no mass immigration into Africa? The dishonesty is palpable. Has it ever occurred to Richman that their might be some exploitation going on here? I would assume his response is that white people cant be exploited.

    Its not enough for Richman for EVERY MAJOR CITY be nothing but racial cacophony where no one feels at home. No, the whole world has to be that way. Or else you will never be free. You wont be free until things you don't want are imposed on you by people claiming that they are not imposing it.

    These people are just annoying. There was a time when maybe this article (not yours BM, good response from a true libertarian viewpoint) would make me angry, but it just makes me tired. These are not good faith arguments. Who is going to be convinced by this? People have views strong views on open borders and to simply say "well you are not a libertarian (which assumed to be a good thing) if you don't agree with me," is just lazy. He makes no attempt to actually appeal to people who are against being ethnically cleansed.

    "People should be free to shield themselves against change they do not like, but coercive power must be kept out of the picture."

    This is just word games. Someone is going to use force. Either I am going to physically remove invaders or Richman is going to forcibly intervene on behalf of the invaders.

    "that therefore the boundaries of society should be expanded through peaceful voluntary exchange to include the entire world."

    The entire world must be made safe for rootless cosmopolitanism.

    1. "The entire world must be made safe for rootless cosmopolitanism."

      Yes. And what those who advocate such things don't get (or worse, they do get) that once this "ideal" is achieved, the world will have only one king, a real strongman... and this king will not be referred to as the prince of peace.

  7. Libertarianism includes unconditional freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

    Bionic Mosquito disagrees. He writes that, since the bedrock principle of libertarianism is private property, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are not rights at all, but conditional to the approval of property owners.

    It may seem strange that a libertarian rejects freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but this is the (il)logical result of formulating “rights” or “freedom” as a floating abstraction, i.e. as a statement about power rather than ethics. If free speech is about the power to speak, then a property owner violates rights if he refuses to allow a pedophile communist to give a lecture in his living room. In this view, rights do not exist, and if they did they would have to be destroyed.

    But is this a reasonable view of rights and freedom? I think not. The very concept of rights assumes a theory of entitlement. Freedom of speech includes the concept of property rights. As Rothbard put it, rights and property are two sides of the same coin. When one appeals to freedom of speech, one is already saying implicitly that speech is subject to property rights. Freedom of speech is the right to speak wherever and whenever one is *entitled* to speak. There is no right to take over a radio station or lecture hall.

    I suppose that, to be consistent, Bionic Mosquito would have to say that free speech is as invalid as freedom of travel, for the same reasons. But as noted, Bionic is using the collectivist notion of positive freedom, a notion that most libertarians reject. For most libertarians, rights are understood in the negative (non-aggression) sense. Hence, freedom of travel already includes the constraint: wherever one is entitled to travel (by ownership or permission of owners.)

    For negative rights libertarians, open borders means the freedom to travel wherever one is entitled to travel. The constraint of property ownership is included in the term “open borders.” Please do not let culture statists perversely redefine “open borders” to mean “regardless of property rights.” That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what rights are. Freedom of travel no more violates property rights than freedom of speech.

    1. Even Rothbard would agree that you are not free to say anything you want on another man's property, say, in his house. You cannot exercise your right to self-defense on his property. I think this is inarguable.

      As the saying goes, your rights stop at my nose, or at my door.

    2. Hogeye

      “Freedom of speech includes the concept of property rights.”

      In libertarian theory, all claimed “freedoms” include the concept of property rights. With your statement, you ignore the context of my comments. Richman wrote:

      “…the political program based on liberal cosmopolitanism — libertarianism — centers on unconditional free trade and freedom of movement…”

      Does libertarianism “center on unconditional free trade and freedom of movement”? This is laughable. Libertarianism centers on property rights, which undergird all freedoms.

      “Please do not let culture statists…”

      “Culture statists.” Interesting.

      What is the state? A monopoly provider of numerous (so-called) services, paid for by resources stolen from those the state (supposedly) protects.

      Could you please point to where I suggest the use of such power on the topic of “culture”?

      “…perversely redefine “open borders” to mean “regardless of property rights.””

      Do you speak for Sheldon Richman? Has he written such words so clearly? I have read maybe a half-dozen of his posts on immigration and various social causes for which he advocates. I have found he has a hard time with the word “property.”

      You know, just as he did in the referenced essay.

  8. Hogeye,

    Whats going on here man?

    Regardless of my disagreements with your liberal theory of rights, we don't live in a country (US for those of us who do) that respects property rights. You know this. Every libertarian knows this. Open-borders libertarians will typically throw crumbs at this fact by saying "yeah well we are against welfare."

    However, the problem is not just the rampant economic exploitation by invaders. Nor is it the crime that we are unable to hold their advocates liable for. Nor is it the political machinery designed to funnel votes to the communist democrat party. Nor is it the social dysfunction and potential real ethnic conflict that is bad for peace and prosperity. Nor is it the fact that this is something being done deliberately (planned and organized) to ensure the destruction of organic society, of nations, for the purpose of making us all slaves to the global banking elite.

    All of these things are true and they are reason enough to conclude "yeah maybe open borders is leading to chaos, misery, and death." A normal person not blinded by ideology can see this. So this is where I always have to call foul-play.

    Libertarianism also includes unconditional freedom of association (something Richman is against). Explain to me how you are arguing in good faith when you are advocating for open borders in a society that forbids freedom of association? We are denied covenant communities, local sovereignty, and the freedom to discriminate against whoever we please. On top of that we have schools and neighborhoods forcibly integrated, public roads that any primitive is allowed to wander on, racial quotas, AIDS parties on the streets of our cities, and the list goes on. Some places even disarm you and leave you defenseless against state-supported untermenschen.

    "freedom of travel already includes the constraint: wherever one is entitled to travel (by ownership or permission of owners.)"

    OK, so you would agree that open borders is unacceptable when 1. its costs are passed onto non-consenting parties and 2. when true freedom of association is prohibited. Right?

  9. Jonathan, do you suppose this (Richman's take) is Larken Rose's take, too? I realize that you can't speak for him, either, but it seems that he is operating on similar assumptions, that Statism is ul;timately about controlling people, therefore we can't control our borders, or we are Statists, no matter our anarchistic pleadings.

    I have asked him if that would be true in a society where there are no national borders, but millions of private-property broders. I haven't gotten a response, to this point.

    I agree that the State "owns" nothing, but surely we can agree that if the State can be legitimate in one function, it is in protecting private property,. Or else, why does it even exist in the first place?

    Maybe he (Rose) is so sensitive to the State wielding powers that it does not have that he is blind to the one area where they could, theoretically, have some authority, and that is the protection of private property. One would like to ask him (and maybe I will) if we had a completely voluntary institution of private property protection, could that institution, legally and morally, exclude someone from another's property?

    1. I don’t know about Larkin Rose, but the idea you suggest – I have had this posed to me via email before. It turns libertarianism on its head. It is communist, through and through.

      “I have asked him if that would be true in a society where there are no national borders, but millions of private-property broders. I haven't gotten a response, to this point.”

      So-called left-libertarians have a hard time giving an honest answer when the issue of property is raised.

      “I agree that the State "owns" nothing, but surely we can agree that if the State can be legitimate in one function, it is in protecting private property,.”

      It’s funny, Jacob Hornberger is an avowed minarchist (and open borders advocate) who states one legitimate function of the state is to protect against invasion. How can the state do this, one wonders, without managing who crosses the border? But, according to Jacob, the state must not manage who crosses the border.


    2. Jacob says that the state must not control borders, but MUST extract taxes from the hapless citizenry to pay for this migration. He is an enemy.

  10. People do seem to coalesce (or to be caused to coalesce?) around abstractions. Abstractions such as "democracy". Abstractions such as "invented kinship". Abstractions such as "equality." "Fraternity." Etc.

    Or am I missing the definition of coalesce?

    We should resist the urge, I believe. But do we not constantly coalesce around abstractions?

    Should we, is a question different than Do we.

    And we do. Or if you frame it differently, then certainly They do.

    1. gpond

      I struggled with this sentence when I wrote it; I think I should not have written it as an absolute.

      I will stick to the point that the list of concrete items that I listed carry the day far more than "democracy" or "equality" in people's daily lives and in people's relationships and pleasures.

  11. Thank-you for answering. I struggled with that sentence, too, though I do get and appreciate your overall point.

  12. Let's face it - although Richman would deny it what he is advocating here is the use of force to establish cosmopolitanism. There is no other way to establish it because of the existence of "racists", "homophobes", Christians and others.

    1. Like all dreamers - communism, socialism, etc. - they long for a new human, one that requires the elimination of many of the characteristics of actual humans. In other words, utopian dreams on the backs of living, breathing souls.

      We have seen how this plays out - Stalin and Mao have offered templates.

  13. What irritates me about the article is that he proposes the idea that "Cosmopolitanism is under assault from across the political spectrum, both in the United States and abroad." How and Why?

    The more accurate sentence would read: "Cosmopolitanism is being resisted by people defending their rights to private property and private lives from across the political spectrum, both in the United States and abroad."

    1. You have succinctly (and better than I have done) cracked the code. Find what a so-called "libertarian" defends.

      Richman is defending cosmopolitanism; he is not defending property.

  14. The article was in the publication of the Center for a Stateless Society. This group claims to be a "Left Market Anarchist Think Tank and Media Center". How can anyone be Left and be for Anarchy much less Markets?

    1. Arguably, anarchy’s historical roots are as much or more in the left than the right. From the same website that you reference (C4SS and Kevin Carson), I did an examination of his article “What is Left Libertarianism?”

      It is a long read tracing much of the history as Carson presents it, but I think you will find the common points – although, in the end, I find Carson much closer to communism than what I would recognize as Rothbardian libertarianism. I keep in mind that during the Spanish Civil War, the anarchists allied with the communists.

      Basically, anarchy to Rothbardians suggests no state; to those like Carson, it means no hierarchical structures of any kind (family, church, formal business organizations, etc.). But, again, there are common roots.

      As to “market,” the belief seems to be that everyone will be an individual contractor – again, no hierarchy.