What is the meaning of life?
Where did we come from?
Why are we here?
What is reality?
HA! Those are simple; mere child’s play – challenges for the lesser philosophers like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Walter need not waste his time on such trivialities. No, I am talking about the connection of libertarianism and culture: is it beneficial – no, even necessary – to maintain a certain type of culture if one wishes to move toward and maintain a libertarian society? To my surprise (and, I am willing to bet, to Walter’s surprise as well), Walter answered this question more than 20 years ago.
Libertarianism and Libertinism, by Walter Block; Journal of Libertarians Studies, Volume 11, Number 1 (1994).
The least important point Walter makes in this essay is to clarify the difference between libertarianism and libertinism; beyond this, he does significantly more. I will suggest that he may have made the connection of libertarianism and culture far better than anyone has done since – certainly better than I have done, maybe even better than Hoppe has done (and Hans will likely be surprised by this statement – well, the second part of this statement).
I will spend little time on the immediate subjects:
Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It is concerned solely with the proper use of force.
Force is justifiable only in defense of or retaliation for aggression against a person or his property.
Libertine: …a person who loves, exults in, participates in, and / or advocates the morality of all sorts of perverse acts, but who at the same time eschews all acts of invasive violence.
OK – but you already knew all of that. Let’s get to the good stuff:
There is only one thing [the libertarian] cannot do, and still remain a libertarian: He cannot advocate, or participate in, the use of force against these [libertine] people.
Yeah, I know – this doesn’t solve anything in this “libertarians and culture” debate. Just settle down – do you think solving the greatest problem in philosophy just takes a couple of sentences to explain?
Walter places himself in the category of the cultural conservative who opposes libertinism. Why?
First and foremost, because it is immoral: Nothing could be more clear than that these perversions are inimicable to the interest and betterment of mankind.
Question: can a society attain and maintain a libertarian order if the actions of individuals in that society work against the “interest and betterment of mankind,” in other words, towards mankind’s destruction? Doesn’t it seem inherently contradictory, even impossible: a self-destructive libertarian society?
Walter offers another reason – tradition:
At one time I would have scoffed at the idea of doing something merely because it was traditional, and refraining because it was not. My every instinct would have been to do precisely the opposite of the dictates of tradition.
That’s before he fully appreciated Hayek’s fatal conceit:
From reading his many works (for example, Hayek, 1973), I came to realize that traditions which are disruptive and harmful tend to disappear, whether through voluntary change, or more tragically, by the disappearance of societies that act in accordance with them. (Emphasis added)
Is it possible to have a libertarian society in a society that is disappearing due to disruptive and harmful traditions? Seems kind of mutually exclusive, doesn’t it.
Presumably, then, if a tradition has survived, it has some positive value, even if we cannot see it.
This is pure Jordan Peterson. There is a reason that surviving traditions survive: they “work.” They work in the manner Walter has described above: they work toward the interest and betterment of mankind. The ones that don’t work get modified or tossed aside; if not tossed aside, the society that maintains (or moves toward) traditions that don’t work will commit suicide.
Of course, this suggests the possibility that tradition can be self-governing. I agree with this wholeheartedly, if tradition is left to the market. When tradition-destroying activities are encouraged and subsidized by the state, there is no self-governance; there is only the road to destruction. Call this one the wide path to hell.
As an aside, nations (and I did not write nation-states) were traditionally formed this way – left to the market. Joe Salerno offers an excellent summary of Mises on this matter.
But, returning to Walter:
Tradition, however, is just a presumption, not a god to be worshipped. It is still reasonable to alter and abolish those traditions which do not work.
Again, what is meant by “work”? Toward the interest and betterment of mankind. Traditions that work survive; traditions that do not work are modified or eliminated. Well, if left to the market.
Walter offers the value of religion:
Religion now seems to me one of the last best hopes for society, as it is one of the main institutions still competing valiantly with an excessive and overblown government.
Well, at least when it comes to organized, mainstream religion, I think times have changed a lot since 1994. But this in no way diminishes Walter’s point: competing governance institutions, institutions to be found in the traditions of society. Absent competing governance institutions, all we are left with is monopoly government by force. Does that sound very libertarian?
We suffer far too much state interference. One remedy is to apply moral measurement to government.
I know Walter views this as a dead end road – you cannot get moral from the inherently immoral.
Another is to place greater reliance on “mediating” institutions, such as the firm, the market, the family, and the social club.
And the aforementioned “religion.”
These organizations – predicated upon a moral vision and spiritual values – can far better provide for mankind’s needs than political regimes.
These organizations, all making up the fabric of tradition and culture in society.
Walter offers further reasons:
I have come to believe that each of us has a soul, or inner nature, or animating spirit, or personhood, or purity, or self-respect, or decency, call it what you will. It is my opinion that some acts – the very ones under discussion, as it happens – deprecate this inner entity.
Yes, call it what you will: man has something that is missing in every other living creature on earth. Is it possible that a society made up of individuals who so callously abuse this soul or inner spirit can at the same time maintain a society that respects the non-aggression principle? They can be abusive against themselves but not against others?
I think about this when it comes to abortion. Set aside whatever arguments you believe make this a valid libertarian practice: is it possible for a society that so callously views the lives of tens of millions of the most innocent and vulnerable to at the same time defend the non-aggression principle?
…this destruction of individual character has grave repercussions for all of society.
Do you think that Walter is thinking of the future libertopia when he writes of “grave repercussions”? I think not.
Walter examines the value of traditional marriage; he offers the benefits of this institution in raising children. I will add: the patriarchal family structure is perhaps the most important governance institutions standing between man and the state.
Why do you think the state works so hard to destroy all of these traditional institutions? Simple answer: when their work is complete, there will be only one option remaining. The state.
Ask yourself: which culture is subsidized in the west? Is it the one that values western civilization and the conservative, or the libertine and foreign? Absent the subsidy, what result would you expect to see in the market? If libertarians do not recognize this and are unable to draw the proper response, they are contributing to, in Walter’s words, “the disappearance” of society.
Good luck building a libertarian world on that foundation.
Why do I suggest at the beginning of this essay that Walter will be surprised that he has solved the unsolvable (Hey, maybe the title of a new book)? From my opening paragraph:
…is it beneficial – no, even necessary – to maintain a certain type of culture if one wishes to move toward and maintain a libertarian society? To my surprise (and, I am willing to bet, to Walter’s surprise as well), Walter answered this question more than 20 years ago.
Walter answered the question, as you can see from the above. The problem is, he didn’t (and, to my knowledge, still doesn’t) state openly that he has answered it. He has left this ground for Hans Hoppe to plough, perhaps never realizing how closely he is aligned with Hans on this matter.
I will do so: if one desires moving toward libertarianism, culture matters, and a certain kind of culture. One built on tradition, one that has a healthy sense about improving what works (as defined above) and eliminating what doesn’t work. One that does not subsidize behavior of any sort. One that allows the free market for culture and tradition to work.
Do you want a libertarian order? Start with that.