Friday, October 12, 2018

Is Libertarianism Sufficient for Liberty?

If liberty is the objective, is the non-aggression principle sufficient?  If the non-aggression principle is insufficient, what might that mean for those who wish to develop a proper theory for the realization of liberty?

A Somewhat Discordant Introduction

I came across an interesting tidbit:

And, as predicted by the theory, these seven moral rules – love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, and respect others’ property – appear to be universal across cultures.

The authors studied sixty societies and found these behaviors to always be considered morally good.  These behaviors were found across continents, not limited to any particular culture or region.  Further, there were no counter-examples: no societies in which any of these behaviors was considered to be bad. 

This does not mean to suggest that the moral values were manifest identically in each region, or that they were held in the same priority:

‘Morality as cooperation’ does not predict that moral values will be identical across cultures. On the contrary, the theory predicts ‘variation on a theme’: moral values will reflect the value of different types of cooperation under different social and ecological conditions.

In other words, just because these different communities hold to these same rules, it doesn’t mean that the application is identical.  The concepts are the same; the lifestyles might be quite different.

What is the purpose of these moral rules?

Converging lines of evidence – from game theory, ethology, psychology, and anthropology – suggest that morality is a collection of tools for promoting cooperation.

Who cares about cooperation?  Given the antonyms, you might care about the absence of cooperation: hindrance, hurt, injury, antagonism, disagreement, discord, disunion, disunity, hostility.

A reminder from an earlier post:

Ethics and Morality: These two terms are often thought of and used synonymously. This is not entirely correct but there are similarities inasmuch as both words have their origin in common. One is the Greek and the other is the Latin word for “custom.”

It is the moral duty of the individual to conform themselves to the larger structure that exists.

Troubling for the non-aggression principle, I know.

What’s It All About, Alfie?

These seven common moral rules were learned and developed over countless generations and centuries.  Societies that figured out how to cooperate have survived; those that did not…did not. 

Yet, governments throughout the west are working diligently to destroy these behaviors.  On topics ranging from immigration, welfare, divorce, family, patriarchy, religion and, of course, property – the government supports, subsidizes and enforces culture destroying behaviors.  With these destroyed, cooperation is lost and therefore more government is “demanded.”

Let’s look at these seven common moral rules again, and consider each one through the lens of the non-aggression principle:

Not required by the non-aggression principle: love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair.

Required by the non-aggression principle: respect others’ property.

The non-aggression principle addresses only one of the seven common moral rules.  A reminder of the purpose of morality: a collection of tools for promoting cooperation.  What happens without cooperation?  We have hindrance, hurt, injury, antagonism, disagreement, discord, disunion, disunity, and hostility.

Returning to VanderKlay’s statement: “it is the moral duty of the individual to conform themselves to the larger structure that exists”; it seems this should be considered if one desires achieving and sustaining liberty.

Does this mean any “larger structure” will do?  Hardly.  Most fundamental, it is a larger structure that has been built up from custom and tradition – with these organically modified – and not a larger structure artificially created top-down by the state.  Second, it is clear that the one society where the idea of individual freedom was best developed is Western Civilization.

Will your property survive in a society absent the other six moral rules?  It seems to me not.  Does the non-aggression principle survive in a community filled with hindrance, hurt, injury, antagonism, disagreement, discord, disunion, disunity, and hostility?  I don’t think so.


Is libertarianism sufficient for liberty?  Everything about man’s cultural and moral evolution answers with a resounding “no”; everything about how cooperative relationships are formed answers with a resounding “no.” 

So why are some libertarians afraid to talk about it?  Why are some even antagonistic to the necessity of a common culture and tradition as a foundation for a society to move toward liberty?  If libertarians want to move liberty forward, incorporating this reality into the discussion is necessary.

From Rothbard:

The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith.

I have taken Rothbard’s advice.  I think we need to work on our theory.


Is this a criticism of the non-aggression principle?  Not at all; I consider a defense of the non-aggression principle. 

Consider it, instead, a criticism of those who believe that the non-aggression principle is sufficient for liberty; consider it a criticism of those who leave the beauty and value of the non-aggression principle open to easy and obvious ridicule.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Voluntarily From the Bottom Up

From the Preface to the First Edition (1603):

This plan and goal was conceived and attempted by me that I might possibly offer a torch of intelligence, judgment, and memory to beginning students of political doctrine.

Althusius dedicates this work to two “most distinguished and learned men,” both he describes as his relatives.  The first is Martin Neurath, a trial lawyer –Althusius’ wife was Margarethe Neurath.  The second is Jacob Tieffenbach.  So this first preface is a personal letter; it isn’t addressed to the general reader, but to two relatives, perhaps also close associates, if not mentors. 

…I have therein attributed [the rights of sovereignty] to the realm, or to the commonwealth and people.  I know that in the common opinion of teachers they are to be described as belonging to the prince and supreme magistrate.  Bodin clamors that these rights of sovereignty cannot be attributed to the realm or the people….

I know some read these words and will throw out Althusius almost as quickly as they would Bodin.  But this ignores the reality that people will organize politically – the only question is the extent to which coercion is introduced in the mix.  It is for this reason that I am attracted to Althusius – certainly he was unique in his time (and also in small company since the Renaissance) for his views on decentralization and subsidiarity.

…I am not troubled by the clamors of Bodin nor the voices of others who disagree with me, so long as there are reasons that agree with my judgment.

Althusius sees the prince or magistrate as a steward or administrator, but the rights are not his – the rights remain with the people (technically, within voluntarily-formed groups of people).  These rights cannot be renounced – in other words, they cannot be granted irrevocably or without recourse.  This seems to me an important point.

From the Preface to the Third Edition (1614):

Dedicated to the illustrious leaders of the estates of Frisia between the Zuider Zee and the North Sea most worthy lords.

The import of this dedication will be made clear shortly.

All copies of the earlier editions had been sold out.  Althusius, therefore, offers this third edition, “done during the odd hours permitted me between responsibilities to the Commonwealth.”  What was this “Commonwealth”?  It will be remembered that at this time, Althusius was the Syndic of the city of Emden; in other words, he viewed a city as a commonwealth – the highest political association.

This should be kept in mind as we move through the examination of his book – the commonwealth included a region that included people with common wealth: the key term being “common.”  Not in terms of communism, but in terms of what Althusius calls “communication”: the various exchanges done by and amongst a common group of people.

Of course, it could be argued that a modern economy does not allow for such a small commonwealth.  But is this so?  We need not confuse the trading of goods with the merging of polities.  We have Switzerland, we have Lichtenstein, we have Singapore.  Not every commonwealth need include hundreds of millions of people under one roof.

Monday, October 8, 2018

From Reformation to Enlightenment

Continuing an examination of N.T. Wright’s Gifford lectures, with Lecture 2 The Questioned Book: Critical Scholarship and the Gospels.

The Reformed appeal to ‘original meanings’ in order to renew the Christian faith.  Rationalists appeal to ‘original meanings’ in order to undermine the Christian faith.

It is an interesting connection made by Wright, perhaps offering one of the most disastrous examples of a revolution (unintended by Luther though it had been) being hijacked.  Certainly a case where the enemy of my enemy is an even worse enemy?

Since both Reformers and Rationalists were opposed to medieval Christianity, they effectively combined bringing a Protestant energy and style to the skeptical task, leaving Protestants who wanted to hold on to the Christian faith with a largely ahistorical platonic idealism.

Do you believe in the Virgin birth?  Do you believe in the physical Resurrection? “Yes” is not allowed in polite company, in the rational and reasonable west.  The Rationalists have torn such ideas to shreds, leaving those who want to hold on to the Faith with a bag of rocks.

The debate has manifested as “the confused noise which follows from the pursuit of social and cultural agendas by other means.”  These are seen in the debates between right and left; we see the signs of this in the political discourse.

Wright discusses the current state of Christian eschatology: for heaven to come on earth, the current earth must be destroyed.  The view is based on prophecies in Daniel and Ezra.  Wright offers that this is a new idea, and one not held by those who wrote and lived at the time of the authorship of these books – who instead were considering a way out of the current condition: the exile.

Whatever one’s belief on end-time theology, it is certainly clear that many Protestants today cheer on war in the Middle East, offer unqualified support for the state of Israel, and look at the current situation as the sign that Armageddon and the 1000 years is imminently upon us.  The current earth must be destroyed.

If the world is coming to an end, to be replaced by the Kingdom of God, the chances of inferring anything about the latter from the former are effectively nil.  If heaven is coming, earth has to be abolished.

Since the current world must be destroyed to bring on God’s Kingdom, why bother looking for evidence of God’s Kingdom in the current earth?

And, when Europe was set ablaze by Queen Victoria’s squabbling grandchildren in 1914 – the Kaiser, the Tsar, the King – with all the rest cheerfully trundling off to war, it all came true: Valhalla fell…

…and the dying cheered. 

A result of the rationality and reason of man set free from both the mystery and the history of God and Christ.  The world had to come to an end so that something new could be born.  Given that this end-of-the-world event was wholly created by man, we see that what was born was not God’s heaven on earth, but man’s hell: communism, fascism, liberal democracy, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, firebombing, the nuclear age. 

Technology unchained from morality.  We can only pray that this hell extends its reach no further.  Sadly, in too many churches across the west, other prayers are being offered.

By the late 1930s – and believing that the Great War had done its cleansing, end-of-the-world duty – many believed the utopia was here, “either through Hegelian progress or the Marxist Revolution.”  And when it didn’t happen – for example, when Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the Nazi-Soviet pact – hope crashed to the ground.

So much for progress; so much, too, for Hegel.


Starting from the Enlightenment and its path to Epicureanism, heaven and earth were set radically apart from each other.

There is this dark side of the Enlightenment.  It seems that the dark side begins and ends with man subtracting God from the equation – subtract the Light and what is left but dark?  Nietzsche, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, announced the already-transpired event. 

And what did man replace Him with?  After chastising man for killing God, Nietzsche’s madman saw the future well, in 1888:

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out.

"I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."

You can decide which part of that would benefit from adding italics.

The “tremendous event” can be found beginning in 1914 and continuing to this present day.  The deed that was done long before?  The Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the valid reasons for the Reformation – all played a role. 

Take your pick.


Genesis 11:4: Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Proverbs 11:2: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Governance by Consent

Taken from the Foreword by Daniel J. Elazar, entitled Althusius’ Grand Design for a Federal Commonwealth

The road to modern democracy began with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, particularly among those exponents of Reformed Protestantism who developed a theology and politics that set the Western world back on the road to popular self-government emphasizing liberty and equality.

Might as well start with the heavy stuff.  There was an alternative offered, and it was offered by Johannes Althusius at the end of the first century after the Reformation.  Althusius emerged from the Reformed tradition, and built a political philosophy that combined the experience of the Holy Roman Empire with the covenant theology of Reformed Protestantism.

Consent, not dictate, would form the basis of the polity.  A covenant – federal (from the Latin foedus: covenant).  According to Elazar, the Biblical design for human governance is federal:

The covenant motif is central to the biblical worldview, the basis of all relationships, the mechanism for defining and allocating authority, and the foundation of biblical political teaching.

He offers three reasons in support of this view: first, the network of covenants between God and man; second, the most visible manifestation of a Biblical commonwealth was tribal, “instituted and reaffirmed by covenant to function under a common constitution and laws”; third, the Biblical end of days sees a restoration of these tribal systems – “a world confederation or league of nations, each preserving its own integrity while accepting a common Divine covenant and constitutional order.”

In some respects, all subsequent federalist grand designs until Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s in the mid-nineteenth century are derived from or somehow related to the scriptural precedent.

Proudhon is generally regarded as the father of anarchism – but this should not be confused with anarcho-capitalism.  He does offer a glimpse into the kissing cousins of libertarianism and communism: with differences regarding private property (a strong disagreement, with Proudhon offering “Property is theft”) and hierarchical institutions (libertarianism is neutral) separating the two – quite important distinctions, but neither can survive the lack of a reasonably traditional ethical order.

He denounced the ‘government of man by man’ as ‘oppression,’ and in its place advocated a society based on ‘equality, law, independence, and proportionality’ which ‘finds its highest perfection in the union of order with anarchy.’ He defined ‘anarchy’ as ‘the absence of a master, of a sovereign,’ and envisaged a society in which ‘the sovereignty of the will yields to the sovereignty of reason.’

In 1840, far from advocating the complete abolition of all forms of government, Proudhon was merely advocating the replacement of one form of government, government based on the will of the sovereign, with another form of government, government based on reason, or as Proudhon described it, ‘scientific socialism’…

Government representatives from the working class – no mention of family, no principles of subsidiarity, no representation from the “capitalists”: ‘What is the capitalist? Everything! What should he be? Nothing!’

Society was to be organized around five autonomous ‘corporations’ independent of the national assembly, each with its own democratically elected ministers, representing ‘(1) extractive industry, (2) manufacturing concerns, (3) commercial enterprise, (4) agriculture, and (5) science, letters, and the arts.’  It was a system of ‘industrial democracy’ on a national scale.

No church.

Returning to Althusius and the foreword by Elazar:

Althusius’ grand design is developed out of a series of building blocks or self-governing cells from the smallest, most intimate connections to the universal commonwealth, each of which is internally organised and linked to the others by some form of consensual relationship.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Liberty Without God?


Professor N.T. Wright of St. Andrews University has delivered a series of lectures at the University of Aberdeen's King's College Conference Centre.  These are the 2018 Gifford Lectures:

The Gifford Lectures are an annual series of lectures which were established by the will of Adam Lord Gifford (died 1887). They were established to "promote and diffuse the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term — in other words, the knowledge of God." A Gifford lectures appointment is one of the most prestigious honors in Scottish academia.

Natural theology…is a type of theology that provides arguments for the existence of God based on reason and ordinary experience of nature. This distinguishes it from revealed theology, which is based on scripture and/or religious experiences, and also from transcendental theology, which is based on a priori reasoning.

The educator and historian Jacques Barzun described the Gifford Lectures as virtuoso performances and "the highest honor in a philosopher's career."

Wright’s first lecture in his series, entitled “The Fallen Shrine: Lisbon 1755 and the Triumph of Epicureanism,” offers his introduction – including a broad sweep of what he intends to cover throughout his eight-part series.  The entire series is entitled “Discerning the Dawn: History, Eschatology and New Creation.”  As with all of my work based on videos, I will do my best to capture the statements.

You want my advice?  If your time is limited, watch the lecture; don’t read this post.  This is a long post (2500 words), the length only reflecting my view of the value of many of the statements made by Wright in this hour-long lecture.

In this lecture, he examines the period of the Enlightenment and the rebirth of Epicureanism – including its path through and with Deism.  He examines this event through both the French and American Revolutions, through the emergence of reason-without-God as a god. 

He offers an important caveat regarding a study of history and philosophy: he does not assume that once an insight is offered, it is universally embraced – in other words, events such as “the Enlightenment” aren’t events at all; those who we now label as early Enlightenment thinkers didn’t think of themselves this way at the time and weren’t viewed this way by their peers.  They were just thinkers.

The Lisbon Earthquake

Wright offers Joseph Addison’s “The Spacious Firmament on High,” written in 1712:

What though, in solemn Silence, all
Move round the dark terrestrial Ball?
What tho’ nor real Voice nor Sound
Amid their radiant Orbs be found?
In Reason’s Ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious Voice,
For ever singing, as they shine,
The Hand that made us is Divine.

Wright offers that this is natural theology at its best: the natural world sings of its creator, and human reason (also from the creator) can hear that song.  “Such ideas were widespread.”  The Christianity of the early eighteenth century was a post-millennial Christianity – man was making a steady progress toward perfection on earth, with Christ returning after this golden age of 1000 years. 

Then came the earthquake of Lisbon on All Saints Day in 1755.  Along with subsequent fires and tsunamis, this 8.5 – 9.0 magnitude quake virtually destroyed Lisbon, and the death toll is estimated at up to 100,000. 

The earthquake had struck on an important religious holiday and had destroyed almost every important church in the city, causing anxiety and confusion amongst the citizens of a staunch and devout Roman Catholic country.

The event was widely discussed and dwelt upon by European Enlightenment philosophers… The earthquake and its fallout strongly influenced the intelligentsia of the European Age of Enlightenment.

Returning to Wright: “The fallen shrine of Lisbon symbolizes the collapse of optimistic natural theology.”

This Time it’s Different

But earthquakes and the like had been known to Jews and Christians long before this; yet, the reaction this time was much different.  Wright explores why this might be so: “perhaps [earthquakes, etc.] only became a problem when Christianity took a Deist form….”

People, in other words, already had socio-political reasons for wanting traditional Christianity to be untrue, and now they had epistemological tools to help.  The Lisbon earthquake then was seized upon by those who – for whatever reason – wanted to reject Europe’s Catholicism and Protestantism alike.

There were Voltaire’s sarcastic comments about God and Lisbon, ‘will you now say that this terrible event will merely illustrate the iron laws that chain the will of God.’

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
-        Robert Frost

I have borrowed the title of Frost’s poem; it is also the chapter title from Gerard Casey’s book, Freedom’s Progress?, in which he discusses the political philosophy of Johannes Althusius.

A brief introduction from Casey:

Daniel Elazar notes, and I believe he is correct in this, that the Althusian view lost out to the Bodinian view of ‘reified centralized states where all powers were lodged in a divinely ordained king at the top of the power pyramid or in a sovereign center.’

Had the Althusian and not the Bodinian conception of the locus of sovereignty prevailed, the course of political history might have been very different.

Different…how?  Bodin gave us the centralized and sovereign State; Althusius offered instead a decentralized and voluntary polity.  This idea has attracted me to study the thought of Althusius more closely, given that decentralization is libertarian theory put into practice.

Further, Althusius is writing at a time after the Reformation, after the decentralizing benefits of a unified Christendom are lost; he is constructing a political theory that captures the decentralization of medieval Europe without the benefit of the competing governance authority of the Church.  This is even a more significant issue today as the West no longer even has the benefit of a dis-unified Christendom.

I grant up front: the lack of even a dis-unified Christendom (more specifically, the lack of faithful Christian leaders in the West) – let alone the loss of a unified Christendom – seems to me to be the issue that makes moving toward sustainable liberty impossible.  Given that eventually we will have faithful Christian leaders, developing decentralized political theory is a worthwhile endeavor.

Politica: Politics Methodically Set Forth and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples, by Johannes Althusius (Edited and translated by Frederick S. Carney).  I will begin with some introductory comments from Carney, who begins by noting that Althusius’ thought remained in obscurity for two centuries – when it was revived by Otto Gierke in the nineteenth century.  Gierke saw in Althusius’ thought…

…something of a culmination of medieval social thought and a watershed of modern political ideas.  The chief features of this theory, Gierke felt, were to be found in its contractual and natural law principles.

Althusius, born in Westphalia in 1557, was a Calvinist; yet in his thought one will find commonality with the Spanish school of social philosophy at Salamanca.  He received his doctorate in Basle in both civil and ecclesiastical law in 1586.  Eventually becoming the Syndic of Emden, he exercised an influence there similar to the influence Calvin had in Geneva.

The purpose of political science, according to Althusius, is the maintenance of social life among human beings.

This is described by Althusius as “symbiotics”…

“…the art of associating men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them.”

Althusius has no interest in theories about human rights; instead, his focus is on the question: does the association – any association – fulfill the purpose for which it was formed?  He opposes tyrannical rule not because it is tyrannical, but because it is ineffective in supporting the purposes for which men joined together.

Persons enter and remain in association with each other because outside of the mutual communication of things, services, and right they cannot live comfortably and well; indeed, they cannot live at all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Enlightenment’s Evil Twin

Proponents of liberty cannot escape confronting the issue that came to full fruition in the Enlightenment: liberty and tyranny both found freedom as a result.  Classical liberals cannot just point to Locke and Jefferson as the offspring.  In this post I will examine the Enlightenment’s evil twin – as represented in Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Thomas Hobbes

His ideas…are especially challenging to any libertarian who would wish to see the state minimised or eliminated.  That said, there are elements of his thought that any liberal would welcome.

Casey offers that more than half of Leviathan is about religion, and some take this as the most important part of his work.  One can glean Hobbes’ view on religion by the following:

Hobbes’s overall thought was fundamentally materialist…. For Hobbes, all that ultimately exists is matter in motion. …even the extremely complex social and political world too was explicable in materialistic terms.

Hobbes treated all of nature – human nature as well as non-human nature – as a vast system of mechanical causes from which purpose was to be excluded.

No room for religion there; no man created in God’s image; no possibility of an afterlife; no reason to think beyond the immediacy of the moment; no reason to consider the means to an end; no reason to consider any ends other than he who dies with the most toys wins. 

Hobbes, like many thinkers of his time, was enamored with the logic of mathematics and applying this logic to human action and behavior.  We today would call this the axiomatic method: starting with as few axioms as possible – and using only pure reason – producing “a rich and complicated set of theorems (deductions), all interconnected and all derived, in a strict logical chain, from the basic axioms.”

Two things can go wrong: first, one can make a mistake in reasoning; second, one’s axioms might not be as axiomatic as one believes.  One cannot read this and not ask, “what about Austrian Economics?”  Casey addresses this:

This isn’t to deny that any given empirical science may have at its theoretical heart a core of conceptually interrelated elements as, for example, does Austrian economics; it is simply to reject the ultra-rationalist idea that the axiomatic method is the scientific method par excellence. 

I will leave it to those who are far more qualified in both understanding the conceptual underpinnings of Austrian Economics and Hobbes’ methodology to separate one from the other. On the surface, it seems clear to me that Austrians, unlike Hobbes, accept that not all values are material – a factor that will greatly reduce error by Austrians.  But this might explain the different conclusions, and not necessarily offer an explanation as to why such deductive reasoning is or is not a valid tool.  Perhaps it is not any more complicated than challenging the axioms….

Hobbes finds man to be “spontaneously self-seeking, acquisitive and aggressive.”  Although man is not only these things, it is on these things that Hobbes builds his philosophy.  Based on this, Hobbes offers that there is no such thing as right and wrong, no such thing as civic virtue, no such thing as justice or injustice.  No room for natural law here.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Oppressive Western Civilization

With this post, I will complete my review of Collins’ book. 

The Nuns

Technically a secular canoness, not a cloistered nun; bound to celibacy and obedience, but not to poverty.

Probably the best known of this era is Hrosvitha of Gandersheim, the first woman dramatist in Europe.

Hrosvitha was part of the intellectual renaissance of the tenth century (wait a minute; there was a renaissance before The Renaissance?), to include the males Liutprand of Cremona and “the greatest scholar and polymath of the age,” Gerbert of Aurillac (Pope Sylvester II).  Hrosvitha studied Virgil, Terence, Ovid and the Latin classics.

…Otto I granted the abbess complete freedom with the right to hold her own court, to have troops to protect the abbey, to mint her own money, and to sit in the imperial diet.

The white, male patriarchy: keeping women in their place.

The Peasants

About 85 percent of lower-class people were free – that is, they were not slaves or serfs.

Woops.  There goes that stereotype.  What about “feudalism”?

This word was invented by seventeenth-century French lawyers and antiquarians to describe the tangle of legal and customary relationships that they discovered in medieval documents in local French repositories.

Wait a minute!  The sophisticated and enlightened man of the seventeenth century was such the simpleton that he could not understand life in the decentralized Middle Ages?  So he just stuck a label on the time – a label with derogatory implications – and called it a day?

With that label, radicals of the Enlightenment and French Revolution, along with Karl Marx, used this term to cast the aristocracy as exploitive of the lower orders.

The white, male patriarchy: keeping peasants in their place.

Science and Reason

His vision of Christian faith in tandem with science and reason was to find fulfillment only later in the genius of Thomas Aquinas….

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dealing With the Spaces In Between

When one cannot discern where one ends and the other begins….

Several weeks ago we were presented with the news of Alex Jones being banned from various social media platforms.  This raised an interesting question for libertarians: is this a free speech issue or a private property issue?

A free speech issue occurs only when it is government that clamps down on speech.  If the speech is occurring on private property, the property owner is free to decide if the speech will be allowed or not.  There were many libertarian voices stating that it was a private property issue and that the owners of these various social media platforms had the right to decide who was or wasn’t allowed to speak.

I was asked by one of these libertarians to weigh in on the matter, which I did not do at the time.  It is such a “gotcha” issue for a libertarian to weigh in on, and one far more complex than a simple “free speech or private property” discussion.  The complexity is introduced by the relationship between the government and these social media platforms – so intertwined that I defy anyone to say where one ends and the other begins – even to include the question of ownership (because ownership is not as simple as “the shares are registered in my name”).

One libertarian who understood that the question was not so simple was Justin Raimondo, who offered his views in a piece entitled “Challenging the Lords of the Internet.”  A snippet:

All this wasn’t good enough for Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), who demanded to know if the plan was to only take down “one web site.” …a direct threat had been made to these companies by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), who sent out a memo listing all the ways the government could crack down on Big Data if they refuse to go along with cleansing the internet of “divisive” material.

Raimondo goes on to discuss the other unique protections offered by the government to these platforms – protections not available to sites like his own.  Protections that are offered to a common carrier, like the phone company, which are not liable for the content that passes over their lines or networks. 

These social media internet firms are sheltered from liability regarding the content – just as if they were common carriers.  Yet, unlike common carriers, they are allowed to (and now, under threat by the government, required to) censor content.  But they are not liable for the content that they censor, nor are they liable for the content that they allow.  How is this the free market?  Is this typical for private property?  Heads I win, tails you lose.

A private company may censor content and also be liable for its decisions.  Do these social media platforms really fit the definition of a private company?  I would say that Raimondo nailed the point that these companies do not qualify as private property.

Meanwhile, these companies are threatened by the government to censor content that the government wants them to censor – or else.  We all know what the “or else” means.  Which suggests something about “ownership.”  Ownership suggests control, use and disposition.  Does Mark Warner’s comment suggest something about the ownership of these carriers? 

Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook, and a major shareholder.  His net worth, depending on the day, is north of $70 billion.  Several months ago, his company was hit with a privacy scandal.  With the subsequent drop in share price, his net worth fell by about $14 billion.  He travelled to Capitol Hill for hearings…

…where he apologized for not taking “a broad enough view of our responsibility” and for not doing “enough to prevent [the platform] from being used for harm.”

Subsequently, the share price fully recovered its lost ground.  What do you think would have happened to the share price if he told congress what a private owner would tell them: pound sand.  Remind me: who owns Facebook?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good

With the writings of Bodin, Althusius, and Grotius, we have moved gradually but inexorably from the end of the Middle Ages to modernity.  Whatever lingering remnants of medieval thought may attach to these writers, when we come to the writings of Thomas Hobbes, we find ourselves in a very different intellectual world.

So these three writers seem rather important, occupying time in the period between the Renaissance & Reformation on one end and the Enlightenment on the other.  I will cover the three, but not in the order presented by Casey.  His order gets in the way of my title, and also doesn’t flow given my focus.

I will spend only a little time on the ugly and the bad, including these only to give context to the good – while all three occupy generally the same time and place, it is the ugly and bad that are remembered while the is good a virtual unknown (even to my spellcheck).

The Ugly

Jean Bodin (1530 – 1596) wrote in the time of great civil unrest in France, so perhaps his thoughts are nothing more than a reaction to the time.  Unfortunately, while the context has not remained permanent, Bodin’s philosophy has survived: Bodin wrote of the requirement that state authority be absolute and sovereign. 

Bodin is famous for one thing above all and that is his conception of sovereignty, an idea that political theorists and indeed the general educated public now take for granted….

Such a concept, of course, did not exist in the Middle Ages.  If anything was considered “sovereign,” it was the medieval law – with all men, including the king, under it.  Medieval political discourse revolved around the relationship of – and sharing of power between – the spiritual powers and the temporal powers.

No one in the Middle Ages asked “what is a state and how is it constructed?”  Instead the focus was on who was the ruler and what is his power?  The transition from this decentralized governance structure to the full-blown state began in the fifteenth century, with Casey identifying its full culmination – in his view, the end of Christendom –  with the Treaty of Westphalia and the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648.

While Bodin saw the sovereign as absolute, this was somewhat nuanced: the sovereign was not absolute over divine or natural law.  However, as there was little recourse for the people to deal with the sovereign who abused this condition, it seems to be a distinction without meaning. 

What is this sovereignty then?  It is supreme power over subjects unrestrained by positive or municipal law.  It is perpetual rather than limited in time.  It is primary rather than delegated.  It cannot be alienated and cannot be circumscribed by prescription.  (Emphasis in original)

In other words, sovereign meant sovereign – what we know today, albeit not as pervasive given the surviving tradition of the times…and also given the lack of technology.

What we see in Bodin is the transition from no sovereign to a sovereign at least theoretically under divine law.  It isn’t too big a step to remove the “divine law” part and get to tyranny – the “divine right of kings.”

The Bad

Hugo Grotius (1583 – 1645) wrote voluminously, yet is described by Casey as a confused thinker.  So why does he hold such a high place for those who consider political philosophy?  He is said to be the one who developed a theory for international law…but he didn’t!  The Spanish jurists had covered much of this ground before him.  The Spanish, being Catholic, however, were growing less acceptable to an ever-increasingly Protestant Europe.

Grotius wrote at a time when it was becoming quite obvious that the religious and political divisions of Europe were permanent.  Grotius wrote of just war as defensive war; offensive wars can be just if to inflict punishment when deserved – such as for violating a contract; third-party interventions can also justified – even if the third-party is not a party to any dispute. 

His view of defensive wars fits very neatly into the libertarian non-aggression principle.  Justifying offensive wars is a slippery slope, but I find his justification of third-party interventions as a road to hell – this sounds too close to the United Nations’ adopted “Responsibility to Protect,” which is nothing more than the right to militarily intervene.  Grotius desires to limit such interventions to violations of the laws of nature, but we have seen the fruits of such thinking.

For Grotius, the sovereign is not encumbered or burdened by any higher source, other than to the law of nature.  However, here again this distinction is meaningless as once sovereignty is transferred from the people it cannot be reclaimed – it is permanent and perpetual.  Since Grotius sees voluntary slavery as permissible, he finds no means by which the people can reclaim their sovereignty.  What is unaddressed is the fact that there is no account taken of the descendants of these voluntary slaves.

Grotius lived in a time when mathematics was gaining prominence and being inserted into the social sciences – rationalism and certainty were ascendant.

‘My prime concern,’ writes Grotius, ‘has been to base my examination of what belongs to the law of nature on ideas which are so certain that nobody can deny them without doing violence to their foundational being.’

A “certain” social and political scientist.  Perhaps the biggest curse ever placed on man.

The Good

‘Only at the end of the first century of the Reformation,’ writes Daniel Elazar, ‘did a political philosopher emerge out of the Reformed tradition to build a systematic political philosophy out of the Reformed experience by synthesizing the political experience of the Holy Roman Empire with the political ideas of the covenant theology of Reformed Protestantism.’