Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Struggle With Liberalism*


*meaning “classical liberalism,” as the term is commonly understood

As you know, there has been an ongoing discussion here regarding the issues of the role liberalism has played in creating the destructive society within which the west currently lives.  The battle lines are simple enough: classical liberalism has offered perhaps what is best about the west and also what is worst.

As you also know, this battle plays out not just in the community but within me.  I find the medieval law, based on old and good custom and tradition, to come closest to what could be considered libertarian law today – and not just closest, but longest lasting.  I also find tremendous value in the worth of the individual as an individual that is at the heart of liberalism.  Oh yeah, and I like the free market and private property stuff.

Yet liberalism was born from the fruits of the rejection of this medieval law, this custom, this tradition.  Instead of law discovered in old and good custom we have law created by man’s reason with nary a thought given to the reason that is inherent in the hundreds and thousands of years of man’s law, custom, and tradition.  And this transformation in the source of law hasn’t worked out so well.

But to the extent that the concept of “freedom” includes the material blessings enjoyed in the west – and I do not mean the frivolities, but reliable food, clothing, shelter, transportation, etc. – well, the west is quite free, both compared to much of the world today and compared to the west ever in history.  Yet, classical liberals complain – rightly so – about our lack of freedom.  So…freedom cannot be limited to – or even greatly satisfied by – such material comforts.

So why all of this rambling today?  C. Jay Engel has written a piece, “Liberalism and Loneliness?  It is a critique of a critique of liberalism.  Through this piece, perhaps I can move an inch or two closer to clarity, closer to resolving this battle within me and the discussion within this community.

As a quick aside, I believe that classical liberalism had its own shortcomings, among which include that it was not as consistent as it should have been (but the later libertarianism that succeeded it purified it)…

I agree with the “classical liberalism had its own shortcomings” part; I am not so sure about the power of libertarianism to purify.  That is expecting quite a bit from a political philosophy that can too easily free itself of the constraints of normative customs and traditions.

Nonetheless, classical liberalism was a positive influence in the world and many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon, as was done by people like Mises and Rothbard.

As noted, I find much positive and some negative in this philosophy; I do agree that many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon.  Perhaps more important, some of its doctrines should be examined in order to understand how the liberty promised by classical liberalism (and glimpsed, momentarily, in a few places for a few years in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) devolved into what can only be described as the tyranny to be found in the west today.

Engel will come later to cite something from Mises on this topic, as will I.  I think it is important to keep in mind what Mises meant by the idea of liberalism, and the context within which he took the term; I will expand on this shortly.

At its most basic, classical liberalism is merely the repudiation of aggression as a legitimate form of human interaction.

“At its most basic” this may be so.  But this is the problem – and it is compounded (not necessarily purified) by the libertarianism (as defined by many) that succeeded it: too many of us (and I include myself in this category, certainly in the past and even in my struggles today) see classical liberalism as nothing more than this “basic.”  We get rather upset if anyone points out that it is lacking in some earthly need.

Engel comes to the important point:

Any voluntary relationship that individuals have with other individuals, making up groups, businesses, clubs, gatherings, communities, and societies, these are mutually beneficial arrangements and therefore a partial fulfillment of the “want and need” of humans to interact with each other.

The point is…is this optional, as classical liberalism or the more pure libertarianism will suggest or demand, or is this necessary if one is to fully conform to liberalism as Mises saw it – even necessary if one is to make liberalism “work”?


Engel expands on his point with a cite of Mises.  I will make mine in a similar manner.  From a most excellent essay by Joe Salerno, “Mises on Nationalism, the Right of Self-Determination, and the Problem of Immigration”:

For Mises, liberalism first emerged and expressed itself in the nineteenth century as a political movement in the form of “peaceful nationalism.” Its two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked.

Read this again slowly.  Mises found in the roots of liberalism a nationalism that is “indissolubly linked” to the idea of self-determination.

Citing Mises, Salerno offers:

[T]he nationality principle includes only the rejection of every overlordship; it demands self-determination, autonomy. Then, however, its content expands; not only freedom but also unity is the watchword. But the desire for national unity, too, is above all thoroughly peaceful. . . .

Autonomy and unity in the same statement – the idea of liberalism is somewhat more complex than “anything peaceful.”

Returning to Salerno:

Mises contends that nationalism is thus a natural outcome of and in complete harmony with individual rights: “The formation of [liberal democratic] states comprising all the members of a national group was the result of the exercise of the right of self determination, not its purpose.”

Liberalism was to be found in these voluntarily formed and maintained national groups.  Unless the link is soluble, the two must remain joined.

Finally, Salerno citing Rothbard:

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one of several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. . . .

Conclusion

So what does all of this mean?  From Mises, it seems clear that the idea of liberalism and nation go hand in hand.  In his writing he has made clear the difficulties for minorities subsumed in a larger culture; in his life, he lived through, first-hand, the devastation of perhaps the greatest multi-cultural society in Europe.

Of course, one can say that perhaps the most unified society in Europe – Germany – wasn’t exactly a liberal paradise during the 1930s and 1940s.  But a common nation does not guarantee a liberal society; the issue is: can a liberal society come forward from a multi-cultural society – one absent any norms, common understandings and traditions, language…dare I say it, even religion?

From Rothbard, a dose of reality: humans aren’t merely cash registers and ATMs.  There is much that binds them together besides the market.  Libertarians – or classical liberals – ignore this at the risk of their (and their philosophy’s) irrelevancy.

I am all for liberalism and libertarianism.  I just don’t think it can be separated from the other stuff – common traditions, customs, and norms.  In fact, the two are “indissolubly linked.”

So I guess I am in pretty good company.

27 comments:

  1. Thanks BM, as always. Here is a reflection on your comments: http://austrolibertarian.com/liberalism-round-two-bionic-mosquito-edition/

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  2. Problem is that libertarians, even those of Austrian bent, often become naked "materialists" in the meaning of seeing value only in what could be called material wealth. But, that's not how value works according to the Austrian theory. Since value is subjective, whatever people value will be valuable. Thus, to an ascetic hermit for example, material poverty would be more valuable than any gold. Likewise some people may value their customs and their way of life more than having more 'stuff'. This is counter-intuitive and hard to grok, since we usually equate wealth with 'stuff' but it is so.


    The first and foremost error of [classical] liberalism is that it is obviously a self-defeating ideology, a looser among ideologies. Obviously, it's not self-perpetuating. If everyone's free to question your social order, and you are not allowed to do anything to put a stop to that, then you're going to end up with communists infiltrating and taking over pretty quickly... which is incidentally what happened in the USA, which were an experiment in liberalism. The last outpost of old liberalism in the USA was John Birch Society, and they were considered beyond the pale "far-right" supermegahitlers even back in the sixties. That's how much commies have won and how deep their victory went. If people are smart they'll learn from the commies...

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    1. I agree with this. Things like freedom of speech and movement seem like unmitigated blessings, but they can also be disruptive forces, for better or worse. If a libertarian society were somehow to emerge, it could only survive as such if it were able to demand adherence to its principles.

      And the greatest obstacle to maintaining such a society is the influence of the elites, who would much rather mold society to their liking, than to allow people to interact in a voluntary manner. Once the propaganda machine revved up in the early 20th century, it was game over for classical liberalism.

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    2. I agree to learn from them, not to implement their tactics, but rather to better defend ourselves against their attacks, to expose them as the frauds they are.

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    3. This seems as good a place as any to toss in this blast from the past:

      http://bionicmosquito.blogspot.com/2017/03/uncomfortable-questions.html

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    4. "you're going to end up with communists infiltrating and taking over pretty quickly... which is incidentally what happened in the USA" - Rothblatt

      What happened in the US is what happened in every other Western country that shed monarchy in favor of a republic under the banner of liberty: democracy. Democracy leads to dictatorship eventually (sooner or later depending on the degree of support for and the efficacy of constitutional checks against it) as the 'tragedy of the commons' mob mentality depletes the wealth and liberty of the nation. Communists are just especially good at infiltrating democracies, or maybe its that democracies naturally lead to socialism and dictatorship. Either way, the goals of one are linked with the invariable results of the other.

      This was classical liberalism's great flaw. Those who advocated it put their faith in the state to uphold liberty, and then gave the state its best weapon against freedom: camouflage.

      For more on this, see Hans Hoppe's speech entitled, "The Errors of Classical Liberalism."
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f82mHHAt6yI
      and Murray Rothbard's classic essay, "The Anatomy of the State." https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Anatomy%20of%20the%20State_3.pdf

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  3. I often think of libertarianism as the "extreme liberals". In the sense that libertarians have taken the liberal idea's to their logical extreme.

    I see liberalism as an ideology, as the founding thought: "don't use aggression" exemplifies. There is no logical underpinning of this idea. It just "feels good". Of course this also makes libertarianism an ideology.

    As to your opening statement: "classical liberalism has offered perhaps what is best about the west and also what is worst"

    I am not too happy with this wording. Though I share the sentiment. The reason is that "classical liberalism" is just an isolated meme. In and of itself it does not explain anything.
    Humans are more complex than that, and human society is way more complex than that. I do not think that it is possible to take an idea in isolation and attribute something to it.

    As an idea, C.L. was embedded in society that was dominated by religion. And even that religion was a part of the K-selected society at the time. In such an environment C.L. could not only take hold, it could also push society in a direction that we consider "progress". OTOH it is equally possible that C.L. is just a meme that is used to describe the emerging property in society that drove us in the direction we call "progress".

    However pushing society in a direction may be beneficial in one environment, while the same meme can be destructive in another environment.

    Associating good or bad with an ideology is therefore wrong if we not also take stock of the environment this ideology is applied to.

    And that is even discounting the possibility that we are just giving names to emergent properties, properties which morph all the time and never mean the same thing twice.

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    1. "I see liberalism as an ideology, as the founding thought: "don't use aggression" exemplifies. There is no logical underpinning of this idea. It just "feels good". Of course this also makes libertarianism an ideology." - Rien

      What you call an ideology (I assume with disdain), I call a coherent set of principles. Are we not to have principles? Did Russell Kirk's American Conservatism not advance any principles? Does Jordan Peterson not outline any principles in his new book "12 Principles for a 21st Century Conservatism?" Does Christianity not also have principles? Is it not adherence to principle which makes certain customs and traditions successful? Ideology is nothing more than a set of principles outlining an idea for a successful way of life.

      There actually is a rather significant logical underpinning to the ideology of rejecting aggression: if everyone followed this rule, there'd be no more conflict. Resources would be allocated based on first appropriation of unowned nature given resources and the voluntary exchange of the products derived from it thereafter. People would have the right to grow, change, and exchange as they see fit, or stay as they are.

      Of course, this isn't the real world. There will always be those who trample the natural rights of others. No serious libertarian is suggesting otherwise. All we are suggesting is that by abiding by and promoting certain laws, which if followed, would result in a conflict free society, we would go a long way in minimizing conflict in the real world.

      Speaking of a lack of logical underpinning, political conservatism's rejection of ideology is itself an ideology, and is thus self-refuting. Furthermore, conservatism's predisposition towards practicality offers them no solid resistance to the social engineering efforts of their avowed enemies the progressives (and history bears this out). If their rights violating social engineering efforts work (or seem to work based on government statistics and propaganda), on what practical ground is the conservative to oppose them? I contend that if he does, he must, as the libertarian does, oppose them on grounds of abstract principle or ideology.

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    2. "I see liberalism as an ideology, as the founding thought: 'don't use aggression' exemplifies. There is no logical underpinning of this idea. It just 'feels good.' Of course this also makes libertarianism an ideology."

      I see Roddis's Law here. First, it's not "don't use aggression;" it's "do not initiate aggression." There's a very important difference there.

      Next, there is very much a logical underpinning to this position, based on a certain understanding and application of property rights beginning with self-ownership/control of body.

      Finally, there's little "it just feels good" about it; it's a principled position, not a transitory one.

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    3. Texas, the disdain is not justified. I do indeed adhere to the NAP in my life.

      But "what I do" and "what is true" can be two different things.

      I think that the NAP is a good baseline for a personal moral. However I also think that the NAP is not inherent in (or to) nature. As such I have to reject the NAP as a universal moral principle.

      My definition of an ideology: A simple idea or principle wrapped up in logic or presented as scientific that aims to explain the wrongs in the world and solve them all.

      There are indeed many parallels between religions and ideologies, but I would give religion an edge over an ideology because they have a proven survival record. Most ideologies (inclusive NAP and Marxism -to name two widely divergent ones) do not have this track record. And (imo) are doubtful to ever obtain it.

      A rejection of an ideology is not an ideology in and of itself. This line of reasoning is also used by theists to define atheism as a religion. It is not. An ideology can be rejected without having an ideology.

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    4. Weezil, property right are only assumed. They do not exists. Yours is yours only if you can keep it.

      On the whole, rights do not exist in nature. They are dreamt up by man.

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    5. Dr. Weezil,

      Often the term 'aggression' is used in a loose manner synonymous with 'violence,' even among the leading authorities of libertarianism. This leads people, such as yourself, to use the phrase "initiated aggression," but according to Rothbard's definition of aggression in the libertarian lexicon, this would be redundant and misleading.

      As stated on page 27 of "For a New Liberty," Rothbard's definition of aggression is:

      "the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of someone else."

      He goes on to say:

      "Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion."

      I apologize for what may seem like nitpicking, but I think the distinction between violence and aggression is important. Aggression is initiated violence, rather than simply violence, and there is never a just cause for aggression according to the libertarian (hence the nonaggression principle/axiom), even though there is a just cause for violence (when it is utilized in defense against aggression). Aggression is used for the explicit purpose of distinguishing between just and unjust violence (or the threat thereof).

      I hope this clears things up a bit. Otherwise, I very much agreed with your comment, and appreciated the fact that we both chose to scrutinize the same portion of Rien's comment.

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    6. What in tar nation is Roddis's Law?

      I just spent thirty minutes trying to find out, but found only four references to it (but no elucidations of it), each within comment sections of Austro-libertarian blogs.

      Thanks in advance.

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    7. Rien,

      I also think the NAP is a good baseline for morals, but I would go further and say it is the essential or natural baseline. Without respect for the person and property of others, I don't think you can ever really have charity, fidelity, integrity, temperance, justice, clemency, or any other virtue in the spectrum of morality.

      I think there is a universal natural morality (and especially a law), but it is up to each culture or nation to discover it on their own. Paraphrasing Rothbard, rights are universal but they must be locally enforced. Therefore it is not our duty to parade around the world imposing natural rights on people by force (as if that wouldn't be a contradiction).

      I think respect for private property rights has as proven of a track record as any behavior of mankind, and libertarianism is simply the fullest expression of it. Whereas most (perhaps all) civilizations allowed for one group or individual to have ultimate decision making over property disputes (including disputes involving this group or individual), which inevitably resulted in legitimized property violations, the libertarian advocates for the inviolability of justly acquired property and independent third party dispute resolution.

      "A rejection of an ideology is not an ideology in and of itself."

      True, but the rejection of all ideologies on principle or a priori, is indeed itself an ideology. Though I respect him and his opinion a lot, I believe Russell Kirk approached this extreme and thus fell into logical error. The way you were using the term (ideology), I thought you might be of this persuasion. I apologize if I was mistaken.

      I contend that it takes just as much belief to be an atheist as it does to be a theist, since no one can prove there isn't a God. I don't think you could classify it as a religion though since there isn't a coherent set of principles, practices or morals attached to it. Nor can those who identify with it be said to have faith; it would be more apt to say they have it's antithesis: antifaith?

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    8. Texas, there is a whole lot to say abut this, but I do not have the time nor the incentive to write it all down (that would be a small book). So bear with me as I just describe my fundamental position:

      1) I hold to the post modern fundamental truth that we can never know for sure what reality is.

      2) Morality serves the purpose of survival in the darwinistic meaning. Very importantly this implies that there is no inherent morality in nature, only "what works".

      3) Being a reasoning creature, we need a peg that keeps us from sliding into the chaos of either the hive mind or the individuality worshippers. (Both are essentially nihilistic)

      4) That peg can be religion, or a voluntary chosen morality.

      5) The peg cannot be proven, it is subjective. Some pegs are better than others, which is proven by the society that survives (best).

      6) Pegs can be inherently unstable, they can be stable for a while and then stop serving their original purpose. (For example liberalism defeating itself)

      As I may have made clear in my reactions so far, I myself use the NAP as my peg. But:
      - I do recognise that it is not provable to be the best peg
      - I also do not claim to be beholden to the NAP at all times, regardless of the circumstances. I accept that society will be the ultimate judge of me personally. I also accept that nature will be the ultimate arbiter of society.

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    9. Thank you for outlining your views. This helps in my understanding of your positions.

      1. Postmodernism is self refuting. If we cannot know any truths about reality, how can we know this "foundational" truth that we cannot know? The postmodernist must then reject the very foundation of his creed by its own logic. It's a rhetorical trick used by those who wished to destroy bourgeois culture and tradition. In nearly the same way that Marxists used the labor theory of value to undermine the morality of Western politics, the Postmodernists perverted subjective value theory to undermine the morality of Western culture.

      2. I agree that morality serves the purpose of survival, but far from implying that this means there's no inherent morality in nature, this proves that morality is guided and defined by nature: our nature and our relationship to the environment we depend on. There's a reason some morals are more successful than others, and it is because they more closely approximate that which is defined by our nature.

      3. I agree. Better that this peg comports with our nature as human beings rather than not.

      4. Agreed.

      5. Attempts at abstract truth are always subjective until they are successful and found to be a part of objective reality.

      6. Agreed.

      I applaud that you value the NAP even though, as a postmodernist, you are essentially a nihilist (interesting that you would call hive-minders and individuality nuts nihilists). I would say that your recognition of the NAP as a moral guide is also an underlying, perhaps subconscious, recognition of its natural validity, i.e its ability to 'work' in the world we live in.

      "I accept that society will be the ultimate judge of me personally. I also accept that nature will be the ultimate arbiter of society." - Rien

      Society chooses the rules, and nature (or God) judges them based on this choice I agree. The success of society is determined by its approximation to nature's (or God's) standard. The more we stray from the true standard, the more we confront suffering, disease, and untimely death.

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    10. On 2-6 we might have slightly different angles, but I see no fundamental incompatibilities.

      On 1 I would observe the following:
      a) True and false are inherent properties of logic, not of nature, and I am not sure if it applies to reality itself. True and false may be an emergent property of our reasoning. We use logic to approximate our model of reality towards that reality. Which brings me to:
      b) I do believe that reality exists, it just that we will never know for sure the exact nature of this reality.
      c) I see value in having this uncertainty. It is very much possible that our 'free wil' (as a phenomenon) only exists because we cannot perceive absolute reality.
      d) I do not call myself a post-modernist because -like you- I believe that post-modernism as a philosophy is nihilistic. Rather I recognise that uncertainty exists and will always exist. From this I derive the need for 'pegs'. Without them we will indeed end up as nihilists, without exception.

      "The success of society is determined by its approximation to nature's (or God's) standard. The more we stray from the true standard, the more we confront suffering, disease, and untimely death" - A Texas Libertarian

      Well said. God, Nature and science are all ways to approach the same "thing". It is why christianity and science are on the same coin. Not really opposing sides, even though it might look like it at times. Especially when the post-modernists try to use science to refute christianity. Somewhere deep they must know that christianity and science are intrinsically linked and undermining christianity also undermines science after which they can emerge "victoriously" and shape society to their own wishes. Aka politics today.

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    11. I am open to being wrong. I question my convictions, especially if they concern the lives of others, but I hold that there is an objective reality, even if we may only know and understand fragments of it currently.

      I don't think you can really separate logic from nature. I think logic is our primary natural tool for discovering truths about existence.

      It seems I keep missing the mark with you. I apologize for all the confusion. I feel postmodernism and all forms of moral relativism must be combated and refuted. I very much appreciate the discussion. Since we are getting a bit off topic, we should honor Bionic's rules and conclude here.

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  4. Vox Day just released a video that addresses some of the points in many of your posts:
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6hm7ga

    Its called "Why western civilisation needs christianity"

    He mentions three pillars under western civ:
    1) Greco-Roman for philosophy and the legal system
    2) The people of western europe (a.o. the germanic tribes)
    3) Christianity
    He also very prominently mentions that christianity and science go hand in hand and are not at war with each other.

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  5. Here's another good one by Frank van Dun:

    Uprooted Liberalism and its Discontents

    Highly recommended.

    Also looking forward to his lecture later this year at HHH’s Property and Freedom Society.

    Frank van Dun: "What did the Reformation Reform?"

    Kind regs from Amsterdam,
    Richard

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    1. Very good. He does a much better job than do I on this topic:

      http://bionicmosquito.blogspot.com/2017/05/and-dying-cheer.html

      At the time I wrote this, I did not feel comfortable with the issues of the Reformation, so I did not include it. If I were to write this again today, it would have its own section.

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    2. Thank you Richard for that wonderful read! There is much to digest, but my initial reaction is that although I agree with much of it, there are a few points that offer some trouble for me and my understanding of history.

      1. Frank sees Roman Law as the root of modern civil law and I believe this may be an overly simplistic view.

      "In the 16th century, political and cultural elites began to think of themselves as direct heirs of Ancient Rome and Athens. They felt no need to pay more than occasional lip service to the Natural Moral Law. For them, the Roman Law was the model of true Law. " - Frank van Dun

      and

      "Thomas Hobbes's theory of the Leviathan State was a deduction from that principle, which modern States, borrowing heavily from the Imperial Roman Law, elaborated into the enormously complex legal systems that we know today." - FvD

      This view lines up with Fritz Kern's analysis in "Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages" that the absolutist monarchies that emerged towards the end of the middle ages (in part) drew their inspiration from a rediscovery of Ancient Roman Law. But it does not line up with Stephan Kinsella's thought in his essay, "Legislation and Law in a Free Society" where he suggests that Roman Law was much like common or customary law in that it was decentralized and discovered by judges rather than created by legislation or centralized decree.

      "Because the classical common law and Roman law developed the large bulk of their legal principles through the decision and discussion of cases, they serve as rough examples of decentralized systems of “judge-found” law, as do largely private customary law systems like the Law Merchant." - Kinsella

      https://mises.org/library/legislation-and-discovery-law-free-society-0

      2. Frank seems not to know of Rothbard's monopoly theory or his defense against Robert Nozick's critique of competition between private defense companies.

      "It was an ingenious proposal [private defense corporations], but it begged one important question: Who would guarantee that those suppliers compete on an open and free market?" - FvD

      He further says:

      "He had no answer to the question, who or what would restrain them to stay within the boundaries of anarchocapitalist law, if they became the dominant purveyors of armed services for “defence” and, as property owners, were entitled to use their resources according to their own rules or judgments for determining what is “defence” and what is “aggression” or “fraud”." - FvD

      Rothbard's answer to this very important question was of course that cartels don't work on the free market due to strong incentives both outside and within for agreements to breakdown in the absence of a centralized coercive authority. And that customers would keep these providers in check and in accord with recognized law by voluntarily making and dissolving contracts with good and bad providers like any other product on the market.

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    3. 3. Frank states that Rothbard did not recognize the importance of the Catholic church in the decentralized freedom of the European middle ages, but I think this is also wrong.

      "However, he [Rothbard] did not see the elephant in the medieval room: the Catholic Church, which provided and stood up for a common religious and moral framework that made political anarchy possible and compatible with astounding cultural and economic progress." - FvD

      In his analysis of Locke as a natural law advocate in this excerpt from his, "Austrian Perspective of the History of Economic Thought," he clearly recognized the role the Catholic Church played in checking tyranny in the middle ages, but he contended that by Locke's time, the Catholic Church had long since abandoned this duty in favor alignment with royal despots.

      "The deep affinity between Locke and Scholastic thought has been obscured by the undeniable fact that, to Locke, Shaftesbury, and the Whigs, the real enemy of civil and religious liberty, the great advocate of monarchical absolutism, during the late 17th century and into the 18th century, was the Catholic Church. For by the mid 17th century, Catholicism, or “popery,” was identified not with the natural rights and the checks on royal despotism as of yore, but with the absolutism of Louis XIV of France, the leading absolutist state in Europe, and earlier with absolutist Spain. For the Reformation, after a century, had succeeded in taking the wraps off monarchical tyranny in the Catholic as well as Protestant countries. Ever since the turn of the 17th century, indeed, the Catholic Church in France, Jansenist and royalist in spirit, had been more a creature of royal absolutism than a check on its excesses. In fact, by the 17th century, the case could be made that the most prosperous country in Europe which was also the freest — in economics, in civil liberties, in a decentralized polity, and in abstinence from imperial adventures — was Protestant Holland." - Rothbard

      I guess the real question for us medievalist libertarians who appreciate the historical impact of the Catholic Church is when did it turn against liberty, or at least cease to be an effective check against its enemies?

      Thankfully Frank answers this for us:

      "Meanwhile, Philip IV the Fair of France (r.1268-1314) had successfully defied the Pope by moving the Papal See from Rome to Avignon, in 1309. Taking advantage of the resulting confusion, many local rulers began to interfere with the flow of funds from monasteries and bishoprics to Rome. The crisis of papal authority lasted until 1417 and left the Church and the Papal Estates in and around the city of Rome in an impoverished condition... ...Several 16th-century popes were chosen from their circles. They made Rome a capital of Renaissance splendour, but the Church never recovered the ability to act as the restraint of conscience on the lust for power and wealth or to convince the high and mighty to observe the Peace and Truce of God. In one country after another, she was either banned or forced into unholy Alliances of Throne and Altar to secure her survival. The unarmed Church was no longer able to offer effective resistance to the power grabs of mighty kings."

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    4. I can speak for the "absolute kings" of Portugal in the 18th Century, who hardly needed any help from the nobles and church given all the wealth coming from Brasil, etc.

      D. João V was hardly known as a despot.

      However, the Marquis of Pombal, the de facto ruler as prime-minister of the "absolute king" D. José I, expelled the Jesuits, nationalized minor religious orders and installed "Companies" that regulated/monopolized nearly all sectors of activity (including the infamous Royal Company of Port Wine, who sold port wine to the British below market prices and left untold farmers in bankrupcy). Given the incoming "wealth" from the colonies, this was a great recipe for economic disaster and backwardation for the next 2 centuries.

      He considered himself a man of the "enlightment" after being ambassador to Great Britain and Austrian (and was a great admirer of King Frederick of Prussia) and did such nasty things as nationalizing the Portuguese inquisition so that he may persecute his enemies, especially from the high nobility (see the "Távora's process") and also clergymen (especially jesuits). He also "reformed" the Portuguese University, secularizing it (turning it into a tool of the State until the present day).

      The Jesuits played an important role in Portuguese society, having the kings' ears, especially in Education (education levels, by number of students, only recovered 2 hundred years later, with the "dictator" António de Oliveira Salazar) and also by protecting natives from the colonies (especially Brasil). You can also remember the Salamanca/Coimbra scholastics who defendend free trade, sound money and even just tyrannicide.


      Considering this neutering of the Portuguese Catholic Church as such, and the importance of the Portuguese Empire by then, I hardly agree with the statement that the Catholic Church was the "real enemy of civil and religious liberty, the great advocate of monarchical absolutism, during the late 17th century and into the 18th century". At least in this country.



      Taking into consideration

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    5. Great observation J H P. Under the guise of liberty, liberty was continuously being eroded for the past few hundred years. One can even go on to argue that if Braganzas really did became absolute monarchs in actuality, things would have been much better. Unlike French Bourbons, Braganzas have a good reputation (e.g. there are few leaders in history that compare to Dom Pedro the Magnanimous), and "dictator" Salazar saved his people from world war and communism both. But even French Bourbons are unfairly maligned (indeed, Louis XVI was the most fine a person) compared to what came next.


      Consider the following excerpt from Ralph Raico’s biographical note on Gustave de Molinari. There it is, from the mouth (or pen, as it were) of a first libertarian -- the prospects for liberty died (both literally and figuratively) on the guillotine.

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    6. Hi ATL,

      I know Rothbard's analysis and - for a non-historian from the US - it is not all that bad. Just one-sided, superficial in a predictable/understandable way and in some aspects simply outdated.

      "Protestant Holland" is just a myth. The majority of the people were still Catholics. Freedom? Catholics were persecuted, weren't allowed to practise their religion in public and were banned from public posts.
      Freest in economics? The VOC was a monopolistic aggressive multinational and a key player in the Dutch naval empire, so there also goes Rothbard's "abstinence from imperial adventures."

      Yes, the Universal Church wasn't able to act as a check on monarchical tyranny anymore, for the reason mentioned by Frank van Dun, but the so-called "Reformation" wasn't either. Protestantism was even rather instrumental for local monarchs to side with in their bid for power. Look at Tudor England and its tyranny against the monasteries and traditional religion, or at Holland were the successors of William of Orange sided with the radical calvinists for their power grab. The Reformation has been a major factor in the rise of the modern state. Not exactly a libertarian's dream come true. Rothbard should have known this, yet here he depicts the Reformation as a boon to freedom, sorta kinda.

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