Friday, April 13, 2018

The Struggle Continues


In reply to my piece, My Struggle With Liberalism, C. Jay Engel has offered his thoughts: Liberalism Round Two: Bionic Mosquito Edition.  I will focus my comments on two points: the first, perhaps pointing to the crux of my struggle; the second, an avenue of analysis proposed by Engel.

The Crux of My Struggle

When engaged in any type of dialogue, I always face the decision: do I just focus on the one or two key points or do I take the time to work through many of the interesting additional issues raised?  I did the latter in my first post.  In this post I will solely focus on the key point.  Citing Joe Salerno (from my earlier post), who is summarizing his view of Mises’ liberalism:

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.

The crux of my struggle is this: can the term “classical liberalism,” or even its more purified successor “libertarianism,” be defined (or ever realized) without the concept of a “nationality principle.”?

To focus on the term “libertarianism”: it is defined simply and elegantly via the non-aggression principle.  But is this definition in error, or more precisely, incomplete?  Again, from 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. . . .

Rothbard is not including the requirement of a “nationality principle” in the definition of libertarianism, yet his admonition must mean something; he makes it for some purpose.  Why would he advise contemporary libertarians on this issue unless it mattered to the benefit of libertarianism?

Engel, citing me from my previous post:

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.”

Engel replies:

Three points: one, this is all true and agreeable; two, liberalism and libertarianism do not, by the very boundaries of their intended scopes, deny this; three: completely disconnecting the political theory from the sociology, as if they can’t work in unison, is actually a tool of the critics of libertarianism.

But this comes to my point: I know this is “true and agreeable”; I know these are not “denied” by the boundaries of liberalism and libertarianism; and I know that “disconnecting the political theory from the sociology” is not just a tool of libertarianism’s critics (and, needless to say, many of its supporters), but is also just stupid.

My point, to state again: this, perhaps, is the crux of my struggle.  Can the term “classical liberalism,” or even its more purified successor “libertarianism,” be defined (or ever realized) without the concept of a “nationality principle.”?  I am not struggling with a “nice to have.”  I am struggling with this connection as a requirement.

Or to restate it: is the definition of libertarianism complete – and is its application impossible – without that which it (or certainly its philosophical predecessor) is “indissolubly linked,” a “nationality principle”?

I have struggled with such a question for quite some time.

 An Avenue of Analysis Proposed by Engel

I very much look forward to Engel’s treatment of the following; first, citing from his previous essay:

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.

And in response, Engel offers (and forgive the lengthy cite):

But was it? I am still working toward a solid, firm, and systematic answer. Such an answer lies in bringing together Murray Rothbard’s narrative of classical liberalism setting the world free from the ancien regime and Hoppe’s narrative of classical liberalism being a revolt against private law societies. I am certain that I will have an entire essay on this soon enough.

For now, I think that a helpful way to approach the problem is as follows: the classical liberal theorists worked in opposition to their own 18th and 19th century status quo; and the medieval private law societies (which are praised by Hoppe, BM, and myself as approaching a rough sketch of how such a society could and should be organized) developed their own frameworks in a more organic way. Classical Liberalism brought back intellectually what was done more intuitively centuries before.

I look forward to this.  Engel continues:

The solution therefore is to combine the intellectual contributions of the classical liberals (or the more pure libertarians) with the intuitive and organic model of the medievalists. Intellectualism without a cultural root to sustain results in, well, look around. A corruption of the principles, a revolt against freedom, and a cultural rot that skips along the road to tyranny.

This opens up one of my other struggles (for another day, perhaps – or maybe to be addressed in Engel’s forthcoming essay): I don’t think it is “intellectual contributions” (in the context used) that will make this possible.  The model of the medievalists combined a unique ethical code with a worldview brought forth by Christianity.  The answer may lie here, and not in the minds of the classical liberal intellectuals.

8 comments:

  1. Whew. That last paragraph...A real thinker, that, huh?

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  2. Thanks BM. A shorter reply to your thoughts. http://blog.austrolibertarian.com/?p=13126

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  3. “is the definition of libertarianism complete – and is its application impossible – without that which it (or certainly its philosophical predecessor) is “indissolubly linked,” a “nationality principle”?” - BM

    The theory is complete, but its realization in the world is not. A libertarian nation cannot be achieved by libertarian intellectuals. It will require consensual blood and soil. It will require a strong culture that backs it. We don’t have that now, but we are closest in the West, in the societies built and still somewhat maintained by Anglo-Saxon whites. The fact that whites make up the majority of liberty advocates cannot be overlooked, but from this it does not follow that we should exclude those of other races who wish to join us. I think we should rather welcome them with open arms. But this should be done on an individual basis; I am not advocating mass immigration from the third world to western shores. That would be a catastrophe totally antithetical to the goals of the true libertarian.

    "Such an answer lies in bringing together Murray Rothbard’s narrative of classical liberalism setting the world free from the ancien regime and Hoppe’s narrative of classical liberalism being a revolt against private law societies." - Engel

    I eagerly look forward to this reconciliation. I think the truth is probably more complex than monarchy = good and democracy = bad or vice versa. Or liberalism = good and traditionalism = bad or vice versa.

    Just look at the very different outcomes of the French and American revolutions of the 18th century. Both were republican revolutions against a monarchical regime, and both had the principles of liberalism coursing through their veins, however, one ended up in relative freedom, and one ended up in brutal tyranny.

    What was the difference? Bear in mind that I've only done a minuscule amount of reading on this subject, but I think it had something to do with the radical nature of French Revolution and the conservative nature of American Revolution. Americans wanted to preserve their way of life, while the French wanted to build a brand new one. Maybe it was the degree to which egalitarianism influenced the republicanism of each. What were the proportions of 'Digger' and 'Leveller' in the liberalism of the American colonies and of the French citizens?

    This excerpt from Rothbard's economic historical treatise, as published on Lew Rockwell recently, discussing the parent of these two revolutions is relevant to this discussion:

    "The victory of Cromwell and his Puritans over the Levellers proved fateful for the course of English history. For it meant that “republicanism,” in the eyes of the English, would be forever associated with the bloody rule of Cromwell’s saints, the reign of religious fanaticism, and the sacking of the great English cathedrals. Hence the death of Cromwell led swiftly to the restoration of the Stuarts, and the permanent discrediting of the republican cause."

    https://www.lewrockwell.com/2018/04/murray-n-rothbard/liberty-and-property-the-levellers-and-locke/

    He goes on talking about John Locke and how there is a controversy over whether he was really a radical liberal or a conservative medievalist and concludes that:

    "Most of these interpretations are, oddly enough, not really contradictory. By this point, we should realize that the Scholastics may have dominated medieval and postmedieval traditions, but that despite this fact they were pioneers and elaborators of the natural-law and natural-rights traditions. The pitting of “tradition” versus “modernity” is largely an artificial antithesis."

    Maybe that’s the answer. Perhaps the natural law tradition, whether secular or Christian (or both), is the thread that links what was good about medieval European society and the liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries.

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    Replies
    1. “The theory is complete, but its realization in the world is not.”

      We have the non-aggression principle: don’t hit first (yes, I know; don’t pick nits). Libertarian theory is built on this. But is it a complete theory?

      “A libertarian nation…will require consensual blood and soil. It will require a strong culture that backs it.”

      Let’s see what Rothbard says:

      “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.”

      http://bionicmosquito.blogspot.com/2018/02/the-trees.html

      So…for the theory to be made manifest – to work in practice – it requires “consensual blood and soil…a strong culture that backs it.” So, do we have a good theory absent these features? Because “if it cannot work in practice” it “should be discarded forthwith.” Maybe instead of discarding libertarian theory we might define it with characteristics that will allow it to work in practice.

      “What was the difference (French vs. American Revolutions)?”

      I too have looked at this only superficially. I wonder if one difference was that the Americans fought a foreign enemy and the French fought among themselves.

      “Perhaps the natural law tradition, whether secular or Christian (or both), is the thread that links what was good about medieval European society and the liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries.”

      I think that’s right. And perhaps the reason that it did not advance beyond puberty in more recent times – as opposed to reaching a ripe old age several hundred years ago – was that the recent attempt was built on man’s reason and the former attempt was built on God’s reason (or the reason of countless generations).

      Sagunto recently posted this; on point and worth a read (if you have not done so already):

      http://revue-arguments.com/articles/index.php?id=31

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    2. "Maybe instead of discarding libertarian theory we might define it with characteristics that will allow it to work in practice."

      A) Yes, but you will be accused of "Machiavellianism".

      B) Our societies already have this property defined: functionaries. I.e. we have defined functions that are filled by people. And those functions have greater responsibilities, duties and rights that the people that hold these functions do not have.

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    3. What was the difference? Bear in mind that I've only done a minuscule amount of reading on this subject, but I think it had something to do with the radical nature of French Revolution and the conservative nature of American Revolution. Americans wanted to preserve their way of life, while the French wanted to build a brand new one.

      Another factor is the American "Revolution," unlike the French and Russian Revolutions, was a secession movement. The culmination of a revolution almost always means the extermination of the losing side. The aftermath of a successful secession means each side goes their own way and get on with their lives. Sometimes, as in Norway's secession from Sweden in 1905, the dissolution is done without armed resistance from the parent state. This difference in outcomes seems to make secession movements much more likely to create free nations than are attempts to "change the world" by forcing universal principles upon reluctant subjects.

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    4. Clinton,

      Excellent point about secession. Yet another reason to embrace this as principal strategy for achieving liberty in the real world.

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    5. BM,

      I think the heart of the issue is whether or not we really can separate culture and politics.

      Libertarians, in a valiant attempt to stay objective, built economic and political theory from the sky downward (interestingly, this is the easiest way to build complex symmetrical structures in Minecraft). They removed themselves from all the confusion, complexity, and irregularity occurring at ground level and started with the lofty heights of the abstract truths of human nature.

      In doing this, I believe they achieved something truly indispensable: the definition of liberty. But can this perfect edifice survive suspended from the imperfections on the ground? I would venture to say no.

      Perhaps it is reminiscent of Hoppe's partial destruction of Hume's Law (is/ought distinction) with his development of an 'a priori' justification for self-ownership and private property based on argumentation ethics. Maybe we need someone to bridge the gap between politics and culture, to define praxeologically what culture is required to support liberty. Hoppe has already blazed a trail in this regard as well (ever the bridge builder), but I think there is further to go in placing the perfect libertarian theory securely onto the imperfect foundation of reality below.

      Maybe it won't be a giant of liberty like Hoppe who does this. Maybe it will be lowly mosquitoes like us.

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