A continuing dialogue with Nick Badalamenti. The specific conversation was started by Anonymous (Sag) June 24, 2018 at 1:45 AM, at this post. It has evolved such that my reply is long enough for a post:
In the most recent comment, Nick offers that those who initially came from Europe to America to settle did not bring a culture with them. I know we must be speaking past each other, because I don’t get this at all. In any case, after his describing his view, he asks:
What of the above do you disagree with?
I interpret Nick’s statements on this matter to place far more emphasis on the “soil” part than is justified and far less emphasis on the “culture” part than is warranted.
People create and maintain a culture. When I use the phrase “cultural soil,” I use the term “soil” as symbolism, if you will. Certainly, it cannot be denied that America became America in part due to the various geographic features of the land, but this is tremendously a secondary consideration.
In this specific case, American Indians (or whatever I am supposed to call them these days) lived on this “soil” for countless generations, yet did not create anything approaching the classical liberalism / libertarianism of “America.” Why? Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been the “soil.”
My point is: the “cultural soil” of America existed before the first European settler arrived; it was on the ships that came from the old world, in the human passengers that travelled on these ships. My point is: the cultural characteristics – certainly not decentralized medieval law (most certainly not Catholic) – still held many (but not all) of the valuable characteristics that pre-dated the Reformation and Renaissance (which was also true in parts of Europe even in this time, perhaps being fully purged in France at the time of the Revolution).
Finally, my point is: they came to basically virgin land – unclaimed by any power that had the means to truly defend a previous claim. I will suggest: not in the collapse of Argentina or in the collapse of the United States will this be true. For example: if the only “change” in America (even Argentina) is a collapse followed by some form of decentralization, what happens to the military and police in either country when you tell them: “no more jobs, no more pensions”?
So, I suggest: if libertarians want to see something approaching liberty in the future, we (some libertarians will suggest that I should use the word “they”) might want to consider the cultural soil necessary to allow liberty to grow. The key part of the term being “cultural.”
Which country is moving more towards liberty and away from socialism: Russia or the United States?
Of course the answer to this is a simple answer; however it comes with complex and important underlying factors. In the 1930s, Stalin imprisoned and killed by the millions; in the 1940s, FDR imprisoned a couple hundred thousand. From this starting point (and hundreds of other political and economic examples of similar extremes) we can easily answer the question. The starting point is meaningful to your question – in fact, I could leave it here and fully answer the question without allowing your question to make the point that I think you want to make.
But I will go further: why is the breakup of the USSR a great example (and hope) for others? Why did “peaceful” work there? The various former republics were each relatively uniform in their underlying culture (including, not at all insignificantly, religion). In fact, where we have not seen a peaceful separation in the former USSR is precisely where this wasn’t true: internally within Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan are such examples; various provinces within Russia also offer examples.
On the other hand, compare the process and outcome of the recent “revolution” in a very uniform Armenia with revolutions elsewhere in the region. It seems the United States didn’t even bother to try to co-opt this revolution; likely there was no point.
Yes, on the whole the decentralization of the Soviet Union was peaceful; however, within previously established borders where cultures collided, it was (and is) not.
How would this play out in the US, where the “culture” of the inner cities vs. the suburbs is like night and day; where the “culture” of the elite vs. flyover country could not be more different? Where there are no meaningful borders to separate these groups from each other?
How will this play out in a collapse in Argentina? A bunch of locals will allow the rich, white Norte Americanos to live in peace on their libertarian Galt’s Gulch, riding polo ponies and playing tennis – “watching it all play out on the big screen”? Whatever remains of “government” in Argentina, which side will they back?
…the argument that a nation could exist without a king was claimed to have been scoffed at by King George.
But, of course, King George was wrong. During the Middle Ages and for up to 1000 years in various parts of Europe there was no “king,” not in any definition fitting the definition during the time of King George (or six centuries before in the land he ruled). Before the Jews asked Samuel for a king, they had no king. So, it seems to me, historical arguments are on my side.
I believe that setting limits on what can be done based on historical precedents are intellectually stifling.
I believe that removing all limits from the examples of human history and human nature are intellectual masturbation. Post-Enlightenment (even post-Renaissance) political theories almost all fall into this camp.
We aren’t talking about stretching the boundaries of physical science – “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” We are talking about human nature – a social science. Science experiments involving human nature have never ended well for those on whom the experiment is attempted.
Whether one believes human nature is the result of billions of years of evolution or is the creation of God, it seems to me that those who ignore these “limitations” and “boundaries” of human nature are both naïve and dangerous.
I have been criticized for thinking critically about libertarian theory and classical liberalism. I have offered my “why” for doing so: to learn where and why it all went so wrong. You would think this a topic worthy of examination, not derision (no, not by you Nick).
How do I examine this without understanding the historical precedents? Why would not those who favor liberty want to learn from this experience?
The Money Question
As of now, the substance of "disagreement" between us appears to be a chicken vs. the egg conundrum.
Which is more plausible: fewer laws in a society with a common culture or fewer laws in a society of contrasting and even conflicting cultures? On this point, I think we agree.
Which comes first, good law or good people? On this, maybe we don’t agree: I say good people; you say good law (the NAP). However one defines “good” in good people, I say this must come first – and one cannot say the definition of “good” in good people is the following of the NAP; this reasoning is circular and nonsensical.
Further, I am suggesting specific cultural characteristics and traditions that make for this “good people” if by “good law” one is hoping for something approaching libertarian law.
I used to believe which came first was irrelevant – to the extent I even considered the question. I have come to the view that one must precede the other if something approaching liberty is to be both achieved and sustained. Good people create and sustain good law; it isn’t the other way around.
The following statement is offered by some: in a libertarian society, destructive cultural behaviors will not survive because they will not be subsidized. I agree with the statement. However, the statement leaves unanswered the “how” of the birthing and maintaining of a libertarian society.
How will it spring forth from a society where socially destructive cultural behavior is today subsidized? How will it spring forth when aggression is both subsidized and supported? How will it spring forth when half of society wants to have orgies on the front lawn and the other half doesn’t?
This road only goes one way: law reflects the society and its culture. Good law cannot come forward from corrupt society. The closest thing known in history to libertarian law came forward from a specific people with specific characteristics, cultures, and traditions – this in the Germanic, Christian Middle Ages.
Good law was not waiting on the American continent for the first European settlers to find it. Good law isn’t waiting today for some collapse to allow it to break free from its shackles. If and when the collapse comes, will you find more freedom in the custom and traditions of Manhattan or Winnemucca? Why?