Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Parallel?



At the Mises site, there is published an article by Hans Hoppe, entitled “Banking, Nation States, and International Politics: A Sociological Reconstruction of the Present Economic Order.”  I focus on one section:

While it is in everyone's economic interest that there be only one universal money and only one unit of account, and man in his pursuit of wealth maximization will not stop until this goal is reached, it is contrary to such interest that there be only one bank or one monopolistic banking system. Rather, self-interest commands that every bank use the same universal money — gold — and that there then be no competition between different monies, but that free competition between banks and banking systems, all of which use gold, must exist.

While reading this, it struck me: there is a parallel to this and the medieval order – a period in history when law was relatively libertarian and governance was quite decentralized.  I took a crack at capturing the parallel, with changes noted in red:

While it is in everyone's political interest that there be only one universal ethic and only one ethical yardstick, and man in his pursuit of liberty maximization will not stop until this goal is reached, it is contrary to such interest that there be only one king or one monopolistic state. Rather, self-interest commands that every king use the same universal ethic natural law defended by the Church — and that there then be no competition between different ethics, but that free competition between kings and states, all of which use the Natural Law defended by the Church, must exist.

To summarize my modifications:

Economic = Political
Money = Ethic
Gold = Natural Law defended by the Church (the Universal Ethic)
Unit of Account = Ethical Yardstick
Wealth maximization = Liberty
Bank = King
Banking System = State

My modified paragraph describes quite well the medieval order.  So it got me to thinking further…the context of Hoppe’s words is his description of the development of money in the market; this was driven by the desire for maximizing economic efficiency.  In my modified paragraph, I find maximized liberty.

In neither case do we find perfection – either a perfectly efficient market or a perfect liberty. Nothing done by imperfect humans can be perfect.  But in both cases we find maximum choice, maximum possibilities.  In both cases we find examples of the maximum (economic efficiency / liberty) afforded to man on earth.

There is a story to be told here.  Maybe someone has written it; if so, I welcome a link.  In any case, I will think about this some more.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Tale of Two Scandals


Volkswagen built cars that people wanted to buy.  They sold these cars by the hundreds of thousands, such was their popularity.  These cars killed no one – at least not in any manner unique to these cars.  For this, people lost their jobs and Volkswagen faces countless law suits and could easily be put into bankruptcy if it is so deemed by the US government.

Boeing builds planes.  It is possible that design and / or other flaws due to Boeing’s actions or inactions contributed to, if not caused, two of these planes to go down in recent months, killing over 300 people.

Assuming the fault is as currently speculated, let’s see how the US government treats Boeing and its executives.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Looking Through the Wrong End of the Telescope



Slavery is now universally (and rightfully) regarded with revulsion…

This thought should be kept in mind while reading this post.  Two key takeaways: first, just because I write about slavery does not mean I am supportive of the institution (amazingly, such things need to be stated); second, the key words in the statement above are “is now.”

Casey offers that slavery is one of the oldest and longest lasting institutions known to man.  He cites Thomas Sowell, who offers that slavery was virtually universal throughout the world for thousands of years.

No great religion or great teacher condemned the practice; Christianity was not alone in this regard.  John Vincent writes, “even slaves did not wish for slavery to end….”  Now, one who only sees the American experience from two centuries ago cannot stomach this thought; a read of Casey suggests that they are looking at history in the wrong direction.

Perhaps there is no region on earth that at one time did not harbor the institution.  “Probably there is no group of people whose ancestors were not at one time slaves or slaveholders,” according to “the historian of slavery,” Orlando Patterson. 

I modify this: probably there is no group of people whose ancestors were not at different times both slaves and slaveholders.  I feel I am standing on quite safe ground when I suggest that every single one of us has blood ancestors that were both victim and perpetrator in just about any atrocity one can fathom.  Here again, tough to stomach when one is looking at history the wrong way.

The lex talionis recommends an eye for an eye.  It is considered by many to be a crude reform of revenge today, if not barbaric.  Yet, when introduced, it was a tremendous moral advance.  The previously accepted practice was for twenty or even one hundred eyes for an eye.  Just so for slavery:

…when [slavery] began, it represented a moral advance on the previous custom of killing, torturing and sometimes eating prisoners taken in war.

When looked at this way…one must say slavery was an improvement to being eaten.  Even the slave would likely agree, as Vincent suggests.  Augustine also noted this aspect of slavery when compared to what came before.  Yes, it is not fashionable, but fashionable and true are often two totally different things.

Casey considers slavery in Greece and Rome, offering that there were many types of slavery: debt bondage, clientship, peonage, helotage, and serfdom.  Chattel slavery, however, is of a different sort.  A serf, for example, still had a measure of legal personhood; he held certain legal rights.  From my earlier reading, I recall: a serf could marry and had the right to stay married and keep his family; a serf could own property and pass it on to his heirs; a serf had access to courts.  The chattel slave held nothing of the sort; his rights were like that of any other piece of property, nothing more.

Some slaves were better off than the free people of Rome.  Again, I recall reading elsewhere that during the slow downfall of Rome and the advance of the Germanic tribes, many “free” Roman citizens voluntarily gave themselves to the invaders as slaves; this option offered an improvement to what was available under Roman rule.

Other than Aristotle, no prominent thinker of the time offered a defense of or even a statement about slavery.  None was offered because none was expected: slavery was the norm not just of European society, but, it seems, globally.  At least Aristotle felt some need to mention the practice: given his views on ends and purpose, it seems this was unavoidable.  Yet Casey offers that Aristotle’s defense was less than convincing, certainly given Aristotle’s own philosophical framework.

Slavery also existed among the Hebrews.  Christians, as noted, made little immediate impact on the institution; one can point to many passages from Paul and Augustine that are, in fact, to the contrary.  Like others in the region and globally, to early Christians, it sees, slavery was accepted as a normal practice.  Perhaps the more appropriate question: why, after perhaps 1800 years, did the church begin to protest this institution?

As Thomas Sowell notes, for centuries before the origin of slavery on the North American continent, Europeans had enslaved other Europeans, Asians had enslaved other Asians, and Africans had enslaved other Africans.

It wasn’t racism that gave rise to slavery; racism became a convenient tool used by slavery’s supporters to defend the institution when all other support disappeared.

Conclusion

To bring this full circle, consider that history progresses in only one direction no matter what modern sensibilities might wish.  Citing Sowell:

“North Africa’s Barbary Coast pirates alone captured and enslaved at least a million Europeans from 1500 to 1800, carrying more Europeans into bondage in North Africa than there were Africans brought into bondage to the United States and to the American colonies from which it was formed.  Moreover, Europeans were still being bought and sold in the slave markets of the Islamic world, decades after blacks were freed in the United States.”

The march through history goes only one way, and for much of that march slavery was considered quite a normal practice – and an improvement on the alternatives.  Wishing otherwise doesn’t make it so.

Friday, March 15, 2019

It’s Not a State!



Casey examines Aristotle – his politics, not so much his metaphysics (I have previously offered an overview of his metaphysics here).  Fundamentally important in this examination, and in contrast to Plato, Aristotle recognizes that humans are human:

Aristotle clearly recognises the contingent variability of human action, both in individuals and in groups.  Given this, we can expect to educe just so much order and no more from individual and group human action.

Aristotle does not generate pure principles and then force them on any given area or subject:

Rather, we demand the level of precision that a given subject matter can sustain.  In matters of human action, in practical matters, we cannot expect to obtain the kind of rigour that we demand and expect in mathematics.

This view of Aristotle’s summarizes my approach to libertarian theory: we have perfected theory quite enough; what is left is to find liberty – liberty in a world occupied by humans.  There are an infinite number of spaces in between individuals and groups where we will find “contingent variability.” 

This reality suggests something about both a) the composition of a successful “group,” and b) the reality that different groups might organize differently.  But I am getting ahead of Casey on this.

Aristotle was unwilling to accept the view that justice was merely a matter of convention – whatever a group decided as “just” is, in fact, just.  I think this comes from his metaphysics: a thing (in this case, a human being) has a final cause – an end, goal or purpose.  Justice must be supportive of this final cause. 

At the same time, Aristotle did not accept that there could be one ideal and transcendent political community applicable to all and for all.  Universally applicable political philosophies are to be found in Plato, not Aristotle.

A controversial aspect of Aristotle is in his comments about the state.  For example: the state has, as one of its functions, the moral improvement of its citizens.  Casey offers that “state” meant something different to Aristotle than it does to us today.  The term used was polis, and the description of this term makes clear that it is nothing like the state we have come to know in our time.

…the polis, the city state, was that form of political organization that was small enough to allow for the participation of all its citizens while being large enough to provide the conditions necessary not just for life but for the good life.  Ethics, politics, custom and law all run together in the polis.

This sounds a lot more like a Swiss canton or Lichtenstein than it does the United States or China.  As Casey offers: “I believe it to be both futile and dangerous to reproduce the polis on a gigantic scale. …the modern nation-state was a project doomed to failure from the start….”

The polis differs from the modern state in almost every way: in size, mode of governance, and even the status of citizenship.  The constituent members could control their affairs by debate and discussion in making their laws and punishment.  Consider: this isn’t representative government via a distant legislator.  Those who will be affected by the law will first debate the law.  Again, more Swiss canton than Washington, D.C.

It is in this sense that the state (polis) is a creature of nature.  Man is a political animal; as neither the individual nor the family is a self-sufficing whole, man comes together in a community – in a polis.  It is a natural entity, as natural to man as household or village. 

One can understand the confusion to modern ears when polis is translated as “state.”  When understood as Casey describes, one finds a decentralized and reasonably libertarian governance structure.

In such a polis, we have a union of people in almost all things that matter: in history, language, customs, laws, religion, music, art, and culture.

This description will be stifling to some, liberating to others.  To Universalist libertarians, for example, it is stifling – consider libertarians who advocate open borders, the non-aggression principle (as they define and apply it) is for all, acceptance of libertine lifestyles, etc.  Can such a construct result in or maintain a polis?  Not likely.

However, if one accepts that decentralization of governance is libertarian theory put into practice, it is liberating.  Certainly, the more common the various cultural attributes, the less need for formal law.

In a subsequent chapter, Casey will specifically examine the issue of slavery.  Casey offers that Aristotle was almost unique among classical thinkers in feeling that a defense of this ubiquitous and widely-accepted institution must be offered.

For Aristotle, some people are slaves by nature, and this natural slave benefits from subjection to his master.  This runs so completely contrary to his metaphysics: humans have a final cause and justice must be supportive of this final cause.  Casey examines Aristotle’s defense of this institution, and offers:

…it is impossible to regard Aristotle’s defense of slavery, especially natural slavery, as anything other than a form of intellectual scotosis…we might have expected something better on this topic from one of the greatest intellects the world has ever known.

I had to look it up.  Scotosis: Intellectual blindness: a hardening of the mind against unwanted wisdom.  I think Aristotle would have benefitted from the Christian concept that man is made in God’s image.

Aristotle also has a Machiavellian streak in him, giving advice to tyrants as freely as he does to citizens of a polis: invent terrors, sow some discord, discourage intermediate institutions, etc.  In this way, revolution will be prevented.

Conclusion

Aristotle denies that a polis can be constituted simply by agreement or by a nexus of commercial exchanges. 

This runs contrary to classical liberalism and libertarian thought.  If one reads Aristotle’s description of a polis and finds in it a means and the model by which to put libertarianism in practice, one might consider that libertarianism is not sufficient for liberty.