Ira Katz has written a very thought provoking piece, entitled “The Praxeology of Revolution.” For context, he discusses the demonstrations by the gilets jaunes in France; living in Paris as a naturalized French citizen and also one who is well-versed in libertarian and free-market thought, he has a view of these events not generally available to the rest of us.
[The demonstrators] certainly have some valid complaints. Taxes are too high. The state, centered in Paris, has its tentacles intertwined through virtually all aspects of life strangling initiative.
Unfortunately, their solutions veer toward more socialism as opposed to more liberty. Why move toward socialism, given the deadly and murderous track record of this political philosophy? A French leftist on the radio offered an answer:
…his critique of French President Macron as someone who only understands an Excel spreadsheet rang true. Thus, it is not just for Macron, but also I think some libertarians might have this Excel mentality.
Katz offers an idealized example: a factory in France closes, in order to move production to a lower cost country. A free-market libertarian would explain how society overall is better off for this move, but the displaced workers don’t see it this way. Create enough displaced workers and one sows the seeds of revolution. Katz offers: “This praxeology of revolution needs to be addressed in the libertarian analysis.”
Katz offers a section from the introduction to Human Action. Subjective value takes us far outside of economics, to the entirety of choices available in life:
Choosing determines all human decisions. In making his choice man chooses not only between various material things and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another. Nothing that men aim at or want to avoid remains outside of this arrangement into a unique scale of gradation and preference.
Walter Block has often and rightly offered: a libertarian as libertarian has little to say about much of anything:
Libertarianism is SOLELY a theory of just law; it says that the only legitimate laws are those prohibiting the violation of persons or justly owned property; laws such as those prohibiting murder, rape, theft, kidnapping, etc. are the only licit laws. There are no other just laws.
But consider this in the context of subjective value as described in Human Action. We are free to choose sublime or base, noble or ignoble. Libertarianism says nothing about these choices of base or ignoble, merely offering maximum liberty to the individual; man is free to aim at any of these.
Yet, while offering maximum liberty to the individual, does libertarianism offer the same for the society in which the liberated individual lives? The French factory worker might disagree, just as those who prefer traditional western values might disagree.
While I have recently taken issue with the views of Edward Feser on self-ownership and social justice (more precisely, I have taken issue with his proposed prescription and not so much his diagnosis), Feser has done an excellent job of taking apart the modern philosophers (my commentary on his work can be found here, under “Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism”).
What is our liberty for? To what do we aim? Feser examines these through the natural law as derived by Aristotle and Aquinas. Absent answering these questions, the base and ignoble are available to man on his subjective value scale. Yet, in choosing these, do we move toward a free society or away from one?
Walter is quite right about the extent and limitations of libertarianism; Mises is quite right about the field of play for subjective value – it extends far beyond economics. Libertarianism and subjective value make us free to aim at anything – even the base and ignoble. But if our target is liberty, we must ask: will these alone allow us to hit the mark?
Katz offers: “To be clear, I am opposed to any kind of law penalizing a company for moving a factory.” As am I. But without properly wrestling with the entirety of the natural law as offered by Aristotle and Aquinas, I believe we will not find liberty.