Saturday, December 15, 2018

You Are Not Viable


I have not discussed abortion for some time.  I have written my most comprehensive post on the topic specifically in response to Walter Block’s evictionism argument; given his “evictionism” argument, I took the approach of a rental real estate transaction and contract.  Walter and I went back and forth on it a time or two. 

Given that this was written four years ago, I might refresh it a bit today, but overall it offers my view – specifically taking the contract / property approach.  My primary view on this topic, however, is driven by other causes.  Causes like murder of innocents.

It is curious to me (I have no better word) that those who advocate for a society based on the non-aggression principle advocate for the ultimate aggression on the individuals least capable of defending themselves, individuals that are most vulnerable to aggression by another, individuals who are totally innocent regarding their circumstance. 

If libertarianism based on the non-aggression principle supports such aggression, it is a philosophy that offers no defense against any type of aggression.

Why am I discussing this today?  Walter has written a brief blog post, followed thereafter by a comment from Michael Rozeff.  It is not to Walter that I will reply, but to Rozeff.  I have to say, I had a difficult time reading Rozeff’s post; he offers, first, some facts:

What are we talking about? “In 2015, 638,169 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas. The abortion rate for 2015 was 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years…” That’s a little over 1 woman in a hundred. There’s a lot of women in America, so the absolute number is also a lot; but it’s not large relative to the population.

More than any other statement in his post, it is this one that I cannot stomach.  Yes, I am used to libertarians favoring this type of aggression; few have had the courage to put numbers to it and – more so – suggest that six-hundred thousand is no big deal.

Over six-hundred thousand deaths in one year, all due to the same cause.  Reminds me of Madeline Albright – 500,000 Iraqi children’s deaths were worth it. Relative to the total population, not such a big deal.

He then offers the breakdown by the time elapsed after conception.  This is important to him for the following reason: almost 99% of all abortions occur before the twentieth week of the unborn child’s life.  And guess what?

The facts of abortion show that virtually all abortions are of fetuses that could not survive outside the womb.

Nor can any new-born babies, without assistance.

The question is when does a fetus gain the right to life. A sensible answer as well as one not at variance with actual abortions is that it gains this right when it is capable of surviving outside the womb, with assistance, of course. (Emphasis added.)

Wait a minute.  If a newborn baby has a right to this assistance, why not an unborn child?  What is different in any meaningful sense?  The newborn baby is entirely dependent on others for food, drink, sanitation, safety, protection from the elements, etc.  Basically, the exact same items of “assistance” that the unborn child – even one less than 20 weeks – requires.

To be a live human being, one must be capable of be-ing, even if it requires assistance that pregnancy or medical substitutes provide after 24 weeks. Fetuses that cannot survive outside the womb are not yet human beings, according to this theory.

Babies outside of the womb cannot survive without virtually identical assistance. 

“You are not viable.”  If this is the criteria for one to have the right to not be victim of aggression, well…let’s open the door to eugenics, assisted suicide, final solutions to the mentally and physically disabled, individuals with IQs below 70, etc. 

Where do you draw the line?  On what basis?  Who will decide?

Conclusion

In my estimation, abortion is not a major problem in America.

More than six-hundred thousand deaths per year all due to the same cause, and this is not a major problem. 

Epilogue

Rozeff begins early in his post with the following:

If a woman wants an abortion, I do not see how anyone can make her not have it. She cannot be forced to carry to term. Call that her right, if you want to.

I am not suggesting that I have an answer.  However, it is pointless to work on an answer if we cannot agree that murder is aggression.

The unborn child is the only innocent person in this exchange.  The woman took an action to become pregnant, as did the man in impregnating her.  If no responsibility comes to either of these two with this action, society (to say nothing of liberty) is 100% lost.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Two Sides of the Same Coin


We seem to be heading into a confrontation between the two forces of Modernism: the primacy of the individual versus the increasing technological and economic might of the central state.
-          Charles Hugh Smith, The Conflicting Forces of Modernism: Kafka and Kierkegaard
The individual on the one hand, the all-powerful state on the other.  Are these two opposite and antagonistic forces, as many believe, or are they merely two sides of the same coin, with one feeding the other?
If two things are two sides of the same coin or opposite sides of the same coin, they are closely related to each other and cannot be separated, even though they seem to be completely different. (Emphasis added)
Returning to Smith:
The primacy of the individual is the core of Modernism, as each individual discovers the mysteries of God in their own way and time, and creates their own identity via their own choices and commitments. 
Hasn’t western society – and certainly US society – maximized this “individualism” already?  Tattoos and body-piercings in places known and unknown, hair in every fluorescent color, an infinite variety of gender possibilities, family units of every type, gods of every type?  Yes, I guess “more” is always possible, but western society does not suffer from a deficit of “God in my own way and time” or “my own created identity.”
As much as we have maximized individualism, in what manner will we be able to resist the state?  With whose support?  “You and what army?”
As each of us is now our own unique individual, for what reason would I join with you to defend your individualism – an individualism that might be completely contrary to anything that matters to me?  Yeah, yeah, I know the poem: “First they came for the socialists….”  What good are such words when we know that no one has acted on these?  What are you willing to die for?
If, in fact, individualism stood at the opposite side of a mighty central state, why does the mighty central state support, advance, and subsidize all manners of behaviors that allow each of us to create our own “individual”?  It is very easily possible to make oneself free from all interpersonal support systems, institutions, cultural norms, etc. – in other words, as individual as imaginable – thanks to state support.
Conclusion
“The primacy of the individual versus the increasing technological and economic might of the central state.”  Two sides of the same coin; these two cannot be separated, even though they seem completely different.
Nothing better for the increasing growth of a centralizing state than ensuring – and even supporting – the “individual.”

Monday, December 10, 2018

Lessons From Our Past


The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard; June 1, 1970

It has been some time since I last probed the pages of this semi-monthly newsletter edited by Murray Rothbard.  For various reasons, I find it appropriate to dive back in.  When we last left the story, Rothbard had concluded that the new left was hopeless when it came to prospects for liberty – having abandoned a radical anti-war stance and embraced various social and even libertine causes, none having to do with the objective of liberty – in fact, destructive of this objective.

Rothbard titles this edition “The New Movement: Peace Politics.”  Unfortunately, many who fancy themselves as libertarian cannot even grasp this simple concept – peace, as in anti-war, anti-interventionism.  This issue – and so much more – is covered in this edition, starting with the opening sentence:

There is no doubt about it: Richard Milhous Nixon is the most effective organizer that the anti-war movement has ever had.

There is to be found a small handful of libertarians – of which I count myself as one – who find in Trump similar benefits when it comes to advancing liberty. In Trump’s case, not because he is coalescing the anti-war forces so tremendously destroyed by Obama, but because he is making a mockery of the state – both through his positive and negative actions. 

Positive: he is unafraid to point out the hypocrisy of the state and the establishment; negative: the concept of dignity is not to be found in the same paragraph with the word president. 

Lesson 1: Making a mockery of the state is valuable if shrinking the state is one objective for libertarians.  That someone can be elected president with this mockery a major part of his platform is even more valuable.  That the elected president continues to mock the state after his inauguration is priceless.

It was this issue of war and peace that drove the handful of non-interventionists from the right to the new left in the 1950s; Rothbard now sees that it is driving him and others from the new left.  Describing an anti-war meeting that he attended with Leonard Liggio, the vast majority of left-leaning attendees booed the message.  Instead, they were after civil rights and socialism. 

Lesson 2: nothing surprising here, at least in concept; revolutionaries are all against something but rarely for the same thing.  Lesson 2.5: revolutions get coopted, usually by the worst elements in society.

However, Rothbard finds hope.  The new anti-war movement is made up of “real people”: businessmen (other than those employed by the merchants of death) and members of the President’s cabinet; people who are repelled by the antics of the new left.

Lesson 3: as the establishment today has made it unacceptable for “real people” to hold non-establishment (statist) views, pretty much anything that tears at the established narrative (e.g. Trump) is good for liberty.

The next essay in this edition of the newsletter is authored by Jerome Tuccille.  What is replacing the new left – the left that has fled the anti-war movement?

…a familiar two-headed beast: the old scarred and ugly face of doctrinaire Marxism and the more hideous visage of self-righteous nihilism.

Marxism at its root destroys the idea of private property.  Libertarianism has an answer for this.  But nihilism is “more hideous” than Marxism according to Tuccille.   An interesting thought. 

Lesson 4: libertarianism offers no defense against nihilism.  Yet, being more hideous than Marxism, maybe it should.

How to avoid the errors of our past?  Tuccille cites the success of Atlas Shrugged in the late 1950s, “the last best chance for free markets in the United States.”  Yet what came of this?  The novel offered no meaningful answers to the problems of the day.

While Objectivists engaged in the exclusive luxury of abstractions and ideology, a war was going on, housing and education among other vital institutions were coming apart, the cities were exploding with violence, the American middle class was falling into a daze, and government grew increasingly more repressive.

What was the Objectivist cure for this? Selfishness.
What was the cause of all our ills?  Altruism.          
What should we do about exploited minorities?  Leave them alone.

Tuccille wrote the eulogy of Objectivism only a decade after Rand’s novel – rightly, of course, but only a decade nonetheless.  Keep this in mind….

Instead of replying “rational self-interest” when people want to know how to meet these concerns, we will have to demonstrate how a strict enforcement of property rights will [provide answers]…

It has been forty-eight years since Tuccille wrote these words.  There has been phenomenal work done in the area of demonstrating how property rights can resolve many of the concerns of society – frankly, this discussion has been exhausted. 

Walter Block is correct when he offers that we are now working to move a fraction of an inch closer to the truth when we engage in debate and dialogue; yet we have already covered more than 99 out of the 100 inches on this path.  Will the straw of last remaining fraction of an inch be what breaks the camel’s back?  If ten years was long enough to write off Objectivism, what do we do with the libertarian reliance on property rights after half a century?

Lesson 5: libertarianism is no less an “abstraction and ideology” than is Objectivism.  Man doesn’t do well with abstractions and ideologies.  Perhaps instead of remaining focused on the last hidden corners of private property, a libertarian narrative is called for.  Leave it to Hans Hoppe to begin this conversation.  I think I will soon examine his lecture.

Conclusion


Epilogue

The closing essay in this edition is offered by Edwin G. Dolan, writing of “The Lenin Centennial” – 100 years since Lenin’s birth.  Dolan identifies “many sound principles of importance to any movement opposing the status quo,” taken from Lenin’s famous pamphlet “What is to be Done?

These and many other passages deserve the attention of libertarians as the 1970s begin, for our movement today has much in common with the bolshevism of the Iskra period.

Iskra was the political paper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).  Lenin’s “Iskra period” was from 1900 to 1903.  Fifteen years later, Lenin was victorious.

Revolutions all end the same way – with most revolutionaries greatly dissatisfied with the outcome, and most of these ending up on the guillotine or in the Gulag.  Is this the form of revolution we want?  Can we now, after fifty years, come up with a different path?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

More Alike Than Unlike


Needless to say, [Woodrow] Wilson suffered from the Great American Malady, the belief that people all over the world are "more alike than unlike," in other words, that they are just inhibited, underdeveloped could-be Americans saddled with the misfortune that they spoke another language.

Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)

EvKL examines the American left and World War One; as can be seen from the above cited passage, one focus is on that of the belief in the universal – and additionally messianic – nature of the American democratic system.

He offers the well-understood points of the prolonging of the war due to Wilson’s entry into the war; the desire of the British left for the war to be extended via America’s entrance; that it was also the American left that dove into the Second World War.  My focus, however, will be two-fold: the ideology of the left that drove it (and still drives it) to war, and the drive to follow utopian failure with the next utopian failure. 

[Wilson] was working towards a Djihad, a holy war to extend what he considered the American form of government.

This was evident even earlier, in Wilson’s dealings with Mexico, as seen in a statement made by Walter Hines Page, Wilson’s ambassador.  The context is a discussion with Sir Edward Grey, Britain's Foreign Secretary, and Wilson’s desire to force Mexico into a democracy.  Page concludes:

The United States will be here for 200 years and it can continue to shoot men for that little space till they learn to vote and rule themselves.

The only change in the last one hundred years is that the intervention no longer occupies a “little space.”

World War One is pointed to by EvKL as “a far more crucial historic event than most Americans think. …George F. Kennan is perfectly right when he says, ‘All the lines of inquiry lead back to World War I.’’’ I think this is right as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.  The Great War wasn’t born in a vacuum; the left that drove the world into and through this war – with no acceptance of truce or a less-than-total victory – did not come from nothing.

EvKL points to the anti-monarchism and the anti-Catholicism of Wilson; one can say much the same of the left since the time of the Enlightenment.  There are roots that produced the trees of the Great War; one does not commit suicide without some cause, some history, some events of distress, some loss of foundation and hope.

We are introduced to George Davis Herron, Wilson’s “left hand (in every sense left hand!).”  EvKL offers that Herron’s thinking, in every way, encompasses the thinking of the progressive left of the time, and he is also perfectly aligned ideologically with Wilson.  Some background, from Wikipedia:

George Davis Herron (1862–1925) was an American clergyman, lecturer, writer, and Christian socialist activist. Herron is best remembered as a leading exponent of the so-called "Social Gospel" movement and for his highly publicized divorce and remarriage to the daughter of a wealthy benefactor which scandalized polite society of the day.

Herron came to fame by challenging the right of the wealthy to their possessions and preaching a gospel of social redemption.  This earned him an endowed position at Iowa College, where he taught for six years beginning in 1893.  It was regarding the daughter of his benefactor to which the aforementioned remarriage refers.  The court awarded Herron’s now ex-wife (with whom he had five children) the fortune of Herron’s new wife in the settlement!

Politically, he was a supporter of the Socialist Labor Party of America during the 1890s.  In 1904 he delivered the nominating speech for Eugene Debs at the National Convention of the Socialist Party.

During the war, he was in Europe – having fled the US with his second wife to avoid the scandals of his divorce and remarriage.  While he saw the evils in England and France as bad enough, these could be cured; it was in Germany where an incurable disease existed.

Despite Wilson’s campaign slogans to the contrary, Herron vocally predicted Wilson’s secret mission and therefore his eventual actions; these all came true with America’s entry into the war in 1917.  He supplied intelligence garnered from his German academic contacts to the Allies during the war. 

EvKL describes Herron’s views on the war:

This was a Holy War of all the forces of progress, enlightenment, and tolerance against the most unholy alliance of the Vatican, "Mother of Harlots," the Prussian Junkers, the wicked Hapsburgs and the Lutheran gun manufacturers of the Ruhr Valley!

In April 1917, at the time when a negotiated peace was still possible had not America joined the Allies, Herron – “tortured by the fear of a compromise peace” – would write: "Darkness is rising rapidly over the skies of the nations.”  To which it was replied by Romain Rolland: Herron was “a ‘virtuous hypocrite’ and a ‘gigantic idiot.’”

Monday, December 3, 2018

The “Bad” Liberal


Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)

Previously I have examined EvKL’s treatment of what he described as “Real Liberalism.”  In this post, I will work through his examination of “False Liberalism.”  While he sees similarities in the transition in England, it is in the United States where he will focus:

How was it possible that in the United States the word that means freedom-loving, generous, tolerant, open-minded, hostile to state omnipotence and anti-totalitarian, came to stand for the very contrary of all these notions and virtues?

He offers that the explanation is simple: the old-fashioned liberal was often the one who did not resist change, who accepted the “Wave of the Future.”  The conservative stood against change, and change was largely a leftist movement.

In other words, the old-fashioned liberal had no defenses against…what shall I call it…bad change.  The libertarian, I guess you could say, is an even more impotent position, it would seem.

The leftist ideologies all claimed the future, they claimed utopia, they claimed the millennium in a chiliastic spirit. They believed in the concept of a near-automatic progress (which needed just a little "push").

Isn’t this the promise of all ideologies birthed after the Enlightenment and absent the God that the Enlightenment ignored (and that later periods removed and then killed)?

There were old-fashioned, i.e., genuine liberals who clung to their convictions; Albert Jay Nock, even H. L. Mencken were among them.

As in all movements, transitions of thought, etc., not everything changes at once.  Even today we find individuals who stand for what EvKL would call old-fashioned liberal.  Interestingly, these now find a much better fit into a conservative camp as opposed to a modern liberal camp.  But men such as these are dullards:

As long as there existed a utopia at the end of the road, painted in the colors of absolute personal freedom, the genuine liberal was sure to be a "progressive."

I think what is meant by “genuine” here is the newfangled type of liberal.  Certainly in these last couple of paragraphs we also see the split that exists within the libertarian community.  It seems to me a strong enough split that I am not sure I would even call it a community.

Sure, on some things we can ride on the train together – for example, and for most (but not all), an anti-war road.  But on many things, libertarians will find themselves much more at home with either the left or the right as opposed to with other “libertarians.”

Whereas Jacques Barzun places the great shift in the idea of “liberal” in Europe – what he calls “The Great Switch” – at the turn of the last century and prior to the Great War.  EvKL offers a different timeline, at least for the United States:

The Great Change, however, came only in the 1930s when certain Americans, who saw in their country primarily not their fatherland but the" American Experiment," suddenly thought that the" Soviet Experiment" offered even more to mankind.

Perhaps EvKL has a somewhat different transition in view, as his focus is very much on the Soviets and communism, and the acceptance of this ideology within the US intelligentsia (and also, perhaps, in the FDR administration).  This certainly was a transition in slope, but not direction, it seems to me. The Progressive ideas of the income tax and central banking, born twenty years earlier in the United States, made the 1930s possible.

While the old liberal didn’t appreciate some of the new ideas, there were enough commonalities to keep many of them involved.  In any case, he had previously and willingly lost all defenses, because – among other reasons – “he had previously been robbed of his sense of values.”

EvKl sees this loss having come a half a generation before (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.); regarding this Supreme Court jurist:

…Holmes helped move American legal thinking towards legal realism, as summed up in his maxim: "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." Holmes espoused a form of moral skepticism and opposed the doctrine of natural law, marking a significant shift in American jurisprudence. In one of his most famous opinions, his dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919), he regarded the United States Constitution as "an experiment, as all life is an experiment"…

Yes, this is pretty bad, but it seems to me the path was set long before – not later than 1861.  Such change doesn’t happen so quickly, nor on so shaky a foundation as a few court rulings.  EvKL offers as one example:

As a real positivist Holmes could write that, "Sovereignty is a form of power, and the will of the sovereign is law because he has power to compel obedience or punish disobedience and for no other reason.”

Friday, November 30, 2018

Deconstructing Postmodernity


We are in the middle of enormous cultural changes within western society which have many observers bewildered and many participants bemused.


Wright offers his definitions of modernity and postmodernity.  The modern world, broadly speaking, is the Western world from the eighteenth century to the present:

The European Enlightenment at the intellectual level, and the Industrial Revolution at the social level…

This period gave us what Wright calls “the modernist trinity”: the confident individual (‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’); there is certainty of the world, knowledge is objective; a mythology of progress.

…we were no longer bound to traditional religions or ethics…religion and ethics were a matter of private opinion. …We have learned to think for ourselves…to free ourselves from the tyranny of tradition.

This is what is meant – implicitly and explicitly – when we consider the meaning of living in the modern world.

In such a framework, negative consequences are not difficult to predict.  For example, the broad sweep of ideas that fall under the framework of Social Darwinism: eugenics, selective breeding, racial purity.  Then again, who am I to say that these are “negative” consequences?  Without some broadly accepted ethical framework, such a statement is impossible.

Wright uses language with which I am not comfortable, for example, “industrial wage slavery.”  I will describe this phrase in a manner with which I can live.

Inflation (via central banking and fiat money) and taxes have ensured that the modern man can live at some level above subsistence, but well short of any independence.  Since this was not enough for today’s noble elite, a lifetime yoke was created with student loans – ensuring that a large portion of young people will be paying interest for life.  Yes, I understand that this last one is a personal choice; yet it is society and our current ethic that says such a choice is normal – even expected.

And therefore we look around us and find that this modernity is having a hard go of it – we see this in the backlash made manifest in Trump’s election and in what are referred to as alt-right parties in Europe; in reality, all are some version of rejection of “modernity” and demonstrate a desire to return to some version (who knows what version) of “traditional.”

It is something that such as these have in common with the postmodernists: both camps reject the modern due to the failures of the modernists.  But instead of returning to some version of traditional, the postmodernists deconstruct everything; instead of looking to some version of the past for foundation, the postmodernist suggests that the only objective foundation is to have no foundation.

If reality is thus being merrily deconstructed, the same is even more true for stories.  One of the best known aspects of postmodernity is the so-called ‘death of the metanarrative’, the critique applied to the great stories by which our lives have been ruled.

Wright offers that these stories (metanarratives) that drive man, and not abstract ideological doctrines.  It is a point libertarians might take to heart; in fact, one very prominent libertarian has: The Libertarian Quest for a Grand Historical Narrative, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe:

…the general public is not used to or incapable of abstract reasoning, high theory and intellectual consistency, but forms its political views and convictions on the basis of historical narratives, i.e. of prevailing interpretations of past events, and hence it is upon those who want to change things for a better, liberal-libertarian future to challenge and correct such interpretations and propose and promote alternative, revisionist historical narratives.

Libertarians lament the relative lack of attraction for what seems to us a slam-dunk win: the non-aggression principle.  Hoppe recognizes that something else is needed.  As readers here know, I have also been searching for this “something else.”  Regardless of the superficial success of postmodernist philosophy (if you can call it that), human nature will not easily let go of the draw of the metanarrative.

Returning to Wright, he offers how the Bible challenges this postmodern deconstruction.  I will not address each point, as some venture into territory that I try to stay away from at this blog (someday I might give up on maintaining this boundary, but not today).

…the biblical metanarrative challenges and subverts the worldview of philosophical Idealism, in which historical events are mere contingent trivia, and reality is to be found in a set of abstractions…

Unknowingly, I guess, it is in this space where I have been spending so much time.  We cannot speak of the idea of “libertarianism” outside of recognition of the history – the history of facts and the history of values – that gave birth to this liberty.

We cannot build a foundation for liberty on an abstract idea (the non-aggression principle) without placing that idea in an objective framework – a framework of facts and a framework of values – that gave birth to this liberty.

…the biblical metanarrative challenged all pagan political power structures.

We saw this made manifest in the European Middle Ages – at least to the extent that imperfect man could achieve.  There was no “political power structure” outside of the old and good law; there was no sovereign, unless one wanted to consider this old and good law as sovereign.

Conclusion

…the biblical narrative…challenges all rival visions of the future (‘eschatologies’) and how we get there.

Certainly it challenges the visions as offered during the last five-hundred years.  As Wright offers: people didn’t sit around in the Middle Ages thinking “it sure is dark in here…I can’t wait to be Enlightened.”

And after all, the grandiose claims of the ‘Renaissance’ and the ‘Enlightenment’ are themselves full of holes… We live in a world where, increasingly, people are clutching at straws, unable to glimpse a story which would lead the way into true peace, freedom and justice.

Hoppe, in the aforementioned lecture, offered a portion of the Decalogue as part of his “Libertarian Quest for a Grand Historical Narrative.”  It is the portion covering law.  These may be enough of a foundation to build on for liberty.

Maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps we might also consider the other commandments – the ones that compel us to piety and humility.  After all, there is a reason that the Bible (or 100,000 years of evolution) has emphasized the Golden Rule and not the Silver Rule.