Monday, June 18, 2018

Far Cry


It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit
It’s a far cry from the way we thought we’d share it

-        Far Cry, Rush

What happened to the promise of classical liberalism, passing from its birth through its golden age and to its dramatic and violent death in little more than one century?  Exploring the topics of culture, tradition, and liberty inherently involves an exploration of this question.

One day I feel I’m on top of the world
And the next it’s falling in on me

The question is tackled by Robert Nisbet in his book The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom.

It is impossible to understand the massive concentrations of political power in the twentieth century, appearing so paradoxically, as it has seemed, right after a century and a half of individualism in economics and morals, unless we see clearly the close relationship that prevailed all through the nineteenth century between individualism and State power and between both of these together and the general weakening of the area of association that lies intermediate to man and the State.

It was the flowering of individualism – an outcome of Enlightenment thought – that made possible the power of the State.

It is worth noting that some see a difference in classical liberalism as it developed in Britain as opposed to its development in France.  Friedrich Hayek was one of these; another was Francis Lieber:

In 1848, Francis Lieber distinguished between what he called "Anglican and Gallican Liberty". Lieber asserted that "independence in the highest degree, compatible with safety and broad national guarantees of liberty, is the great aim of Anglican liberty, and self-reliance is the chief source from which it draws its strength". On the other hand, Gallican liberty "is sought in government...the French look for the highest degree of political civilization in organizational, that is, in the highest degree of interference by public power".

While the differences must be appreciated, it seems to me that Nisbet is working through the commonalities.  From the Anglican: “independence in the highest degree,” “broad national guarantees of liberty.” From the Gallican: “highest degree of interference by public power.”

This was a two-fold emancipation:

[First, emancipation] of the individual from his traditional associative chains; and, second, of the State itself from the mass of feudal customs, which, everywhere, limited its real efficacy.

Atomized independence both necessitating a powerful State and guaranteed by the State; it is common to both threads and it is the argument presented by Nisbet.  It should be no wonder, it seems, why classical liberalism ushered in the most comprehensive State apparatus, quickly moving from the relative peace of the nineteenth century to the bloodiest wars and political philosophies of the twentieth century.

This affinity between social individualism and political power is, I believe, the most fateful fact of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Political power was camouflaged with the rhetoric of liberty and invested with the essence of religious community.  Salvation by State, with all the necessary power and authority to deliver:

Rousseau had written that it is the force of the State that achieves the liberty of its members….the liberty of the individual became the prime justification for the powerful legislative attacks upon old values, old idea systems, and old associations.

We can rail all we like about the fact that this isn’t what we wanted; this wasn’t the philosophy behind true classical liberalism, we can do better next time, whatever.  Revolutionaries rarely get to direct the ends of the revolution.  We can learn what must be rebuilt by paying attention to what was torn down:

Hence the early destruction of the guilds.  Hence the prohibition of all new forms of economic association….Charitable societies were declared illegal…. Literary, cultural, and educational societies were also banned…. We observe also the profound changes made in the structure and functions of the family.  In this way, too, was the Church dealt with.  Profession, class, the historic commune, the universities, and provinces, all alike came under the atomizing consideration of the legislators of the Revolution.

In France this was done via the guillotine.  Elsewhere in the West, it came more gradually.  But the root cause, the underlying philosophy, was the same.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Heresy


No, this isn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill heresy.  And unlike my normal practice, regarding this heresy and this theology I will allow comments and dialogue.


What follows is a comment on some of the arguments on intellectual property and blackmail presented respectively by N. Stephan Kinsella and Walter Block….

I understand fairly well the arguments of Kinsella and Block on these topics, but this is in any case secondary to FVD’s purpose:

After all, etching in the fine points of libertarian jurisprudence on blackmail or intellectual property is hardly a pressing need.

So why is FVD writing this paper and why am I writing about what FVD is writing about?

Rather, I believe my disagreement on those small matters critically involves the very basis on which Block and Kinsella chose to erect their legal arguments. I am referring to their use of the so-called Rothbardian non-aggression rule as the foundation or axiom for libertarian jurisprudence.

Heresy.  Hilaire Belloc defines heresy as follows:

Heresy is the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting scheme by the introduction of a novel denial of some essential part therein.

The question we will explore: which party is doing “the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting scheme by the introduction of a novel denial of some essential part therein”?

You can surmise from the following the view of FVD on this question:

The purpose of my comments is to explain why I think that this axiom is inadequate from a libertarian point of view…. I shall endeavour to show briefly where the so-called non-aggression axiom fits in a libertarian philosophy of law.

FVD describes many of the same struggles I have with considering the most restrictive definition of the non-aggression principle (and you will forgive my shortcut): it considers only life and property; contracts are valid only when they involve title transfer; physical property is the only type of property; relationships are defined only via what is explicitly considered in a contract.

I will let FVD explain it:

I shall argue that, if pressed to their logical conclusion, [Kinsella’s arguments against the legitimacy of trademark protection] would make the very idea of a contractual order and therefore of a free market incoherent.

It is my contention that [Block’s arguments concerning libel and labour contracts] lead to results that are incompatible with the requirements of freedom and justice that define the libertarian perspective on human relations…. It seems to legitimize only a world in which every possible contingency must be covered by an explicit contractual stipulation. 

The whole of FVD’s argument can be summarized as follows:

My differences with Kinsella and Block stem from the fact that it does not follow from those theses that defensive use of force is justified or lawful only in response to aggressive violent invasions of persons or property.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Road to Sovereignty



Contrary to popular belief in our circles, the reality of political sovereignty in a monopoly State was not always with us.  It certainly did not exist in the European Middle Ages; such sovereignty was certainly not invested in the kings of the time.

Whether coincidence or causation (you know my view), the road to sovereignty aligns with the period beginning with the Reformation and Renaissance and reaches maturity with Enlightenment thinking.  In this chapter, Nisbet examines three of the important political theorists during this period of transition from decentralized governance to political sovereignty; I will complement Nisbet’s work with relevant excerpts from Jacques Barzun’s magnum opus, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life.

The three characters are Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Each one successively advanced the cause of the destruction of intermediate authorities and advanced the cause of centralization under the sovereign.

Bodin ascribes unconditional power to the sovereign, yet sovereignty remains weak as it is associated strictly with the monarch; Hobbes moves sovereignty from the monarch to the legal State, all customs and traditions having legitimacy only due to the State; Rousseau tears down the intermediate institutions completely, and identifies sovereignty in the will of the people – the General Will.

Jean Bodin

Jean Bodin (1530–1596) was a French jurist and political philosopher, member of the Parlement of Paris and professor of law in Toulouse. He is best known for his theory of sovereignty; he was also an influential writer on demonology.

From Nisbet:

Of Bodin it has been well said that he had ceased to be medieval without becoming modern.

Bodin was one of the Politiques, a group of men who were dedicated to action in behalf of the central power at the expense of all other social and moral authorities.  This was during the time of the Wars of Religion, it an outgrowth of the Reformation (and it an outgrowth of complaints, both legitimate and otherwise, against the Church).

“Majesty or sovereignty,” he declares, “is the most high, absolute and perpetual power over the subjects and citizens in a Commonweale.”

His power was to be inalienable and imprescriptible; it could not be limited by custom; the king was no longer below the law, but above the law; the edict of the sovereign was the law of the land.

From Barzun:

For France, Bodin is sure that a division of powers, a so-called mixed government, will not work…. The only check on monarchy that Bodin would retain was the Estates General, the irregularly summoned assembly that voted new taxes… The Estates represented the three orders – clergy, nobles, and commoners….

Bodin could not completely divorce himself from the traditional past.  He made a sharp distinction between State and society; he held a devotion to the moral and social qualities of intermediate associations.  He does not believe a commonwealth could exist without such intermediate associations.  He finds the highest place for family, thus demonstrating his connection to the medieval past.

Bodin will not tolerate the thought that the political sovereign should be supreme over the individual members of the family and over its customs and property.

It was via property that Bodin would make his stand:

If the State were given the power to alienate property, through interference with customs of inheritance, there would be no limit to the State’s capacity for the enslavement of man.

The man’s home was his castle – even extending to the father’s right over life and death of the family members.  How this castle was to be defended when man was left nowhere to appeal other than the sovereign is not clear.

Yes, there were logical confusions in Bodin’s thought. Keeping in mind that he was writing in a time of religious wars in France and under the effects of the breakdown in Church authority, this is, perhaps, understandable.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Propertarianism, Libertarianism, Culture, and Tradition



I have never looked into the concept of propertarianism before.  To the extent I had heard the term in the past, I considered it a critic’s way to refer to libertarianism – you know: “those libertarians, all they care about in law is their property.”

Now it is time to correct this misconception.

First, some background.  The website from which the current essay is taken has on its masthead the following:  Propertarianism: The Philosophy of Western Civilization in Scientific Terms.  From the “About” page (all emphasis in original):

The central idea is the completion of the scientific method, and its application to the entire spectrum of human knowledge.

The rest of the work consists of application of that scientific method to the scope of human knowledge: “Here is the completed scientific method. If we apply the completed scientific method to the full scope of human knowledge, organized by combining categories of philosophy and social science into a single hierarchy, the result is *all of these ideas*.” 

The consequence of completing such a reformation of the scope of human knowledge, is our ability to explain not only all of human behavior, but to compare all human civilizations and explain why each excelled (The West), developed (China), fell into stasis (India), or regressed (Islam, Australian aboriginals, and possibly central africans), were conquered (far too many), or Collapsed (Mesoamericans).

Not a small task, and I do not intend to follow the path this far.  Instead, I will focus on a very small subset taken from the “Core Concepts” essay.  I will not examine the entire essay; I find only portions of it relevant to the discussion here and to my interests.  However, for completeness, I offer short excerpts from the introductory portions of the essay:

What is Propertarianism?  Propertarianism is a scientific, rational, empirical, approach to understanding and analyzing human behavior, incentives, norms, institutions, cooperation and conflict originated by Curt Doolittle and developed by him in cooperation with others.

What is Science?  Science, or the “scientific method” is an empirical method for gaining understanding of reality and access to truth.

Testimonialism: Testimonialism is limiting your speech and communication to testimony of that which is your personal, first-hand, knowledge; free of assumption, bias, error, misunderstanding, leaps to conclusions, etc.

Operationalism: Operationalism means speaking in operations or actions, like a recipe or a computer program.

Propertarianism Grew Out of Libertarianism: Curt Doolittle and many of his students are former libertarians or students of the libertarian project, which is itself descended from and something of a reboot of enlightenment classical liberalism.

I will not examine what are described in the essay as the errors of libertarianism, only to offer:

To correct these errors, Propertarianism seeks to reconcile what is salvageable from the libertarian project…

With this, we can begin:

What Makes Propertarianism Propertarian?  One of the central insights of propertarianism is that all rights are property rights…

So far, no conflict with libertarianism.  The issue lies in the definition of property.  Whereas libertarians limit property to the physical – to include the body – propertarianism goes farther:

What is Property?  Property is that which individuals and groups demonstrate a willingness and ability to defend.

Whether libertarians agree with this definition as pure “libertarianism,” one cannot escape that the issue must be dealt with in the real world; people will defend much more than physical property, no matter how elegantly pure the theorist.

So property could be physical, private, property, or it could be the market value of the same. It could be physical, common, property, like a park. It could be common, intangible, property: like public order and decency, the integrity of our language or culture, truth in the “marketplace of ideas,” the ancestral gene pool, or something else. It could be private but intangible: reputation, intellectual property, honor, etc.

I take exception to some of this, but will come to this later.  The problem, as advocates of propertarianism see it, is as follows:

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Illusion of Reality


Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

The Actors

As you know, I am generally favorable to the work of Jordan Peterson.  As this became a significant issue for some readers, coincidentally a then-recent video offered me the opportunity to take issue with a few of Peterson’s comments / views.  Out of the subsequent discussion, I was offered a video by Paul VanderKlay: Did God exist before people? Jordan Peterson, Matt Dillahunty, Don Hoffman.  This sent me on a long and complex journey, but one very worthwhile (assuming I actually understood any of it).

First, to introduce some of the characters (you already know Peterson).

Paul VanderKlay (PVK): “I’m the pastor of Living Stones Christian Reformed Church in Sacramento California.”

He has reached some level of prominence via a series of videos discussing Peterson’s work.

Matt Dillahunty is an American atheist activist.

In 2011, he married The Atheist Experience colleague and co-host of the Godless Bitches podcast Beth Presswood. Dillahunty describes himself as a feminist.

Well, Godless feminist (is it “feminist” to refer to women as “bitches”?).  Anyway, you get the idea.

I offer the longest introduction to Hoffman, as it is his work that is of import to this discussion:

Don Hoffman is an American quantitative psychologist and popular science author. He is a Professor in the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, with joint appointments in the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, and the School of Computer Science.

Hoffman studies consciousness, visual perception and evolutionary psychology using mathematical models and psychophysical experiments.

Hoffman has a Ph. D. from MIT, which may not be everything, but it isn’t nothing.

Introduction

In the video, PVK is examining a discussion between Peterson and Dillahunty (I also watched this video; as PVK points out, the two are speaking different languages as you might have already surmised).  To aid in his examination, PVK offers the work of Hoffman (whose research buttresses Peterson’s views to a large extent, therefore making Dillahunty’s head hurt).  As PVK describes it in the video description:

Jordan Peterson's answer about God reveals his knowledge of the relationship between consciousness and matter. Materialists struggle to understand what he's talking about.

Dillahunty would be considered one of the struggling materialists:

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental aspects and consciousness, are results of material interactions….Materialism is closely related to physicalism, the view that all that exists is ultimately physical.

Materialism can refer either to the simple preoccupation with the material world, as opposed to intellectual or spiritual concepts, or to the theory that physical matter is all there is. This theory is far more than a simple focus on material possessions. It states that everything in the universe is matter, without any true spiritual or intellectual existence.

As best as I can understand it: all that can be known about reality is to be found in what is physical; reason is grounded in this.  Look, I have had to watch the entire PVK video three times, and excerpts of it multiple additional times.  These are difficult concepts for me to grasp.  If any of this is of interest to you, watch the video.  (As with all commentaries based on videos, I will do my best to capture the precise words.)

So, what are my key takeaways and how are these applicable (or not) to some of the long-running dialogue at this site?

Reality is Immaterial

"Everything is immaterial..."
"'n' you know that reality is immaterial."
"This is not reality..."

-        Voices, Dream Theater

Hoffman has a view about the relationship between matter and consciousness.  “Do we see reality as it is?”  Keep in mind, Hoffman is neither magician nor evangelist, nor is he asking a trick question.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Revolutionary Essence of the State



The argument of this book is that the single most decisive influence upon Western social organization has been the rise and development of the centralized territorial state.

You will get no argument from me.  But why?  What influences brought this on, or what other influences had to be crushed in order that it could be brought on?  These are the questions that must be explored if one is to hope to move toward a society grounded in liberty and free from the state.

The State today has become the institution of supreme allegiance for man and the refuge from all of life’s uncertainties.  Man today considers the “State” and “society” as synonymous, as one and the same being.  Society is no longer comprised of decentralized and varied social institutions: family, church, guild, kin, the university.  Each role has been taken over by the State.

The State also cannot be regarded as the natural extension of these decentralized social institutions; it was not by voluntary choice that these institutions gave up authority.  Instead, the aggrandizement of the State took place in forceful opposition to these very same institutions.

While the beginnings of the State can be found even while these decentralized institutions held authority, what can truly be identified as the State as we have come to know it might have best been exemplified in Revolutionary France.  In the intervening centuries, one will find the transition.

Nisbet refers to Walter Lippmann, who offers that the State is absolute power, and it matters not if this power is exercised by a king, a landed aristocracy, bankers, soldiers, or a majority of voters.  When the State has absolute authority to make war, make peace, to conscript life, to establish and disestablish property, to tax, to punish, to control education, then there is no need to differentiate between communists, fascists and democrats.

Where there were once many social barriers in between the power claimed by the monarch and that which the monarch could exercise, the State knows no such distinction.  Where once the guilds, various associations, the Church and most importantly family and kinship held sway, all was consumed by State power and authority. 

If any entity has achieved emancipation through this revolutionary transition, it is the State – emancipated from any authority above or even parallel to it.  The State – unlike the medieval king – was above the law; the State – unlike the medieval king – made the law.

Here We Go Again…

So much is buried in the following:

The liaison between Luther and the German princes was more than a relation of temporary expediency.  It was very nearly indispensable to the rise of a reformed Christianity which made the individual the prime unit.

I could write 500 words on this, but I have probably already written 50,000.  So I will write a few words without (I believe) treading on any of the same ground.  I am not writing of eternal salvation here, but of libertarian life on this earth.  (You will note in the following, clearly, some broad generalizations; from all I have seen, I think the generalization are reasonably valid.)

It seems to me clear enough that it was in Protestant thought that the individual stood alone in front of God; the individual was “the prime unit.”  For this reason, there are libertarians who see in the Reformation and in the Protestant concept of man’s relationship to God the roots of libertarianism.

On the other hand, there are libertarians who see in this transition away from the Catholic Church the roots of tyranny and the destruction of liberty.  Libertarians such as these see in the elimination of intermediating institutions the path toward one supreme power – a tyrant.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Name Your Poison



There is not one way to look at history or an event in or era of history.  What might be deemed progress when viewed through one lens could appear as decline when viewed through another.  This is most certainly true regarding the topic that has occupied a good amount of my reading and writing over the years:

Thus, if we value the emergence of the individual from ancient confinements of patriarchal kinship, class, guild, and village community, the outcome of modern European history must appear progressive in large degree…. From the point of view of the individual – the autonomous, rational individual – the whole sequence of events embodied in the Renaissance, Reformation, and Revolution must appear as the work of progressive liberation.

A valid view of the history, but not a complete view.

If, on the other hand, we value coherent moral belief, clear social status, cultural roots, and a strong sense of interdependence with others, the same major events of modern history can be placed in a somewhat different light.

The changes have brought on moral uncertainty, confusion in cultural meanings, and disruption in social contexts.  In other words, changes that seem to move society away from a possibility of freedom.

As you know, it is my view that since man cannot be reduced to a mere economic being, he will find social contact where he can.  This has been found in the state, as all other social contacts have been made less and less relevant.

The changes can be summarized in the transition from medieval to modern Europe.  Nisbet offers, regardless of one’s view of medieval society, a few characteristics cannot be dismissed: first, the pre-eminence of small social groups such as family, guild, village and monastery; second, the centrality of personal status.

The reality of the separate, autonomous individual was as indistinct as that of centralized political power.  Both were subordinated to the immense range of association that lay intermediate to individual and ruler….

The patriarchal family, church, and guild were such intermediating institutions.  But if one accepts that someone or something will be in charge around here, which of the two is preferable: centralized political power or decentralized intermediates?  And, I guess, if one does not accept that someone or something will be in charge around here, finding examples in history are like finding needles in a haystack.

Medieval law is incomprehensible if one ignores this decentralized reality: property belonged not to the individual but to the family; law could not penetrate the threshold of the family.  Even the relatively “freer” air of the towns was a model of corporate association: one can consider guilds (or associations of merchants and tradesmen), for example, as controlling institutions; on the other hand, one can consider guilds as a form of decentralized governance.  Those in the guild were expected to live within its customs as sure as the peasant was on the manor.

Law and custom were virtually indistinguishable, and both were hardly more than the inner order of association.

Imagine if the laws of the west were nothing more than generally accepted custom – even our custom of today, distorted and abused by decades and centuries of subsidized destruction.  We (libertarians) will often say that most people live in a manner consistent with the non-aggression principle in their daily activities and relationships.  This is custom.  What if this was also the law?

Although there were both “Pharisees and Protestants in the medieval Church…the ethic of religion and the ethic of community were one.”  This unity of ethic came under assault both from decay within and from reformers without. 

In Wyclif we find an almost modern devotion to the individuality of conscience and faith and a devotion also to a political environment capable of reducing the powers of the religious and economic institutions in society.  He was opposed to ecclesiastical courts, to monasteries, to hierarchy within the Church, to all of those aspects of Christianity that hemmed in, as it seemed, the right of individual judgment. 

Ultimately, this “devotion” was used by political leaders to wrest authority from the Church and monopolize authority in themselves – the beginnings of the modern State.

Not without cause has Wyclif been called the morning star of the Reformation.

The modern economy is certainly a contributing factor to this lack of functionality in traditional governance institutions and decentralized authorities, yet Nisbet does not see it as the primary agent in the transformation:

For with all the recognition of the influences of factors, technology, the free market, and the middle class, the operation of each of these has been given force only by a revolutionary system of power and rights that cannot be contained within the philosophy of economic determinism.  This system is the political State.

Conclusion

Nisbet offers:

The affinity between extreme religious individualism and allegiance to central national power…is an actual historical affinity.

I think history cannot be ignored on this point.  There may be more causation than correlation, given that the rise of individualism and the decline of competing governance institutions are two sides of the same coin.