Thursday, January 5, 2017

Culture and Liberty

One more time….

A common culture – and a culture beyond merely the NAP – is necessary if we are ever to move closer to a libertarian society. 

Let’s see what de Jouvenel says about this.

Each man with a given position in a given society strays only in the most exceptional cases from a typical behavior.  This regularity is produced by a code of beliefs and moralities which is deeply embedded in the nature of man in society.

A libertarian theorist – without the burden of taking account the human nature of humans – might describe living in a society that valued such “beliefs and moralities” as aggression; a libertarian theorist who considers the human nature of humans recognizes the value of such “beliefs and moralities” in providing governance absent the state. 

Call it thick if you like.  I do not; I recognize that libertarian theory does not provide every answer to every question faced in society.  Thereafter – when considering application in the real world – we are left with choosing between relatively more voluntarily derived or relatively less voluntarily derived “rules.”

What is aggression?  What is proper punishment?  How is it determined when the age of minority ends and majority begins?  What is property?  The answers to these questions and more can vary widely and yet remain compatible with the non-aggression principle.

The ancients showed, by the importance which they attached to folkways, that they were well aware of this; if folkways were good, government was hardly necessary, and if they were bad, it was almost impossible.

Do you continue to wonder why the state works so hard to destroy “folkways”?  Why does the state support massive immigration, unwed parenting, coopting of the church, coopting of every social function, abortion, and all varieties of “lifestyle choices”?  Why does the state work so hard to destroy family?

In the same way, folkways and beliefs must be brought low, that Power may substitute for their influence its own authority and build its church on their ruins.

This is why the state works to destroy “folkways.”  What is unfortunate is that too many so-called libertarians cheer on this destruction.  Such libertarians do nothing but ensure more government.

So long as persons of every degree behave according to fixed rules which everybody knows, their actions under all circumstances can be predicted by their associates, and confidence reigns in human relationships. 

“How un-libertarian” I hear the screams.  I recall a discussion on punishment.  Is increased violence likely to result from punishment deemed just by the local population or punishment deemed unjust?  As libertarian theory does not (and cannot) give an objective answer to NAP-consistent and appropriate punishment for each and every violation, I will suggest that the answer to this question that will result in a community remaining peaceful is the punishment that is deemed just by that same community.

Conversely, a nonconformist behavior upsets all calculations, makes every precaution necessary, stirs up acts of reprisal for its own wrongful acts of aggression…

Must this be explained or defended.  Look all around you; the examples are too numerous to list.

…and, if the evil grows, unleashes in the end hatred, distrust and violence.

And who will be called to do something about this hatred, distrust and violence?  Again, we live in such a world and the answer is obvious.

The ancients had, therefore, good reason to keep the foreigner at a distance.  His folkways were different, and it could not be known how he would act.

Mmmm…yeah.  (Oh Angela, the real world example you have provided of calls for “more” from the state in the face of massive immigration.)

Under these conditions little government was needed, for education had done what was necessary to regulate action.

As long as the non-aggression principle is not violated, a wide variety of answers to social questions are possible.  A society “educated” on which of these NAP-consistent answers is OK “around here” will be a society that can function well with little risk of calls for a monopolist of violence.

Such custom, if held strongly by the people, would serve to keep even the ruler in check:

…a monarch who was imprudent enough to order something which did not conform to custom would, in doing so, break his own authority and risk his life.

To which I say “HOORAY!”  This is wholly consistent with law as it was found during the Germanic Middle Ages.  The law was old and the law was good; the law was custom.  Most importantly, this law was held strongly by all members of society, and this kept the king in check.

It was not only in medieval Europe.  De Jouvenel offers examples of the Rejangs of Sumatra, the Malagasy of Madagascar, and the King of Ashanti.  As was the case in Europe, I suspect none of these societies can be described as “libertarian,” yet the amount of “government” (in the worst sense of the term) was kept in check by accepted custom.

The value of the old and good law was that it kept “law” out of the hands of the king or, in our day, the legislature.  It kept law in the hands of the people and their memory of custom.  It was not always libertarian law (perfect isn’t an option when it comes to human interaction), but it was free from absolutist dictates.

This old and good law – whether from God, the gods, or some other source – was not a sphere available for man to take a part.  The punishment was also not in man’s hands.  Both the law and punishment came from custom.  Only the administration was in the hand of the king.

We have destroyed this guillotine over the monarch’s neck by accepting this fallacy that “we the people” are in charge.  To whom do we complain; over whom do we hold the blade?

As evidence of his views, de Jouvenel offers the European experience beginning with the “rationalists” of the modern age.

Can we fail to note the coincidence of the breakdown of beliefs from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries with the elevation of absolute monarchies during the same period?  Is it not clear that they owed their elevation to this breakdown?  Is not the conclusion this: that the great period of rationalism was also that of enlightened and free-thinking despots…?


…once man is declared “the measure of all things,” there is no longer a true, or a good, or a just, but only opinions of equal validity whose clash can be settled only by political or military force….

The law and punishment for violation must be rooted in something other than “man,” (with man defined as “we can decide whatever we think is the best law and punishment for today”).  Man only has authority over administration. 

For the rest, we would do well do consider custom. 


  1. I'm so glad you fleshed this out, it really is outstanding work and badly needed in libertarian circles.

    I've a feeling the importance of your dialogue might not be understood well for now, but it is excellent regardless.

  2. Once more into the breach...I'm gonna hafta read this de Jouvenel fellow soon.

  3. "I am a nonbeliever, but I understand that civilizations exist on particular foundations and work in particular ways. So it is with the civilization I love, the West — once known as Western Christendom, as anachronistic as that name may now be. Though not a Christian, much less a Catholic, I am easy with the dictum of Hilaire Belloc, a Catholic, that 'the Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith.'

    "When I relaxed my own cultural Bolshevism . . . and began looking closer at the West and the achievements of Western Christendom, I was struck most powerfully by the success of Western Christianity in desacralizing the state. Two giants are always credited with laying the foundation for that pillar of the West-to-come: St. Ambrose, who defied Theodosius the Great and, for his unrepented crimes, denied the emperor entry to the Cathedral at Milan; and St. Augustine (baptized by Ambrose), who distinguished between the City of God and the City of Man. Under the classic Roman religious-political ideology, there was only one City, to which ran not only all roads but also all devotion and allegiances."

    ~Nicholas Strakon, The Last Ditch

    His essay is well worth reading:

  4. I must respectfully disagree with much of these ruminations about culture. I haven’t read de Jouvenel. All I know of his writings is the excerpt Bionic has posted, “Each man with a given position in a given society strays only in the most exceptional cases from a typical behavior. This regularity is produced by a code of beliefs and moralities which is deeply embedded in the nature of man in society.”

    My libertarian stomach turns just reading that. Why give it space at all? A given position? Given by whom? Why not an earned position? Why not a changing position? Why any position relative to another’s (position)? Why any regularity at all? Why see any of those as positives? Is anyone sure that those structural traits, apparently praised by de Jouvenel, make a ‘better’ society, would do anything more than constrain individuals in society?

    Do we really know that du Jouvenel’s code of beliefs and moralities is deeply embedded in the nature of man in society? Is he contrasting that with the code of a man outside of society? Is he inferring that man outside society has no such code? I’m asking, because, from the excerpt, I do not know if de Jouvenel’s writing go that direction. If it does, I would choose to live outside his society.

    Can we even accept that some ‘code of beliefs and moralities are deeply imbedded in man’? Don’t we all experience, as we grow from adolescent to mature adult, a shift in each of our own credos? A strengthening in some, and a letting go of others? Shouldn’t it necessarily be the same with the society we live in? Isn’t that flux needed for individual freedom, or call it free will, to truly express itself?

    Isn’t it possible that the codes de Jouvenel refers to are not so deeply imbedded unless they are constantly reinforced by the State through education and warfare, or through religious indoctrination? Isn’t revolution propelled by resistance to imbedded ‘code’ as much as any other factor? Why, when code comes from the State, are we quick to argue it a violation of the NAP, but when it comes to a ‘moral teaching’ we bow to the same?

    Osho teaches about the foundations we build our individuality and societies on eventually become walls around us, ones that both protect us and imprison us. For myself, I want to build those walls, and tear them down, as I see fit. I do not want another individual’s, or a collective’s, beliefs and moralities to dictate any course of action, or inaction, on my part.

    My Libertarian society needs to be that thin.

    1. "My Libertarian society needs to be that thin."

      Using only the thinnest of thin libertarian theory, answer the following questions:

      1) What is aggression?
      2) What is proper restitution for aggression?
      3) What, if anything, is proper punishment for aggression?
      4) What is property?
      5) When does a minor pass to the age of majority?
      6) Until then, what rights does a minor possess?

      I suggest none of these can be answered using only the NAP; I suggest that there is not only one "correct" answer for each.

      If you do not agree on the answers to these questions in your thin libertarian society, you will either a) have never-ending violence, or b) live in a society of one.

      As to the rest of your comments, you cannot escape the reality that social interactions come with acceptable norms (for example, the answers to the above questions). Of course, these norms can change and evolve over time.

      You cannot escape the fact that grossly violating these norms - even if not a violation of the NAP - will increase greatly the likelihood of violence and chaos.

      You cannot escape the fact that increased violence and chaos will result in calls for some super-authority to do something about it.

      In other words, you cannot escape the fact that the world is occupied by humans.

      You confuse thin libertarian theory - and I will gladly place my credentials on theory up against yours or any theorist at any time - with application of theory in the real world, taking into account real human beings.

      Something will provide governance. It can be culturally acceptable norms or it can be something else. That something else ends up being a state.

      So, who do you want to have answer those questions? Culture or the state?

    2. Indeed. Judges (culture) or a King (state). Choose. Israel did once... They chose...poorly.

    3. "Culturally, my Libertarian society needs to be that thin."

      There, all better!


    4. "Each man with a given position in a given society strays only in the most exceptional cases from a typical behavior."

      In my interpretation the use of the terms "given" position in a "given" society do not indicate that the person was given a position and of course it is almost nonsensical to think he was "given" a society. What would that mean, indeed!

      The term given in this case is in the sense of an argumentative. If I were to phrase it: "Given that Joseph is in position X, and given that Joseph lives in society Y, then what might we expect of him." The term "given" is in reference to the argument -- not to anyone being given (or assigned) to any particular position or society. Given this new understanding of the term "given", the sentence reads differently, doesn't it?

    5. "My Libertarian society needs to be that thin."

      > my society


      You use that word but have no understanding of what it means.

      "Osho teaches about the foundations we build our individuality and societies on eventually become walls around us, ones that both protect us and imprison us. For myself, I want to build those walls, and tear them down, as I see fit. I do not want another individual’s, or a collective’s, beliefs and moralities to dictate any course of action, or inaction, on my part."

      > worried the values and beliefs of others will restrict your own agency
      > unironically paraphrasing the leader of a sex cult whose members dedicated their lives and money to an eccentric pervert so that he could amass a fleet of Rolls Royces.

      "Isn’t revolution propelled by resistance to imbedded ‘code’ as much as any other factor? Why, when code comes from the State, are we quick to argue it a violation of the NAP, but when it comes to a ‘moral teaching’ we bow to the same?"

      Thank you for that. The above quote is a prime example of the metaphysical abyss that is liberalism. Liberalism in its most pure (degenerate) form is the worldview of Marquis de Sade. Its a permanent revolution against authority. Any authority. Do what tho wilt shall be the whole of the law. Nothing is sacred, everything is permitted. Man is the architect of the universe. Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

      Get it?

    6. gpond January 5, 2017 at 4:27 PM

      You get the bionic gold star...for whatever that is worth! ;-) Thank you for succinctly clarifying this point.

    7. Relative to your six questions, I did not suggest in any way that the NAP can answer them. I referenced NAP only because you did. I don’t like its ambiguity. I think of a libertarian society primarily as a State-free, voluntary one. And I prefer ‘do no harm’ to non-aggression, although I acknowledge ambiguity in that term also.

      I agree that there is not, and should not be, a single answer to each question. Let every community decide among its members, let every new generation decide, let there be that much flexibility for freedom to express itself. What I am suggesting is that some deeply embedded code is no better at answering those questions. Let the situation dictate the response. Be decisive, yes, but also be spontaneous.

      No, I am not escaping the fact that human diversity begets differences and at times violence. Men fist fight and enlist small gangs to aid them. It takes a State to make war, to use men as pawns for something they could never undertake on their own. And historically, those wars have come from secular governments, and from religious ones imposing their codes on the masses. The really bad stuff comes from code enforcement.

      And here it is, isn’t it? Your agreement? “Of course, these norms can change and evolve over time”. That might make Unhappy even more unhappy. Of course they change and evolve, if allowed to. And rebellion stirs when change to code is met by resistance to change. So, why have them to begin with?

      Credentials aside as meaningless, I am not confusing anything. When you apply libertarian theory to the ‘real world’, remember, you are applying it to a slave society. That is your basis for critique. A truly free society has never existed. One can only project how a truly free society may react to its freedom, how man’s nature may change course from what we can recall of the last 7000 years. Indeed, we can just theorize. My intuition says mankind does not have deeply imbedded codes of belief and morality unless they are consistently coerced upon mankind. My intuition says mankind’s deepest essence is not control, not confirmation, it is Free Will.

      So I have hope for man. I’m not sure you do, but I would like to hear your thoughts there. I have enough hope for man that I choose neither culture nor state to answer those questions. There are more than two choices. I choose self-rule and voluntaryism. I call that thin, call it what you may.

    8. “…let every new generation decide…”

      A “generation” decides nothing, an individual does.

      For as long as anyone can remember “around here,” the punishment for a child stealing an apple was for the “individual” victim to notify the child’s parent and allow the parent to deal with the matter. In this new generation, the “individual” victim decides to shoot the child.

      You can imagine: not only the parent, but many of the neighbors take issue with this “individual” deciding something so contrary to accepted practice. Of course, the revolutionary farmer has a couple of revolutionary friends that are on his side.

      What happens next? Properly thinking through this example will lead to the conflict raised by “…let every generation decide….” And with the conflict, what happens to your “State-free, voluntary” society. I will suggest: “poof.” It will disappear.

      Here is the value in “some deeply embedded code.” It facilitates, in as voluntary a way as possible, keeping the peace – I say “as voluntary a way as possible” if you want to avoid demands from the people of your “generation” for some monopolist to bring law and order to the neighborhood.

      “And rebellion stirs when change to code is met by resistance to change. So, why have them to begin with?”

      Perhaps you try driving on the other side of the road today; see how long your “rebellion” will “stir.” Of course, I am not referring to the ticket you might be lucky enough to receive in today’s world; I am assuming your “State-free voluntary” society, you know – the one where previous generations decided to drive on the left. You may die a martyr to your rebellion, today. You might consider this a good death.

      “A truly free society has never existed.”

      The statement of all dreamers of creating a new man: “A truly socialist society has never existed.” “A truly communist society has never existed.” One might ask a simple question: why?

      “So I have hope for man. I’m not sure you do, but I would like to hear your thoughts there.”

      Hope in what sense? Please clarify. However, I will not address this point until my points here are addressed satisfactorily. I want to know if I am dealing with a dreamer or a thinker.

  5. "Indoctrination"? What does that even mean? That some people espouse values and beliefs contrary to your own? That they impart those values and beliefs to their children?

    The things that matter most--ethics, justice, rights, beauty--are trans-empirical. They may be "rational" if they're not empirical. But even rationality relies on axioms and definitions. Axioms and definitions do not enjoy universal assent.

    When you enter the realm of ethics, justice, rights, beauty, etc., you enter the realm of metaphysics. Everything is "religious." Culture comes from cult.

  6. Marvelous disposition. [And what Nick said.]

  7. 10/10 post BM. You are the perfect person to comment on de Jouvenal- whom I have always thought to be one of the most interesting liberal writers. The fact that he was accused of being a fascist during the 30s and 40s probably has something to do with my interest in him.

    It should be noted that he was an example of the interbreeding between powerful Jews and the European Aristocracy (his mother was the daughter of a Jewish industrialist and his father was French nobleman). So here we have a Jewish-French liberal that interviewed Adolf Hitler and was accused of being too friendly to him (the interview is in French but I would like to find an English translation).

    Also of note is the affair he had with his stepmother, the writer Colette, when he was a teenager. As well as a later affair with the famous Jewish journalist/war correspondent/propagandist Martha Gellhorn, Hemmingway's third and worst wife.

    So yeah...interesting guy.

    1. I have spent no time on the biography, only the ideas presented by him in this book. It has been on my shelf for a few years; I am glad I finally got around to it.

  8. The state seems to have the folkways of one particular civilization in its cross hairs. Consider responses elicited by various peoples' matter-of-fact declaration "These are our ancestral homelands. We will defend our people and our culture."

    Thus quoth the Saudi Mohammedan. The Purveyors of Respectable Opinion nod in solemn agreement.

    Thus quoth the Israeli Jew. The Purveyors of Respectable Opinion nod in solemn agreement.

    Thus quoth the Shinto Japanese. The Purveyors of Respectable Opinion nod in solemn agreement.

    Thus quoth the Euro-Christian. The Purveyors of Respectable Opinion erupt in righteous fury. "Xenophobe! Racist! Nazi!"

    Coincidentally enough, the one civilization with the richest legacy of individual rights and human dignity now finds itself contending with elite-directed injections of hostile and alien hordes. Who saw that coming?

  9. Dear BM,
    I think you will find this passage from Murray Rothbard apropos regarding your post and previous discussions on Robert Wenzel's personal property society.

    "And ask yourself also: By what right does the state move in and shoot
    looters? Surely looting cannot be condoned, but capital punishment for looting, which is what shooting amounts to, is just as criminal and unjustifiable. In my view, a criminal forfeits the rights which he takes away from another person; and therefore a murderer, who takes away from another person his right to life, deserves capital punishment. But surely, and by any known moral standards, capital punishment for mere robbery is so far excessive a punishment that it, in turn, amounts to criminal murder of the victim. We all revile the days of pre-Industrial Revolution Britain, when petty thieves were executed. Are we to return to that brutality now?"

    Note the addition of moral standards to the libertarian discussion.
    This was written in the context of black rioting in July, 1967.
    (found in the anthology "Never A Dull Moment" at the Mises Institute, p42 of the pdf)


  10. The ability of culture being able to limit the scope, and growth of the state seems to make logical sense, and to be proven by history. It also seems obvious that it would make a huge difference on the outcome if the state were to collapse. But, if the state has embedded itself successfully into other structures of governance i.e. family, religion, would it not seem logical that those structures might become a solidifier of the state?

    1. A valid point. As you can tell, even admitting one has a problem is a difficult first step for many to take.

      What to do about it? This is an issue after enough people admit they have a problem!