Monday, June 26, 2017

Who Leads When There Are No Rules?

So asks Jordan Peterson.  In response, he offers food for thought:

The probability that it’s the friendliest and nicest people is very, very low.

I suggest that what he is saying is that the probability that it’s the meanest and nastiest people is very, very high.

Hans Hoppe weighs in on this topic: Why Bad Men Rule:

Free entry and competition in the production of goods is good, but free competition in the production of bads is not. Free entry into the business of torturing and killing innocents, or free competition in counterfeiting or swindling, for instance, is not good; it is worse than bad.

To this we could add Hayek’s well-known chapter from his book Road to Serfdom, Why the Worst Get on Top.

Libertarian political philosophy offers, perhaps, the fewest rules of any political philosophy devised by man.  Really, it offers only one rule: do not initiate aggression.  I guess the only way to have fewer rules is to offer no rule at all regarding aggression – but then you would have no political philosophy.  We need not concern ourselves with this absurdity.

In other words, libertarian political philosophy comes closest to the condition described by Peterson: there are no rules.  Therefore, his question is very appropriate for those grounded in libertarian theory to address: in such a condition, who leads?  Who makes the rules?

Many libertarians would answer: no one.  Each individual is an autonomous economic actor, to be bound only by voluntary contractual agreements.  This sound good in theory.

I have often posed the question: when has [insert any utopian political scheme] worked out well in practice?  Limited government, communism, fascism, democratic socialism, etc.  Show me when some men ruling over other men under any of these schemes has worked out well for those not in the ruling class.  A fair question.

I suggest another fair question: has there ever been a meaningful (I will even accept “minor”) example of a society ruled by no one?  While I acknowledge that I am no scholar in such matters, in all of my reading the most decentralized societies I have found still have rulers: patriarchs in tribes, nobles in the European Middle Ages, etc.

My point?  As I have written too often, when we consider the application of libertarian theory in this world, we should consider that human beings live in it.  Never in recorded human history, to my understanding, has there been a meaningful, sustained period of “no ruler.” 

“Yes, bionic, but pure libertarianism has never been tried.”  Of course.  Apologists for communism would say the same thing.  Maybe that’s the point.  It hasn’t been “tried” because human nature disallows it from being tried.  Given human nature, why would we expect such a utopian outcome?

I return to the basis of libertarian theory: the non-aggression principle.  Even in this least-rule-bound political theory, there are many open questions subject to interpretation.  I will offer two:

Define “aggression”; define “property.”

I can say with 100% certainty there will never be universally accepted definitions of either of these terms – even the most dedicated libertarian thinkers cannot agree on the meaning of these terms regarding many topics: abortion, immigration, intellectual property, punishment, restitution, threats, fraud, etc.  How would we expect mankind as a whole (heck, even you and your immediate neighbors) to have total agreement on these?

So…who will decide?  Who will make the rules?  Who will provide the definitions?

I have offered my answer: culture; custom; the old and good law.  Something no one individual can overcome; something no one individual can overrule or erase.

Do you have a better answer?  Because, if you don’t, go back and read Hoppe and Hayek.  That’s your answer.  You choose to be ruled by men, and you choose to be ruled by the worst of these.


Absent a well-defined and widely accepted culture there is no hope of moving toward a libertarian world.  Such a culture is not a sufficient condition (as not all cultures are conducive to libertarianism), but it is certainly a necessary condition.


  1. Likely the best rebuttal to Peterson-type aggro-minarchists. Very well said, bm.

  2. Funny how many folks think that the nation state existed before mankind crawled out of the cave. Of course, they also believe that mankind crawled out of that cave with microwave ovens, since capitalism IS a zero sum game, no?

  3. Another question worth asking is if low IQ people with poor impulse control (ie, a majority of migrants now coming into the west) are capable respecting your right to life and property even if the were capable of understanding it.

    Walter Block says that you must not prevent these people from entering, because stopping someone from passing through a border is aggression. He won't even consider individual characteristics as a criteria, so presumably it is forbidden in his libertarian framework to prevent criminals or terrorists from entering also.

    1. The quickest way to smoke out a crypto-leftist is to find out their position on arms and borders.

      If they argue for any restrictions on the former, and/or none on the latter, then you've found one.

  4. You know what, bio - I have been dealing with this issue for at least 40 years - how so?
    In various discussions individually or in a group - it always comes down to what is the standard for our rules?
    Often - even without thinking it through completely - I would say something like this: "It seems that this edict was promulgated assuming that the populace was governed by the spirit of God - which is obviously not the case!"
    Another tidbit that came to mind, reading this piece - Augustine wrote that 'any non-believer who assumes his personal sovereignty supreme in all matters, relies in a being no greater than himself'.
    Furthermore, as a former leaner toward libertarianism, I find that libertarianism has some fundamental structural faults - Utopianism being the main one - and therefore impractical for application in the real world.
    In summary - you cannot build a functioning human society without Christianity. The existing problem is that today's 'Christianity' is not a good standard for measuring - being that it has been corrupted by today's humanist culture more than it has leavened the culture.
    I'm not claiming I have all the answers, but the answer to bio's question is not human reason - but it is the real reasoning of God! (You can read more at my website - just google my name.)

    1. "you cannot build a functioning human society without Christianity"

      Perhaps you meant libertarian society?

      I would argue a moral society is necessary, and although it would be easier, it can be done w/o Christianity (Molyneaux's universal ethics). I believe it also requires average to above average I.Q., and a culture of hostility towards authority.

      Absent that, you get what we have today.

    2. Agreed. Libertarianism leaves a power void, which will always be filled by bad actors who desire unclaimed power. If everyone in the world were like Thoreau, Libertopia *might* work. But that's not reality. Which is BM's point. Humans crave rules, order, stability - and that requires authority. Libertarianism is a wonderful legal philosophy on the use of aggression, but it has no answer to who should have authority in a world where authority is unavoidable. Statism has an answer, and religion has an answer. In my opinion, and in view of history, these are the only two realistic options. But when Christianity holds more and more influence in society, it becomes more susceptible to corruption and being bent to political will. So it seems that we will only ever have very brief periods of freedom and peace in this world, and only thanks to Christianity.

    3. Most major religions hold to some form of the golden rule. This is a decent start. With that said, to my understanding (and I am open to be corrected), the ideas that formed into libertarianism, voluntary relationships, etc., all came from the West - influenced by Christianity.

      As to Christianity vs. Molyneaux? The path through Christianity is proven over two-thousand years; enough said about possibilities.

    4. Be Spiritual, not religious. We are all Spirit. Separate, but not divided. Ideology (religion, political systems, etc.) divides.

  5. This is a strong argument for education, not political activism. It also supports my idea that what is needed is elite practitioners of pure libertarianism...a class of people who refuse to participate in victimizing others by never directly, and to as great a degree as possible, never indirectly accepting government benefits. This is a very tall order, as our society is shot through with morally perverted situations to which there is no alternative but to participate...or die. Obvious example, use of public roads.

    Of the three women of liberty, the one I admire the most is Rose Wilder Lane. Unlike Isabella Paterson and Ayn Rand, both of whom took Social Security or Medicare and thus undercut their own arguments, Lane refused to take government money under any circumstances, preferring poverty and private support to the comfort of hypocrisy.

    It's hard to sell a cake you won't eat yourself.

    1. Good luck not using public roads. I also don't think anyone would ever seriously consider your argument for libertarianism undercut because you use public roads. Roads would still exist in a "pure" libertarian world. When no other option exists for you to get from point A to B, I don't see any inconsistency with using that road.

      State coercion is so entwined with society and economy that it's a fool's errand to try to live totally free of any benefits of that coercion.

    2. I think you misunderstood my comment. You cannot get around state violence completely, and I used the example of public roads. But are libertarians willing to NOT take government jobs, NOT take Social Security, NOT apply for government loans, NOT pursue government contracts? I'm tired of libertarians bitching about government, then embracing it for their own advantage.

  6. "Really, it offers only one rule: do not initiate aggression."

    You left out "except in defense of persons or property against force or fraud".

    People keep leaving that out, and it's led to all sorts of cockamamie commie codswallop from crypto-leftist faux libertarians.

    1. "initiate" being the key term in my statement, addressing your concern.

      I left nothing out. Nothing cockamamie on my end.

  7. John, you must be new here. I will be patient this first time:

    “Universal acceptance is an absurd standard for the validity of a definition…”

    My point is that there will never be a universally accepted definition in application. The definition of “aggression” is inherently subjective. The application is inherently objective. The two can never be squared universally.

    “Do you maintain that "culture" has a universally-accepted definition?”

    I believe general agreement on a subjective definition can be reached, but have never given it much thought. We see culture all around us; we subjectively know “our” culture.

    “You fail to distinguish between conception and action.”

    Really, you are very new here. This is the entire point of my fifty or more essays and hundreds of comments on this topic: putting libertarian theory (“conception”) into action. If you are truly serious about a discussion with me, start here:

    Based on the short descriptions I offer for each essay, I am sure you can find five that speak to my views on this.

    “Reasonable people can agree on concepts, e.g., the definition of aggression, while disagreeing as to whether specific acts are instances of such concepts.”

    Yes, we agree. Violently. This is why in this essay I placed the two subjective terms (aggression, property) in a context of objective events and issues – real world applications: abortion, immigration, intellectual property, punishment, restitution, threats, fraud, etc.

    “You do not, unless you're a liar…”

    You see, it is statements like these that cause me to not take you seriously.

    Them’s fightin’ words, Harris. Read five essays from the aforementioned list if you want a real discussion. If you have half an ounce of character and integrity, you will do so.

    “But let's play it your way, Bionic.”

    My guess? You will not do so; you will not play it my way; you will not read; you will not spend twenty minutes to try and understand. You will either just disappear or you will come back with an even more ignorant comment. Of these, I would prefer the former.

  8. You have read my other essays and then admit that you have ignored the arguments presented in these? What am I supposed to do with this? You recall my earlier writings and ignore them. You call this intellectually honest?

    As to "shared conception of the definitions," once again, you make my point. Concept, defined: a general notion or idea; conception.

    Tell me how to turn a “concept” into application? If “substantially all well-versed in the theory” agreed on this, why do we debate so many applications endlessly?

    “But too often you strike me as a troll instead of someone on a quest for the truth.”

    Yes, after seven years and 1250 posts, you are on to me. I will need a new nom de plume. Good work, John.

  9. “I understand that you cannot conceive of society absent a state, and appreciate that you work hard to convince the anarchists among us of the stupidity of our ways.”

    John, for someone who has so diligently read my work, I am somewhat taken aback by this statement. But given your self-proclaimed intellectual honesty and just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken, I went back and read all 1250 posts and 2,346 comments of mine. Just as I thought, not once did I advocate for a state. On the contrary, exactly 1,238,475 times did I call for the end to the state.

    Now, if you want to speak of governance or generally accepted cultural norms, this is a different topic. I know many anarchists believe that a world can exist without governance or generally accepted cultural norms. A more hilarious notion than this I cannot conceive. If you want to describe this hilarious notion as stupid, well that’s your choice. I am good with either description.

  10. BM,

    Your like was to Peterson's YT channel, was there a specific video that referenced your quote:

    "The probability that it’s the friendliest and nicest people is very, very low."

    I just finished "Personality lecture 01", which fantastic(but lengthy)- he actually discusses the impact of culture on humankind(and personality) ealy in the lecture...but there was no specific reference to your quote and I'd like to put it in my queue.

    1. Nick

      Here is the video:

      Go to about the 46:20 mark.

    2. I'm currently watching JP's 2017 Maps of Meaning series -- I'm on 'episode' 7 so far. Very interesting and intriguing.