Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Negative Liberty’s War on Nature

Luther and His Progeny: 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society, edited by John C. Rao.

What I would like to demonstrate in this study is the unnatural “nature” of what has been labeled “negative liberty.”

So writes Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula (to save myself much trouble, from here on I will refer to him as IBC).  In this post, I will not examine the background of why the author lays blame on the Reformation for the war on nature brought on by the spread of the idea of negative liberty; I will merely examine the ramifications of this idea – ramifications that are manifest in the west today.

The non-aggression principle offers precisely this negative liberty; it offers a “do not.”  Do not initiate aggression.  It does not offer a “do.”  It is in this void that I have been exploring the value and import of culture in the context of achieving and maintaining a libertarian order. 

[Negative liberty] is an empty concept, a “freedom” from the restraints imposed by fundamental realities.

Freedom from the restraints imposed by fundamental realities.  This is libertinism gone wild.  Take the chapter titles from Walter Block’s Defending the Undefendable, add to this the cornucopia of newly invented sexual / gender / animal preferences, and you will have a pretty good starting point of the “fundamental realities” that need no longer restrain man – well, at least until nature (and the inevitable conflict between and amongst men) fights back.

What are some of these fundamental realities (well, besides gender and stuff)?

…man is not created to live in isolation… From his very birth, the Lord places a man in a natural social context…

IBC offers family, community, and political society as this “social context.”

Through the concomitant action of family, other natural communities, and the Church, the individual receives language, culture, a sense of belonging to a structured society, and a spiritual community of which he is a legitimate member.

If you don’t like the theological source for this, I offer Rothbard:

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture.

…usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions.

Yes.  Many contemporary libertarians ignore the fact that humans are human…with some fundamental realities.

Returning to IBC:

Negative liberty seeks to destroy this purposeful and socially guided development of positive liberty.  A rational understanding of the absurdity of such absolute, negative freedom must be grounded on the perennial philosophy that accepts the objective reality of the external world.

I will note two things from this statement: first, note how IBC considers the term “positive.”  It is not used, at least in this context, as we often use the term – a description of “rights” demanded from others.  It is a positive liberty offered by living within a real (not mythical or utopian) community.

Second: if all we have is this absolute negative liberty (the aforementioned Block chapter titles and cornucopia of newly invented sex/gender classifications)…well, doesn’t this fly in the face of “the objective reality of the external world”?

Humans are, after all, human.  They have a nature, they live in a social and historical context – there is a fundamental reality to “human.”  Whether you believe that nature was placed by God or developed over countless millennia of time, it is real.  A human, after all, is a real person:

In speaking of individual freedom, we must always be concerned for the real person in his concrete historical reality: not the abstract “citizen” of liberalism.

“The non-aggression principle is for everyone.”  So we are often told.  Even if I grant this as true, inherently it cannot be for everyone wherever and whenever you might plop him down in space and time.

Cultural norms and traditions evolve – different in different parts of the world, different in the same part of the world but at different times.  To believe that “anything peaceful” means the same thing in application to all people everywhere is naïve thinking, ignoring – as IBC and Rothbard both put it – the specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions.

I have previously used an example: the new neighbor who enjoys sex orgies in the front yard.  The new neighbor is not violating the NAP, yet what is the likely outcome when it comes to the peace of the neighborhood by this culture and tradition-destroying newcomer?

Being rooted in tradition prevents us from being imprisoned solely within contemporary presentations of what is, and is not, real.

When culture and tradition are destroyed, we lose our ability to live in peace because we lose the rules of “what is acceptable around here.”  I don’t mean rules about murder and robbery; those are easy.  I mean rules about sex orgies on the front lawn.  I don’t even have to go that far – can any of you keep up with what is and isn’t politically correct in terms of speech or behavior or with what constitutes “aggression” (micro or otherwise) anymore?

Jordan Peterson describes these rules as coming from observed stable behavioral patterns; stable meaning conducive toward sustaining life.  Do the rules come first?  No!  The actions come first; these are honed through experience – the experience of countless millennia.  The rules come after; these are tradition-derived rules that are honed through experience.

Once these rules from tradition are destroyed, “what is acceptable behavior around here” must come from somewhere.  ICB offers that when this traditional, objective order of things is abandoned – when negative liberty reigns supreme – something must replace it: truths will be created from whole cloth via consensus; in reality the truths will be manipulated by a few strong men.  They manipulate in order to control society without society feeling controlled.

Once the foundation built on tradition is destroyed – the learned wisdom from time immemorial of “what works” (per Peterson, the game that can be played over and over again without degeneration) – the author offers the new sources of manufactured tradition: propaganda, manipulated language, history rewritten. 

Strongman governance.


“That bionic, he has really gone soft on the NAP.”

Nope, no change.  It is a wonderful political theory, but “though shalt not” does not bind a community.  I really don’t get it anyway.  Who really believes that the non-aggression principle is an all-encompassing formula for a peaceful life?  Who really believes that the non-aggression principle will define itself, interpret itself, and defend itself?  I guess only those who view it as a religion of some sort.

In any case, it is all of the “thou shalts” that we share – not with 100% conformity, but generally accepted – that binds a community.  A community with a generally accepted set of “thou shalts” will come closest to a self-governing community.

Something or someone will govern: either learned tradition and culture built on “what works” or a strongman (whether dictator or democracy) making it up as he goes along.

Which one offers more stability in the law?  Which one offers the best prospect for freedom in a world occupied by humans?


  1. Your point is well taken, bionic.

    Applying this article to libertarian tactics: wouldn't a evangel of the NAP necessarily include an evangel of a traditional moral culture? In other words, if we want a NAP-abiding society, the soil needs to be properly prepared.

    1. Precisely what I have concluded (with a little push from UC to accelerated my working through this issue).

      Unfortunately, too much is lined up against this - ranging from the state all the way down to left-libertarians.

      The good news is eventually human nature will be respected because it must be respected. Just might be a bit painful between here and there.

  2. Culture, tradition, language aka received wisdom can certainly be understood as something transforming the blank slate of the individual into a thinking and acting being. One can say that culture produces the individual. One need give little credit to the individual himself. But is it not exactly this circumstance in which the individual is the produced effect of culture that calls into question any concept of a 'human nature' ? It does not seem to me that human nature is a fixed scientific concept amenable to research. It is not something whose true characteristics patiently await discovery. Rather is it not something which can only be deployed ? Is not 'personality' say more of the order of a strategy rather a fundamental identity which conveniently manifests itself under conditions of adversity as the Western literary tradition would have us believe ? Since you bring up the subject, consider the whole gay 'identity' movement. Now until very recently being gay was criminalized by Western governments. It is in reaction to this that the gay persona arose, as a strategy to subtly convey the fact that one is gay, so subtly in fact that only other gay individuals would pick up on it. In other words there is no fundamental gay identity. Rather identity is itself something that one is compelled to deploy in reaction to the deployed relations of power in which he finds himself. And so I think our problem is not at all to arrive at a correct and true human nature. Rather it is to understand that human nature is a category with a history, that it came into being under definite relations of power. Our problem is
    to develop, in the free space afforded us by the NAP society, the cultivated life, the aesthetic life, the charming and pleasant life. Our problem is not at all libertine sexuality. It is rather that culture as it is, has kept relations between men and women on an infantile level. It has prevented the formation of friendships between them. It is the same with gays. Gays push for gay marriage is largely a reaction to their long history of persecution by the political class. It is not really a development, an opening of and exploration of a new set of conditions under which friendship can be cultivated and intensified.

    1. Fourth time:

      Address all four conditions that de Soto has noted - including my additional condition of a sponsor - and then tell me, in a world of state borders, who will administer the paperwork if not for a state actor.

    2. Ancap,

      Now I understand. Your ideology is predicated on the emergence of a "cosmopolitan libertarian man", a man that no no more think illiberal thoughts than a pig can fly. Same as the communists awaiting the "communist man".

      That just isn't realistic. Please deal with what we have here on planet earth.

    3. Matt,

      At least the communists admitted that the State was a necessary tool until the “new man” was formed and only then could it be dissolved into anarchic utopia. Ancap hasn’t considered how millions of tribally oriented mestizos will bode for the creation of “libertarian man” on the North American continent.

    4. ncap,

      You say "Culture, tradition, language aka received wisdom can certainly be understood as something transforming the blank slate of the individual into a thinking and acting being. "

      The individual acts by virtue of his brain circuitry, which is totally individual, and not solely from programming applied to his blank slate. I understand that you wish to emphasize the power of culture over the pathway to adulthood, I agree that there is a lot of power there, but sometimes a difference in degree is a difference in kind. Much of what is traditional could be hard wired into some people. Whether they know that or not, they would prefer a certain variations of human culture over some other variations by taste and temperament. If being gayphobic or racist is totally genetic why should that person have to live with gays or other races if he can find a community of like minded individuals and live according to the NAP?

      The NAP world need not be culturally homogeneous in all respects, although some aspects of the law would be, most likely.

    5. Semicollegiate,

      You have uncovered, I believe, a fascinating weakness of the whole politically-correct philosophy. If a person can base their identity as gay on their lived experience, why cannot a person do the same based on their lived experience as a "racist" or "sexist" (or whatever) person? Goose and gander it seems to me. Well done.

  3. >wonderful political theory

    I would argue the NAP is not a political theory at all but an anti-political theory.

    I would describe the NAP as a theoretical civil law that aspires to replace the political. The political being the realm of life-death struggle, sovereignty, geopolitics, and friend-enemy distinctions. The *only* way for this pure NAP order to exist free from politics is for it to spam the globe. As long as there exists States in the world then there exists the possibility of existential conflict with Napghanistan, enter politics. These states will not fall under the civil law and must be dealt with as something outside economics, something political. If the state is hostile how do you prevent Napghanistanis from selling property to its agents?

    The first and most important (political) question aspiring Napghanis need to ask themselves is: “how do we deal with people inside or outside our realm that do not accept the NAP?” This is the friend-enemy question and it’s the heart of politics. Hoppe got close to it with his concept of physical removal but that only covers *inside the realm* and is restrained by the NAP itself (for example culture/society can be subverted *within* the bounds of the NAP).

    IMO non-cryptocommie libertarians can get more of what they want from a King than from ultra-democracy (what they believe in). I mean what do you really want? Property rights? You can have those but you can’t use them to undermine, is that bad? Will you really not be satisfied until there are no boundaries to what money can buy?

    We need a renewal of Western Civilization through a restoration of Authority which will take the form of a Hierarchy based on prinicples like loyalty, honor, and duty. Not egalitarianism and individual rights. Not on the self-interested pursuit of “personal freedom.” This is the way forward. Debate me.

    1. UC,

      I'm curious if you have any thoughts on what sort of organizations exist or are likely to form at this stage that would achieve the "way forward". The rise in nationalism doesn't seem strong enough to do more than slow the decay a few years.

    2. Jeff,

      What needs to happen is formation of a society of white men, a mannerbund if you will, dedicated 100% to the struggle against DC and willing to die for it. Their immediate goal will be an end to DC rule over a portion of the North American continent (some portion of the Pacific Northwest) and in victory there will be the foundations of a new state to be drawn from the mannerbund. Of course the new state will be at perpetual war with DC and will have to seek allies in places like Russia and Iran until the DC regime is completely crushed and it’s surviving members are forced to flee to Israel.

      I of course am a law abiding human rights democracy loving Americanist patriot and would never encourage or advocate for sedition against the glorious union of the United States, this is all strictly theoretical. Also I stand with Israel and love minorities.

    3. "We need a renewal of Western Civilization through a restoration of Authority which will take the form of a Hierarchy based on prinicples like loyalty, honor, and duty."

      This is my understanding of the Germanic law of the Middle Ages. I describe it as the closest and longest-lasting libertarian society.

      But a "pure" libertarian would never see it this way. And in this is the divide.

      Culture, tradition, hierarchy, oath. All protecting a society of liberty. Absent this, we get the libertine. There can be no freedom in this.

    4. Unhappy Conservative Sir,

      The only legitimate authority is the law.

      I don't trust hierarchy because it will evolve into distance (immunity) and leverage out of proportion to ability. Ranking would be better. The best in the world at anything would command a commensurate price for his time, which is incentive to keep performance high.

      States do what they do inside of their owned space. State decisions are made by individuals and those individuals specifically would be responsible to the NAP world.

      Loyalty, honor, and duty can be powerful methods to self respect and self improvement. They can also be excuses for favoritism, dogmatism, and irresponsibility. Let evolution decide, evolution is the real decider anyway.

      Individual rights are relevant because the individual is the natural mode of human intelligence. Humans are brains more than anything else. Each brain is somewhat isolated from all others, communicating only through language and past facts. The best a human can do involves using as much of his mind as possible. Since no two people have the same body of knowledge or same goals or same weighing of facts, the maximum use of judgement will often be impossible to explain to other minds.

      The just rule of society is 'Do what you want as long as you hurt no other'.

      Individualism is new, like a new technology. Technology is most of the reason individualism is possible. But our ancient nature as separate organisms is the reason individualism is best way to organize society. Like the change from scavenger (under gov) to hunter (following our minds).

    5. UC,

      "how do we deal with people inside or outside our realm that do not accept the NAP?"

      With force of course.

      Libertarians are not necessarily pacifists; we believe in the right of self defense. Libertarianism is only a skeletal philosophy which determines when the use of violence is justified. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a prosperous and virtuous civilization.

      Rothbard and Hoppe have written extensively on this. I can dig up passages if you like.

      "We need a renewal of Western Civilization through a restoration of Authority which will take the form of a Hierarchy based on prinicples like loyalty, honor, and duty. Not egalitarianism"

      Yes! Yes! Yes!

      " ...and individual rights"

      Awww. =(

      So close! Without individual (negative) rights and responsibilities where do you expect the incentives for loyalty, duty, and honor to come from? Honor isn't honor if you're forced at gun point to behave 'honorably.' Loyalty isn't loyalty if you have to point guns at people to make them 'loyal.' Duty isn't duty if you have to point guns at people to remind them of their duties.

      Honor is only honor, loyalty is only loyalty, and duty is only duty if it is freely chosen. I believe in the paramount importance of these virtues as well, but I believe you are mistaken in pointing to the NAP as the enemy of them.

      Not every libertarian is a libertine, and I'm not the only one who isn't.

  4. Great article btw.

    In essence I could be living in a Blockean hellscape with pimps, whores, junkies, ethnic gangs, AIDS, and my elderly mother living under a jewish slum lord, but hey at least it’s voluntary. Amirite?

    1. What? That's somehow not appealing to you? You see no future in it?

  5. Hi Bionic, Merry Christmas!
    I think one of the problems you're having in your dialog(s), is defining an individual as "libertarian"," left-libertarian", etc.
    We're composed of many "personalities", some of which are defined by our adherence to the NAP, but most, not.
    The NAP is a partially defining aspect, as are "I'm an A's fan"(God help me), or "I like old prog rock", etc. Yeah, it's important, but it ain't EVERYTHING.
    So, I guess we have a little of the old apples and oranges thing. If you want to focus on abstract political subjects, then yeah, I'm a NAP guy, but I like to think that in REAL LIFE I'm a little more complex.

    1. "I think one of the problems you're having in your dialog(s)..."

      I am clearly having one or more problems!

      "If you want to focus on abstract political subjects, then yeah, I'm a NAP guy, but I like to think that in REAL LIFE I'm a little more complex."

      But I believe this is what I am presenting and exploring. Perhaps I am not understanding your meaning?

  6. Oh, no, I'm agreeing! Just trying to put my personal spin on it.

    1. OK. And Merry Christmas to you. Thank you for remaining engaged in this dialogue.

    2. It's interesting (to me) that such an innocuous comment by Capn Mike can be the catalyst that motivates me to jump into the conversation.

      "I'm an NAP guy, but I like to think that in REAL LIFE I'm a little more complex."

      In so many words, that has been my outlook for the past two decades. I used to describe myself as a "recovering" conservative, because I was disgusted by the outrageous spending and the immoral wars waged by the Bushes and the GOP. If that was "conservative" then I was something else. But what?

      The answer I came to realize is simply this: I am a Christian, and it doesn't matter which party holds power. The only thing that matters is whether I am in a state of grace at the time of my death. I am a political junkie, but I realize that politics will never deliver anything resembling the type of society I desire. So, I observe the posturing, scandals, blood, war, bribery, plundering, etc. with a much more serene outlook. Even when my pontiff appears to be a marxist. Instead of 4 year election cycles, I now take the long view. A really long view. Gates of hell will not prevail....

      This frees the mind up to consider whether "Constitutional" conservative are well intentioned, but deluded. And whether the anti-federalists were correct all along. And then, one can consider whether a King that truly fears his Creator might not be a bad form of government. These ideas include the concepts of "Authority" and "Hierarchy' based on prinicples like loyalty, honor, and duty mentioned by AC.

    3. Thanks for the shout - out.
      And yes, you are correct. There are greater things in this life than who gets to be the next congress person from Bumf$%^k, Virginia.
      I think humans are definitely affected by scale. That is, a group of fifty, let's say, are far more representative and far more in agreement with an individual within its group than say, the current congressional district membership of some 35,000 souls.
      We are NOT represented by our political (federal AND state) entities. We have no voice. We are tax fodder.
      This has an effect. Rage, frustration,hopelessness. White guys on opioids, meet black guys on heroin. Same effect.
      So, as UC and you (and B.M.) say, it's about HONOUR, LOYALTY, DECENCY. And in congruence, the RIGHT to exhibit those virtues that makes a society great.

  7. The NAP is one principle. Who can claim that one principle can apply to all of reality? And what constitutes aggression specifically?

    I would prefer to go in the direction of material solutions. The orgiast's front yard is his or it is not. Good fences make good neighbors.

    Keeping in mind that the average household would have millions in 1900AD dollars under sound money, technology could solve a number of social and even environmental problems.

    If we still had the social rules of the late 19C I can envision folks working on stem cells, experimental hormones, designer weeds that grow chemicals fast, rocket fuels, servant pets, recreational full contact combat body armor, rail guns for satellite hobbyists etc..., like they used to work on plant and animal breeding. As a neighbor in that hood I would be more comfortable with a hermetically sealed, sound cancelling, electrically shielded, anti-shock wave reinforced fence at my property line. With a transparency switch for the view from time to time.

    1. Gotta love this comment by semi. If politics can't achieve a more just society, then barring a moral awakening of historical significance, there might still be some hope offered by technology. For example, the high school kid who figures out how to vaporize the NSA database containing all the emails, texts and phone calls of every person in the world will become a legendary hero for generations to come.

  8. Bionic,

    "Negative liberty seeks to destroy this purposeful and socially guided development of positive liberty."

    I believe the opposite of the sentence above is true. Negative liberty reinforces the development of traditional and organic social development. It does allow the freedom to be a freak, but the consequences of such an anti-social identity would be felt much more acutely in a society without anti-discrimination laws, without tax payer funded student loans delaying interaction with the real world and without a tax payer funded unemployment safety net.

    As the state recedes in the face of negative liberty, traditional institutions will rise in importance, as Jeff Deist has recently pointed out. Community, religion and family are natural allies of negative liberty. Without the state, these institutions will have to keep or improve their merits in the face of open competition. With a state, these institutions are liable to become corrupted and distorted as they become entangled with state privilege.

    To think positive liberty, whether we're talking obligations or rights, is an ally of human freedom and flourishing is to accept the liberal democrat view of society and its social consequences.

    Only negative liberty asserts that no right is legitimate if it requires the services of others. To reject this is to accept that others may be forced to provide others with all manner of services like healthcare, housing, education, etc. to infinity.

    Positive liberty is strongman government's most sophisticated tool of subjugation.

    "A community with a generally accepted set of “thou shalts” will come closest to a self-governing community."

    I absolutely agree, but don't confuse voluntary 'thou shalts' as found in religion, with the positive liberties afforded by the aggression of the state.

    "[Negative liberty] is an empty concept, a “freedom” from the restraints imposed by fundamental realities."

    I'd be interested to know what the author identifies as fundamental realities. Negative liberty exposes individuals to the fundamental realities by allowing merit to flourish and by ceasing the subsidization of degeneracy. Virtue has meaning to the extent it is the product of free will.

    1. ATL, I am glad you wrote this comment as it allows me to explore something with which I am struggling on this topic. I will first summarize my thoughts then expand on these.

      The summary: in my interpretation, your view and the author’s view are not so far apart (and I will say the same for my view). But, this could be an issue of my not properly understanding the author – in other words, maybe I read into his words what I want to read. But I will explore this and let’s see where it leads.

      “Negative liberty reinforces the development of traditional and organic social development. It does allow the freedom to be a freak, but the consequences of such an anti-social identity would be felt much more acutely…”

      I agree with this, and for the reasons you identify further on in your comments.

      So how does this square with the “positive liberty” idea? What I take away from the author (and Rothbard’s comments reinforce this for me) is that we are born into a community that has – either through millions of years of evolution or God planting something in us – learned the negative consequences that come from the freedom to be a freak.

      So, the “positive liberty” places a framework around man such that he need not relearn those same lessons, such that he is in an environment that reasonably maximizes the possibility of freedom – note, I do not write “absolute” freedom (even within the NAP), as that implies the libertine; just the reasonably maximum possible.

      “Community, religion and family are natural allies of negative liberty.”

      I agree, but to perform their proper function these each play a hierarchical role – and, inherently, this means something when it comes to the freedom to be a freak; do these institutions wait and watch and say “you deserve it,” or do they teach, support, model, and expect certain frameworks within which it is acceptable to live – which will maximize the possibility of a society remaining reasonably free?

      “I absolutely agree, but don't confuse voluntary 'thou shalts' as found in religion, with the positive liberties afforded by the aggression of the state.”

      I do not; I hope my comment immediately above clarifies my view.

      In the traditional society, individuals will certainly act a freak; the issue comes down to the values beyond the NAP that the community, religion and family hold dear and support and reinforce. Some would call this tyrannical, but I am finding that it is precisely in this space where liberty – at least the maximum liberty possible for imperfect man – will be found.

      “I'd be interested to know what the author identifies as fundamental realities.”

      These were not spelled out; I can only surmise that what we see around us today (which I mentioned in the post) offer the many examples of fundamental realities that are being ignored.

      Let me know if any of this makes sense or not, and if you and I (and maybe the author) might be closer together vs. further apart. As I said, it is an area that I have needed to explore.

    2. BM,

      Might I recommend looking into the works of George Fitzhugh? He is the most articulate proponent of the Southern plantation system. I think his book “Sociology of the South: Or the Failure of a Free Society” would make for very interesting content on your blog.

      PDF here: