Monday, December 31, 2018

The Journey’s End

Casey closes his nine-hundred page overview with a summary, a signing-off, an explanation of why he took on this challenge.  It is a most excellent chapter.

You might have wondered on occasion why we should have bothered with so much old stuff?

Casey’s survey began with the dawn of man; his substantial focus on political though begins with ancient Greece, beginning perhaps 800 BC.  I only picked up the story with the chapter on Christianity, about 200 pages in; I will, at some point, read through the first chapters…how on earth is it that I skipped Aristotle and Plato?

In any case, Casey answers his own question: the Whig historians aren’t correct.  It isn’t so that things get better day after day, year after year.  It is a theme that Hans Hoppe recently spoke on extensively.  As you know, this is also my view.

Something to consider, perhaps: if we are to measure freedom’s progress in our material goods, we have never been more free than today.  Sure, there is room for improvement, but overall who can complain when compared to much of the rest of the world and certainly world history.  In other words, why bother with all of this libertarian kvetching? 

I think the only reason to bother is moral; it is in the political philosophy where our freedoms have not progressed – in many ways regressed.

Casey offers an overview as to why he believes this: good ideas often aren’t taken up, an example of which he offers in Johannes Althusius (1563 – 1638).  Had Althusius’ idea of vertically arranged, interlocking but detachable entities with the foundation built on the family won out over Bodin’s idea of sovereignty residing at the top, 400 years of western history would have been quite different – and far more free. 

The Middle Ages offer another example, with an almost infinite number of political and legal bodies competing under a moral framework of the Church. 

…the authority of rulers was limited and the obligation of those who were ruled to offer obedience to that authority was conditional. …the king, as part of the community, was as bound by that law as anyone else. …there was a mutual exchange of promises between king and people…

The medieval Church played a vital role in checking the power of the king, providing a competing, overlapping authority to which an aggrieved could appeal.  The medieval Christian Church discovered the individual, made in the image and likeness of God; it was an individual who could find his freedom within the social and political framework of the time.

The Europe of today (or maybe the Europe of a century or two ago) is seen as a blending of Greek philosophy, Roman law and Christianity; the role of the political practices of the Germanic tribes is often overlooked despite playing at least as large a role in our freedom as any of these other contributors.

Casey notes the far-too-heavy and unjustifiable burden that many place on libertarianism; it is not the highest end in life, but only the highest political end.  He cites Rothbard, who offers: “Only an imbecile could ever hold that freedom is the highest or indeed the only principle or end of life.”

Contrary to what some critics of libertarianism suggest – that libertarians view their philosophy as the highest of all social values – Casey offers that it should be seen, instead, as the lowest; it is the most fundamental, a necessary condition if one is looking for an ordered life.

Yet here again there are critics – and rightfully so: there will be found libertarians who proclaim “anything peaceful,” as if anything peaceful will maintain order – order being a necessary condition if one is to maintain liberty.  Of course, libertarians do not advocate for limiting anything peaceful via force; yet we also need not glorify or be happy with the consequence of such a worldview.

I believe that a civilized existence requires both freedom and order. …The question isn’t really whether order is desirable; it is what kind of order is desirable, where that order is to come from and how that order is to be maintained.

Casey offers that for libertarians – just as for Althusius – genuine order rises intrinsically from the free interaction of individuals, and does not come extrinsically from on high.  Casey leaves unsaid here, but I will suggest that this intrinsic order is built on a foundation that does come from on high – but not from man. 

Althusius was attempting to design a political framework that would mimic the order of the Middle Ages without the benefit of a unified Church.  In that framework, the law worked because it was not legislated by man; it was the old and good law.  It was custom, refined by Christian ethics.

Rothbard remarked that custom ‘must be voluntarily upheld and not enforced by coercion’ and that ‘people would be well advised (although not forced) to begin with a presumption in favor of custom…’

This is certainly so if one wants to maintain order, which is necessary if one wants to maintain liberty.  It also presents the difficulty for adherents of the non-aggression principle: if custom is valuable – even necessary – to maintain liberty, how is one to defend custom?

A method offered by Casey to defend and perpetuate this custom is through the family; unconsciously acquired cultural norms are passed along at an early age, development proceeds accordingly.  Burke would say that these norms, the necessary foundation, are manners.

If such norms are not developed when young, it is not likely that they will be developed through the intellect when an adult.  When it comes to the family and the State, it is clear that everything possible is done to subsidize family-destroying actions.  Perhaps we libertarians need not wonder why very few people respond to our rational libertarian arguments. 

Many libertarians argue that such cultural norms are encumbrances placed on us in violation of the non-aggression principle.  Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor chapter from The Brothers Karamazov is offered in reply: such encumbrances choose us before we choose them; there is no “mythical free and autonomous self that exists apart from these ties.” 

Granted, this is more of an Orthodox – rather than Western – idea of freedom; however, it was Orthodox in the West perhaps prior to the Renaissance, and most certainly prior to the Enlightenment.

Ralph Wood suggests that our freedom resides in freely embracing these moral, religious and political obligations.  Hard to stomach, I know.  But what if living within cultural norms is necessary for liberty?  Would a libertarian then embrace this?  Based on what chain of reasoning derived from the non-aggression principle?  Or do we require something more if it is liberty that we are after?


I am on quite safe grounds to suggest that Western society has lost this idea of order coming from cultural norms.  I am also on safe grounds to suggest that the relationship between this loss of cultural norms and man-made legislation and regulation is almost perfectly inversely correlated. 

For us to find liberty – as measured in a reduction in man-made legislation and regulation – we might consider the value in supporting, once again, the cultural norms from which our liberty came.

Whether these societies can replenish their social capital is a matter for conjecture.  Some societies have done so in the past – but others have not, and have perished.

I am on quite safe grounds to suggest that there will be no freedom to be found in that.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Anarchists

I lack their smiles and their diamonds; I lack their happiness and love
I envy them for all those things, I never got my fair share of

What I know, I’ve never shown; what I feel, I’ve always known
I plan my vengeance on my own – and I was always alone

-        Rush, The Anarchist

Yeah, yeah, I know.  This isn’t what you mean by anarchism.  Well, who says that you get to define the term?

…anarchy, as it is conceived by those who have thought and written about it seriously, isn’t the absence order just as such but the absence of a certain kind of order, order produced by a top-down command and control structure, typically, but not exclusively, state government.

Anarchism is predominantly understood as a left-wing doctrine, as it is against some or all traditional hierarchies.  Not surprisingly, many of the anarchist thinkers had strong leftist leanings.  I have covered this connection to left-libertarian thinking in the past.

It is also commonly believed that anarchism and capitalism cannot go together – due to the view that capitalism requires a state, or something approaching it.  Murray Rothbard, of course, has challenged this notion, as have others who have followed him to include Walter Block; Rothbard will not be covered here, but in a later section of the book. 

Casey introduces several anarchist thinkers over the course of three chapters.  I will cover each of these briefly. This post is a little long, but I felt it best to cover these thinkers as a group.

The Anarchist Prophets

William Godwin (1756 – 1836)

Godwin offers that education and a total faith in the power reason are sufficient to rid mankind of force and hence rid mankind of any need of government.  His ethics are universalist.  Not limited to family or close acquaintances, if anyone applies to him for relief, he is obligated to provide it: “It is my duty to grant it, and I commit a breach of duty in refusing.”  And how much is he bound to do?  “Everything in my power.”  This will tell you all you need to know about Godwin’s views on property.

Where is his anarchism?  Government is a source of evil.  People should come together only voluntarily and if they believe it will be to their mutual advantage; this would occur, and governance will be best served, in small communes – parishes as Godwin calls them.  Force can be used only to repel aggression; it is not to be used for punishment.  Instead, given these small communities, social pressure will suffice.

Max Stirner (1806 – 1856)

Where Godwin placed his faith in the power of reason, Stirner “violently and passionately rejects reason and all its works and pomps.”  He denies natural law, any idea of common humanity, anything that stands in the way of the atomistic individual.  Each ego a law unto himself: no rights, no duties, no immutable moral laws.  He rejects all absolutes; he rejects not only the state, but all hierarchies.

He demands no rights, so he respects no rights – what he can get by force is his, what he loses due to force is not.  He does not recognize any concept of property, therefore he does not see this use of force as theft.

The Classical Anarchists

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 – 1865)

Casey describes him as one of the most important social and political thinkers of the nineteenth century; he was the first person to coin the term “anarchist.”  While he is well-known for his statement that property is theft, Casey suggests that Proudhon’s meaning behind this is somewhat nuanced.  Property is property only by use, not by title.  The theft occurs when someone uses property to exploit another’s labor without any effort on the property owner’s part.  In other words, the investor / capitalist / entrepreneur is using property to steal the value of the laborer’s labor. 

Proudhon offers a middle ground between communism and capitalism – the means of production are held in common by the workers, the ends belong to those who produced the goods.  Society would, therefore, organize in these self-governing producer units.  This he describes as mutualism.

Man’s individuality should not be submerged in any social entity – not even in family.  Yet he is not atomistic as is Godwin; he does see man as social, with society providing the matrix within which man can develop his freedom.

He advocates for decentralization everywhere – in laws (replaced by contract and arbitration), in education (to be done by parents), in nation-states.

Mikhail Bakunin (1814 – 1876)

Casey describes him as perhaps the least original, but not least inspiring, anarchist thinker; even his greatest admirer would not describe him as a systematic thinker.  He put his trust in the spirit which destroys, as the urge to destroy is also the creative urge.  He does not come out against all authority, as he respects the authority of genuine experts.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

I’m Only Human

I'm obsessed with being human.
-        Rachelle Lefevre

Michael Rozeff has written a follow-up post to his previous post on abortion.  My comments on his earlier post can be found here.  I think it is safe to say that Rozeff has come a long way in a few short days. 

Rozeff begins by describing the foundation of his previous view as resulting in a wrong theory:

The result is a confused theory, a wrong theory, that I hereby reject. …A fetus has being (life) even if it’s not capable of living outside the womb by present technology. That fact undermines my theory.

For the purpose of his current blog post, he assumes “that life (being) begins at conception, as soon as the sperm fertilizes the egg. I think everyone has to admit that fact.”  While “being” begins at conception, however, Rozeff suggests that the status of “human” might not:

However, we can define a category called nascent-human (embryonic human, budding human) as a being that will become 100% human (fully-developed) under a normal pregnancy but that currently lacks certain properties, such as brain activity (appears 6 weeks in utero) or a heartbeat (8 weeks in utero) or controlled movement (13-25 weeks) or hearing voices outside (16 weeks) or consciousness (20 weeks).

During these periods (at whatever point you might choose), is the unborn child human, or a nascent human?  Rozeff offers: “Libertarian theory has no generally-accepted answer.”  But why would we expect libertarian theory to have any answer at all on this?  It is not a question for libertarian theory; it is a question for philosophy, religion, or science.  Libertarian theorists can then work through the application of the non-aggression principle to this answer.

The problem is that none of these (philosophy, religion, or science) can offer an objective answer to the question.  Every answer requires an objective definition of the term “human.”  Philosophy or religion can offer a definition, but it will always be debated because it is always subjective.  Science can objectively measure events such as identified by Rozeff, but is not capable of answering the subjective question of humanness. 

As it stands, it is an issue that science is admittedly unable to answer, or where it has answered it has concluded that human life begins at conception.  Either answer, at least if one is to ground an answer to this question in science, is problematic for utilizing Rozeff’s new category of nascent-human as a means by which to bring clarity to this issue. 

We know one thing with certainty: when the child is born, it is human.  We know more: it is human a day, week, month, and several months prior to its birth.  We know even more: we know (when looking backwards in time) that we do not know when this human became “human.”  We don’t know it because we can’t.  I don’t know, therefore, from a non-aggression principle perspective how to treat the unborn child as anything other than human.

The only question remaining is: which human – mother or unborn child – has the right to the womb.  Rozeff does ask the relevant questions from a libertarian perspective:

We can speak in terms of ownership. The mother owns her womb; that is, it belongs to her. Does the life inside the womb own itself; does that life-form (fetus) belong to itself?

A second way is to say that a mother has the right to her womb, it being her property. Does the life on her property have a right to live there until born?

The third way is to use Non-Aggression Principle language. Is the fetus (or life-form) in the womb aggressing against the womb’s owner? Does the womb’s owner aggress against the fetus by expelling it by abortion?

Using libertarian principles, I know of no way to decide the rights-bearing status of a fetus as compared with the status of the woman bearing that fetus.

But I do.  I have answered all of these questions here, all from a libertarian perspective, utilizing contract theory as applied to property and landlord / tenant relationships.  I am afraid to summarize my answers, as any shortcuts only open up the risk to increasing misunderstanding.  But to make a long story short: using libertarian principles, the unborn child has the right to occupy the womb until natural birth.  (If you want to argue with me about this, please demonstrate that you have actually read the subject post.)

Rozeff returns to his new concept, the nascent-human:

If the fetus is human and not nascent-human, then its right to life is unimpaired by being in the womb. Under consensual methods of conception, the mother has no right to abort. Her ownership of her womb doesn’t give her a right to abort. The fetus is innocent. It is not a trespasser.

As the question of being human remains unanswered I think there is only one possible choice from a libertarian perspective:  the mother has no right to abort at any point after conception.

Rozeff offers a very confusing – even troubling – comment:

The demand for abortion from women takes into account many factors not contemplated in an analysis of rights, as women pursue what’s best for them according to their own value-scales.

Can one not say the same thing about anyone who chooses aggression of any form? 


Rozeff raises the point of rape:

Under non-consensual origins like rape, then the mother’s right to abort takes precedence.

I have, for the most part, stayed away from dealing with this specific aspect when it comes to abortion.  If libertarians cannot generally agree to the issue of responsibility and aggression when it comes to consensual intercourse, there is no point to try to attack this much more complicated issue. 

Of course the mother is innocent in such a case; it is also true that the unborn child is innocent.  The issues raised by this reality are far too complex and perhaps almost impossible to address in any manner that I can express.