As you know, occasionally I write a rambling post – a post where I am just putting a bunch of things out there, trying to make some sense of my thoughts. Of course – to varying degrees – I guess all of my posts are like this. Let’s just say this one is at the far left tail of the bell curve – a bell curve with a very long left tail.
Let Me Take You Back to Where it All Began
- California Nights, Neal Morse, Testimony
I have been thinking about this post for a month. Even after a month, I really don’t know what to do with it. So let’s just start at the beginning. Walter Block wrote a blog post at LRC; the important part is to be found in the title: “Converting the Heathen to the One True Faith: Libertarianism…”
The details of the post are unimportant; the part I could not let go of is the “one true faith” part. Regular – and careful – readers will note that I have taken a shot at this idea two or three times in the last few weeks.
I have many reasons why I have poked at this phrase, reasons that I will explore by stumbling through this post. One of these reasons is all of the undefendable things that libertarianism defends. From the chapter titles of Walter Block’s book, Defending the Undefendable, we find the following defended by this theory regarding the appropriate use of aggression:
The Prostitute, The Pimp, The Male Chauvinist Pig, The Drug Pusher, The Drug Addict, The Blackmailer, The Slanderer and Libeler, The Denier of Academic Freedom, The Advertiser, The Person Who Yells “Fire!” in a Crowded Theater, The Gypsy Cab Driver, The Ticket, The Dishonest Cop, The (Nongovernment) Counterfeiter, The Miser, The Inheritor, The Moneylender, The Noncontributor to Charity, The Curmudgeon, The Slumlord, The Ghetto Merchant, The Speculator, The Importer, The Middleman, The Profiteer, The Stripminer, The Litterer, The Wastemakers, The Fat Capitalist-Pig Employer, The Scab, The Rate Buster, The Employer of Child Labor.
I have no doubt that Walter defends each of these with impeccable libertarian logic. Yet, I ask…Can one find “faith” in the future, any possibility of long-term adherence or success, in a society that adheres to these tenets?
I offer my thoughts on this question via the aforementioned Neal Morse:
I woke up in motel rooms under western skies
When I think of the things I did
On those party nights
It's only by the Grace of God that I'm still alive
I believe God's grace kept me alive
One can safely assume that “the things” Morse did involved regularly living several chapters of undefendable practices that are allowable under the NAP. Multiply this lifestyle by a few million people and imagine the liberty you will have as a result of those millions enjoying their liberty; imagine the long-term future – if not for you, for your children and grandchildren.
What is Faith?
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
If we leave it at this, I guess one can say that libertarianism is a faith; this does not automatically lead us to conclude that it is the one true faith.
The society I have found that has come closest to what one might describe as living under law that reasonably approaches law conforming to the non-aggression principle was the society of the European Middle Ages. It was a law that came not from man, but from custom and tradition; a law that was constantly refined to conform to the “old” and the “good”; it was a law that the king could enforce, but not create; it was a law that allowed any noble to veto the king’s decision, if the veto was based on the old and good law.
Most interesting: it was a law sworn to by oath, a three-party oath involving the two parties and God; it was a law that worked in a society grounded in the custom and tradition of the Church. If you prefer, you can say it was a law that worked in a society grounded in the custom and tradition of what worked well to support and sustain life; law that conformed to natural realities. Call that “good” law.
The Stages of Faith
What are the stages of faith?
James W. Fowler (1940–2015) proposes a series of stages of faith-development (or spiritual development) across the human life-span.
He offers six stages; for my purposes, I need only offer the first two:
Intuitive-Projective: a stage of confusion and of high impressionability through stories and rituals (pre-school period).
“A stage of confusion”: given the wide spread, and even contradictory demands, of what libertarian thinkers insist we must all accept if we are to be considered libertarian, libertarianism could still be considered as not yet advancing past this stage. But I will give the benefit of the doubt and move on:
Mythic-Literal: a stage where provided information is accepted in order to conform with social norms (school-going period).
Conforms with social norms? Go back and look at Block’s chapter titles. What do you suspect is the future of a society that conforms with those social norms? Alternatively, introduce the topic of human nature (social norms) – real humans, not proto-men – as necessary to consider when discussing application of the NAP and watch the reaction from the ivory-tower purists.
If libertarianism is the one true faith, it hasn’t yet advanced from this pre-adolescent, school-going period. This could be OK, given that Rothbard began writing on the topic only in the last several decades. Then again, classical liberalism has a couple of century’s worth of running start; man’s reason has had 500 years to do its work.
In any case, it seems premature to conclude this “one true faith” idea.
My recent post, An Adult Enters the Room, examined the views of Jesús Huerta de Soto on the topic of free immigration. In his essay, de Soto offered some steps that could be taken which would mimic libertarian conditions on this topic of borders and immigration, albeit in a world of state-controlled borders.
In the comments, paid shill December 27, 2017 at 4:07 PM introduced me to the term “keyhole solutions” as used by Bryan Caplan. Caplan, as much (or as little) as I have read of him, is a libertarian fan of open borders.
What is meant by “keyhole solutions,” and specifically in this context of open borders?
The term “keyhole solutions” is used for the radical idea of targeting specific problems through narrow, targeted solutions rather than trying to restrict or control unrelated activity. In the context of migration, they involve taxing or restricting specific problematic migrant activities rather than a blanket denial of migration.
For example: if the concern is that migrants immigrate in order to collect welfare benefits, don’t allow them access to such benefits; if the concern is that they immigrate in order to vote, deny them the vote for some specified period. Take each excuse away; this way “we” (the enlightened libertarians) don’t have to deal with all of the crazies who are against open borders.
From the aforementioned comment by paid shill:
So he takes out a page from the Gramsci-ite handbook and applies salami tactics. He offers "keyhole solutions"…which boil down to imposing a moral obligation of ex post facto damage control on the receiving society while declaring immigration restrictions a moral taboo.
Many of these policies are also completely unfeasible given the political climate in most Western countries but then again it's not about policies, it's about giving the natives peace of mind until a critical mass of foreigners arrive and make closing the borders politically impossible (under civilized circumstances at least).
What you see in this reddit AMA is him being the radical wolf wearing the guise of the moderate sheep, embracing a quite Straussian deceptiveness (which again is hallmark of open borderists).
This got me to thinking…and I replied, as follows:
As to keyhole solutions, thank you for the suggestion. I guess in some ways this is what de Soto has done in his piece and what I have suggested. The issue is this: what is the political feasibility of the solution? What are the chances that the rules won’t be changed part-way through the game? These are reasonable questions to ask when either he is or I am suggesting keyhole solutions. Maybe my solutions fail on this test….
Maybe mine do fail, but this isn’t the important part (at least for today); I continued:
Yet, as Caplan speaks in favor of egalitarianism and against discrimination, it gives me pause.
It is worth noting: in addition to egalitarian and against discrimination, Caplan also describes such policies as un-libertarian. I continued:
Property rights inherently are contrary to these concepts, and property rights are fundamental to libertarianism. It makes me wonder whose salami he is slicing – as you seem to be more familiar with him than I am, I will take your word for it.
I readily admit that I might not be considering the entirety of the population, but from my experience I have found far more “libertarians” in favor of ignoring full private property rights when these stand in the way of egalitarianism and support discrimination than I have found libertarians who place private property rights as the unshakable foundation of the principle.
So, “the one true faith” when expounded upon by many of its staunchest supporters (and seemingly the largest majority of supporters) holds a foundation that allows the libertine and ignores, when convenient, the foundation of property rights.
With such wide-ranging and even contradictory opinions, is libertarianism currently a house built on sand? A house that can be labelled “the one true faith”?
So What’s the Problem?
Is my criticism of libertarianism, or is it of “the one true faith” idea? I offer one more excerpt from my comments in the aforementioned discussion:
In the end, this might be a perfect example of why placing the non-aggression principle as the greatest good – the one true faith – is an ignorant idea: absent some underlying cultural, moral tradition, it is a road that can lead to very dark places. We have seen classical liberalism travel this very dark road already.
Clearly, my criticism is of the latter. I don’t expect the non-aggression principle to achieve that which it is not designed to achieve or capable of achieving. Why would any supporter of the principle place on it an impossible standard?
It is a principle that addresses the justified use of aggression, nothing more. So I do not criticize it for failing to deliver that which I do not expect it to deliver – that which, inherently, it is not designed to deliver.
Returning to this idea of “the one true faith”: I found this line: “Faith causes us to act on what we haven't experienced yet…”
The problem is that we have experienced it: we have experienced a period of extended, reasonably libertarian law in the Middle Ages – grounded in a society that valued tradition and culture. I think that last part is a rather important part of the story: law reflects the society; it isn’t the other way around.
Whatever value one finds in classical liberalism (and I find much to value) is quickly destroyed without this recognition: “Good” society, good law; “bad” society, [fill in the blank]. The European Middle Ages had a “good” tradition and culture; from this came good law – as close to libertarian law as I have found in western history.
We have also experienced the road where man’s reason alone (call it sola ratio) – starting with the Renaissance, through the Enlightenment and classical liberalism and to our present day – has led (see this most excellent post from Charles Burris).
It has led to the French Revolution, it has led to democracy, it has led to egalitarianism, it has led to discrimination being a dirty word, it has led to the bloodiest century and the bloodiest tyrants. It has led to law made by men in a value-free system where the worst get on top.
Somehow good law will come from such a system?
“Is bionic even a libertarian?”
That’s the wrong question. The question is: which is more likely to occur: a well-crafted theory of law in search of a society to adopt it or a tradition and culture that provides the foundation for good law to emerge?
I have read comments something like: a libertarian society would likely produce a more conservative culture, as radical or libertine behaviors would no longer be subsidized.
I am sympathetic to this view, but I never really felt settled about it. Can good law emerge from such a society? After working through this post, the answer seems to me no – it cannot. This is especially so when many of the top libertarian theorists reinforce the validity of either libertine and / or culture-destroying practices.
The non-aggression principle is a principle on which one can develop a well-crafted theory of law, albeit with much left open to interpretation and definition – interpretations and definitions many of which will only come from the society over which this law stands.
Yet, as well-crafted as it might be, it cannot emerge from a swamp. If it is “the one true faith,” it is sorely lacking its most critical necessities, perhaps the single most important pre-condition – a tradition and culture from which it can spring forth.
Good law does not come forward from a bad culture and tradition. So which one should be upheld as the one true faith?