Monday, April 30, 2018

Integrating Classical Natural Law and Libertarian Theory

From an earlier comment by A Texas Libertarian, one to which I have previously referred:

Maybe we need someone to bridge the gap between politics and culture, to define praxeologically what culture is required to support liberty.

A project for which I am overwhelmingly underqualified, yet – as if a gift from God – I am finding what might be some items well-applicable to this suggestion. 

Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann and Stephan Kinsella.

The essay is entitled “Classical Natural Law and Libertarian Theory,” by Carlo Lottieri.  I will admit: I do not fully grasp all of the concepts of which Lottieri writes, but, perhaps, somewhere in the intersection of my writing and your further feedback, I can make progress on this topic.

Writing of Rothbard:

But unfortunately, he does not really grasp the function of the evolution into classic natural law. …Rothbard seems to minimize the contextual and non-theoretical dimension of a large part of legal controversies and especially of positive law.

Lottieri uses the term “positive law” in a manner that is not completely clear to me – perhaps (though I am not certain) in a manner different than it is typically understood.  As best as I can make of this: the non-aggression principle offers us a negative law; moving from this negative law to a functioning, free society requires something more: tradition.  This “something more” might be what Lottieri considers “positive law.”

He hints at this confused meaning of the term “positive law,” when he writes (emphasis added): “… [Bruno] Leoni tried a sort of reconciliation of natural law and legal realism (positive law rightly understood)…”

As if addressing the task suggested by ATL:

Using the Thomist framework, in this essay I will emphasize the importance of the lex naturalis, at the same time highlighting a lex humana deeply rooted in the complexity of different ages and societies, related to the subjectivity and specificity of opinions which cannot be fruitfully examined by a praxeological approach. Many problems, and even some inconsistencies of Rothbardian theory are a consequence of it.

Buried in here, it seems, is my struggle.  To achieve a libertarian society (or a society approaching libertarianism), is something beyond the NAP required – specifically some culture, tradition…a “nationality principle,” as Salerno offers from Mises?

Perhaps the issue raised by ATL is not addressable praxeologically, as Lottieri suggests.  Perhaps it takes a different approach.  Lottieri will address this point shortly.

Referring to Carl Menger’s Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences, Lottieri offers:

Menger also highlights the individualistic content of evolutionary law with the goal of helping the classical liberal tradition to rediscover its lost roots: “law, like language, is (at least originally) not the product in general of an activity of public authorities aimed at producing it, nor in particular is it the product of positive legislation. It is, instead, the unintended result of a higher wisdom, of the historical development of the nations.” (Emphasis added.)

As I have suggested often, you may take “a higher wisdom” to mean God, or you may take “historical development of the nations” to mean culture and tradition.  Either is OK with me, and neither is the same thing as “positive legislation” produced by “public authorities.”

It is exactly in this sense that we can understand Leoni’s preference for evolutionary law (Anglo-Saxon law and Roman jus civile): a law not oriented to preserve tradition or spontaneous order per se. On the contrary, Leoni thinks that a polycentric and evolutionary order is in a better position to safeguard individual rights.

Why is this?

Rules that emerge from the interpersonal exchange of claims are tools that can effectively protect society from the rulers.

A wonderfully succinct statement of the value of culture and tradition.  Absent a generally accepted culture and tradition, all we are left with is the rulers dictating and enforcing the rules.  Absent other, reasonably voluntary, institutions and governance structures, we are left with one: the all-powerful state.

Now…if such cannot be demonstrated solely praxeologically, what approach does Lottieri suggest?

In Mises’s thought, there is a notion that is extremely useful in helping us grasp the relationship between theory and practice in the law. In fact, in Theory and History, he opposes praxeology to thymology, which is in close relationship with history.


Thymology is a branch of history and “derives its knowledge from historical experience.”

When ATL challenged this mosquito to tackle this issue praxeologically, I suggested my extreme lack of qualifications – without any real evidence on this point.  Now…if Mises says it is not so easy, well…that’s pretty good evidence.

Continuing with Mises:

This “literary psychology” is the condition of a rational behavior: “for lack of any better tool, we must take recourse to thymology if we want to anticipate other people’s future attitudes and actions.”

Leoni does suggest a praxeological dimension to this, for the most theoretical part, “coinciding with the analysis of the individual claims and their interactions.”   But there is also the thymological dimension, “depending on experience, common opinions and traditions.”

His idea is that positive law has a strong relationship with customs. As practical activity, law must reduce uncertainty…. Our behavior is led very often by the rationality of our past experiences and by our prejudices.

Lottieri integrates Aristotle and Aquinas in his analysis.  From Aristotle, there is a law of nature – law that is just by nature.  Citing Aquinas:

…“custom has the force of law, abolishes law, and is the interpreter of law.” [Aquinas] accepts customary law because it has the approval of individuals: “because, by the very fact that they tolerate it, they seem to approve of that which is introduced by custom.”

And therefore, the role and necessity of custom and tradition if one is to find some form of libertarian society:

For all these reasons, the Thomist distinction between natural law and human law is fundamental, especially if by lex humana we do not conceive of the state law, but our ever-imperfect translation, into norms, of our aspiration to live in a just society.

Because the choice is one or the other: state law or (naturally evolving) custom and tradition.

As Paul Sigmund correctly remarked, “human law is the application to specific circumstances of the precepts of reason contained in the natural law.”

There is reason in tradition.

This mediation is always unsatisfying, but at the same time necessary.

There is much in this concept and presentation that might be unsatisfying, especially for those who believe that all social interactions can be resolved via ever-increasing purification of the NAP applied.  But, humans being…human…we might accept that perfection in neither theory nor law is possible. 

Leoni perceives the importance of the positive law, also in a libertarian and anti-statist perspective.

…the intellectual heritage of Leoni can be useful in the attempt to develop a libertarian legal theory aiming to protect the dignity and freedom of the individual.


In spite of his positivism, Leoni can help us grasp the true nature of classical natural law, because he does not prospect for a “libertarian code” like the one envisioned by Rothbard, somewhat conceived on the model of the state legal systems. On the contrary, Freedom and the Law can be the starting-point for a more “classical” understanding of libertarian natural law actually rooted in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition.

A more “classical” understanding might be helpful; an “understanding” of the necessity of a generally accepted culture and tradition is mandatory, I believe, if we are to find liberty.

Thomist rationalism moves from the awareness of reason’s limits…. Rothbard himself is not far from this when he points out that a rational approach needs an understanding of the structural imperfection of our minds….

Which might suggest some humility when considering the “reason” to be found in the countless generations that passed before us.

But this observation has to have significant consequences for legal theory.

Perhaps one of the “significant consequences” being an identification of the substance that gives meaning and certainty in the gaps found when one considers application, in isolation, of the non-aggression principle.

And the realization that there must be, in fact, just such a “substance.”

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Errors of Classical Liberalism

Hey, those aren’t my words…

Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann and Stephan Kinsella.

Jesús Huerta de Soto has offered his contribution, with a piece entitled “Classical Liberalism versus Anarcho-Capitalism.”  In it, he captures one aspect of the error in classical liberalism very well and hints at – but doesn’t drive home – other, perhaps more important, considerations.

In this first decade of the twenty-first century, liberal thought, in both its theoretical and political aspects, has reached a historic crossroads.

Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall, de Soto offers that freedom lovers find themselves more demoralized than ever, as statism continues to expand.

This revision must begin with an acknowledgement that classical liberals have failed in their attempt to limit the power of the state and that today economic science is in a position to explain why this failure was inevitable.

It is suggested that classical liberals made a fatal error by believing that their limited state would remain limited; de Soto offers that such a concept is “theoretically impossible.”  In this I agree.

It is time to thoroughly revise liberal doctrine and bring it up to date in light of the latest advances in economic science and the experience the latest historical events have provided.

Economic science, yes; latest historical events, yes.  But something is missing.

From economic science, de Soto offers the Austrian conception of the “spontaneous order entrepreneurship.”  Recent history has demonstrated the ability of entrepreneurs to resolve issues that today are deemed “public goods,” for example, lighthouses and defining and defending property rights in the early American West.

De Soto continues, making a good case in arguing the impossibility of a limited state; the arguments will be well-known (whether you agree or not) to anyone reasonably well-versed in the non-aggression principle and the human nature that is drawn to ruling over others.

And it is here where de Soto hints at an additional error – and in my opinion a more significant error:

Not even the most respectable churches and religious denominations have reached an accurate diagnosis of the problem: that today statolatry poses the main threat to free, moral, and responsible human beings; that the state is an enormously powerful false idol which is worshipped by all and which will not countenance anyone’s freeing himself from its control nor having moral or religious loyalties outside its own sphere of dominance.

I say “hints at,” because while de Soto mentions it, he spends precious few words on the matter.  Classical liberalism – and its offspring, libertarianism – requires a moral and responsible people to be maintained, just as to maintain capitalism also requires a moral and responsible people.  Yet classical liberalism – and libertarianism – has deemphasized (and portions of this community have purged), the concepts of moral and responsible.

De Soto offers an interesting footnote, offering, perhaps, one reason of many why Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) suddenly “voluntarily” stepped down.  Citing from Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth”:

The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for the reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes. Soloviev attributes to the Antichrist a book entitled The Open Way to World Peace and Welfare. This book becomes something of a new Bible, whose real message is the worship of well-being and rational planning.

I say it this way: replacing God’s reason (or the reason of countless generations to be found in culture and tradition, if you prefer) with man’s reason of today, man’s reason of the moment.

But here again, de Soto merely hints at another error of classical liberalism – certainly as it (and libertarianism) has evolved and developed over the decades.  Classical liberalism (and libertarianism) has deemphasized (and portions of this community have purged) the value of tradition, culture, and social norms in maintaining a relatively free social order.


Nothing more than…I am glad to find that I am not the only one making the point about shortcomings in classical liberalism; I guess I am in pretty good company.  Like de Soto, I do this not to destroy liberty but to enhance it; not to degrade the hope behind the philosophy, but to improve the possibility of success.

I don’t believe it is enough to say that the shortcoming is economic, or that the shortcoming is in the naiveté of believing that a minimal state can be contained.  The shortcomings are certainly here, but there is more.

Liberty requires a moral and responsible people if it is to be achieved and sustained; liberty requires general acceptance of a common cultural tradition.  It is an error when classical liberals and libertarians deemphasize and even eliminate these concepts when considering the possibility of liberty.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Necessary War

Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann and Stephan Kinsella.

If this perspective of the Civil War as the “modern State coming to America” is correct, then the war was not unnecessary, as Thomas DiLorenzo suggests, because the minimalist and decentralized Republic of the Founders needed to be replaced by the “rationality” of the modern State, and the war was the means to that end.

So writes Luigi Marco Bassani in his contribution to this tribute to Hans Hoppe.  This essay is to be found in Part Two, entitled “Crossroads of Thought.”  I do not intend on entering some sort of debate between DiLorenzo and Bassani; instead, I offer Bassani’s views as an alternative – and interesting – look at the purpose of the Civil War (and I will use this term for convenience).

Lincoln’s war is viewed by some as “the final nail in the coffin of the American experiment in self-government.”  Bassani recognizes this view, yet asks: was this an unintended consequence or was this, in fact, the intended purpose all along?

Bassani offers the by now well-known statement by Lincoln:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.

It is the form of the Union that Bassani addresses.  Lincoln was not merely one in a line extending from Alexander Hamilton to Danial Webster to Henry Clay:

But with the idea of the Union as an end in itself, Lincoln discovered the Trojan horse for bringing the European categories of the modern State into America.

This was Lincoln’s purpose, and it would mark the end of the idea of safeguards of the individual against the government.

Writing to Albert Hodges in April 1864, Lincoln offers two critical points: first, he views the constitution as organic law; second can best be offered by a direct quote from the letter:

Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution?

By organic law, Bassani notes that Lincoln draws “an unambiguous parallel between a human and collective body.”

In a few sentences one can find all the elements of the modern State theory of European origin, articulated by a man who may never have heard of Machiavelli, Bodin, Hobbes, but was nonetheless singing to their tune. In Lincoln’s mind, the Constitution is in fact an organic law as it is meant to protect and give form to an organic society by creating an organic State.

And given this organic society, if the “nation” was lost, there was no “constitution” – hence, Lincoln justified every violation of the constitution when prosecuting the war.  The idea of the nation had to be made organic in order to make state perpetual.

The emergence of the modern State in Europe went hand in hand with the change in the political lexicon that took place from the 1500s. The State had to be construed by jurists as an artificial person that transcended the person of the princely ruler and, ultimately, his very dynasty, guaranteeing its perpetuation.

What took Europe 300 years to accomplish was resolved in America in a few short decades:

America experienced in a few years, roughly between 1832 and 1865, a telescoped replica of what happened to Europe from 1525 to 1815.

What was this transformation?

In Europe it was the sovereign—first the King and then the assembly—who promised to free all individuals from the tyrannical as well as outmoded loyalties that were the core of liberty in the Middle Ages: church, city, corporation, family and the like. The individual had to be liberated of all previous social ties in order to become a good and free citizen.

Free the individual of all other ties and he can then become an easy mark for the title of “good citizen.”

When confronted with all these threads—Union, Nation, organic metaphors, civil religion—all leading to one single goal, the renewal of the American political community in the shape of a modern State, the historian of ideas faces one big question: “Where was it coming from?”

Bassani offers Francis Lieber as perhaps the inspiration for Lincoln’s awakening.  Lieber migrated to America in 1827, published three books on political ethics, legal and political hermeneutics, and civil liberty and self-government.  With these, he put the knife to any idea of natural law.

Alan Grimes places Lieber at the transition between “the constitutional and legal approach to an understanding of the nature of the American Union, and the rise of the organic concept of the nation.”


In the words of Karl Marx, the Civil War was a “world-transforming . . . revolutionary movement.”

As to Lincoln’s purpose – yes, to save the Union, but not as the Union was considered at the founding:

Lincoln’s primary object was, in fact, to eradicate the eighteenth century opposition between the individual and the State, depriving of any meaning a Constitution that was constructed on such a dichotomy.

Whether Lincoln’s intention or not, it cannot be denied that this was achieved.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Impractical Ethical Ideas


From Rothbard:

The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith.

For background, see here and here.  The discussion regards classical liberalism / libertarianism: is the “ethical ideal” sufficient to “work” in practice.

So, working from Rothbard: I will not accept a separation between theory and practice; if an ethical theory cannot work in practice, it is a poor theory that should be discarded…

…well, I won’t be as unkind as Rothbard.  Maybe the ethical theory just needs some modification.

Some Definitions

Ethics: A set of principles of right conduct.  A theory or a system of moral values.

What is the definition of an ethical theory? Answered by Kevin Browne, 20 years of teaching experience in ethics and moral philosophy:

Ethics can be understood as the method for justifying these [moral] beliefs [of right and wrong] and the set of rules which guide us in applying them.

We can think of ethical theory as a decision model. The critical element in morality is the need to make decisions regarding fairly difficult issues. What we need is a well reasoned method for taking the facts and making the best decision we can in terms of our moral principles. This often involves the process of judgment.

Judgment?  On what basis are we to judge the facts and come to a just conclusion?  Browne makes a noteworthy statement not in reply to this question, although he does answer it:

Ethics and Morality: These two terms are often thought of and used synonymously. This is not entirely correct but there are similarities inasmuch as both words have their origin in common. One is the Greek and the other is the Latin word for “custom.”

Is this so?  Ethics and morality both are rooted in the word “custom”?

Ethics: The term ethics derives from Ancient Greek ἠθικός (ethikos), from ἦθος (ethos), meaning 'habit, custom'.


Morality: (from Latin: mōrālis, lit. 'manner, character, proper behavior') is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper.

This doesn’t clarify enough.  Let’s look up the Latin:

Mōrālis: From mos ‎(“manner, custom, way; law”‎). First used by Cicero, to translate Ancient Greek ἠθικός ‎(ēthikós, “moral”‎).

So, returning to Rothbard: for libertarianism to be considered an “ethical ideal,” it seems to me one must discuss something about the custom behind the ethic.  Further, perhaps this “custom” must be incorporated into the ethical ideal.

But Isn’t the NAP Enough “Custom”?

I have heard it said: as long as someone accepts the NAP, I really don’t care about their other customary and traditional practices.  But is this sufficient? 

Consider the debates even between well-meaning libertarians: immigration and abortion come to mind.  Each side believes it is properly applying the non-aggression principle to the issue.

Or consider any “continuum” problem.  What is the proper punishment for a crime?  How much land must be mixed with labor before one can claim to “own” the land? 

How would such things get worked out if all that the participants shared was the non-aggression principle?  No other means by which to come to an answer?

The answer is, they wouldn’t get worked out – at least not peacefully.

Or what about my favorite?  The front-yard sex-orgy guy moves into a community of church-going families.  Sure, they all accept the NAP, but maybe they “accept” some things even more.

Perhaps we need something more than “don’t hit first” if we desire the theoretical ethical ideal of libertarianism to find its way into practice.  Perhaps we need to find the proper custom.

My view?  I will not belabor it here as you all have heard it a few hundred times already: the old and good law – custom, tradition.  It is what people grow up with, what they are trained with, what they understand about how things work around here.  Mixed with Christian ethics, it gave the west the longest sustained libertarian-approaching society during the Middle Ages.

And…and…and…such a thing didn’t spring forward in any other society influenced by any other tradition.  Certainly not for any sustained period of time.

The thing is, others have touched on this before I have – bigger names.  Hans Hoppe need not even be mentioned – his shadow looms large over this topic.  But also Mises, as offered by Joe Salerno:

For Mises, liberalism first emerged and expressed itself in the nineteenth century as a political movement in the form of “peaceful nationalism.” Its two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked.

Liberalism (the forerunner to libertarianism) cannot be separated from the nationality principle (which I think Mises linked specifically to language – and, if so, I think he didn’t go far enough).

Rothbard took this idea further:

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. Every person is born into one of several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. . . .

And these “specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions” fill in the blank spaces where the non-aggression principle cannot reach – because the non-aggression principle is not designed to reach these; it doesn’t have answers to many questions of “judgment.”

So, perhaps if we want to bring forward this ethical ideal of non-aggression into practice, perhaps we should take up the task of giving it the capability to do so.


From A Texas Libertarian:

Maybe we need someone to bridge the gap between politics and culture, to define praxeologically what culture is required to support liberty. Hoppe has already blazed a trail in this regard as well (ever the bridge builder), but I think there is further to go in placing the perfect libertarian theory securely onto the imperfect foundation of reality below.

Maybe it won't be a giant of liberty like Hoppe who does this. Maybe it will be lowly mosquitoes like us.

I guess this means you, ATL.  This idea overwhelms me.  Hoppe spent his entire career in training for this.  I already have a day job, and my education couldn’t have prepared me less for such a task.  To give some idea of how overwhelmed I feel regarding this, in my lifetime I will not understand this topic even to the point where Hoppe has already brought the discussion.

But yes, maybe someone needs to do this.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Mindful of Gratitude

Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann and Stephan Kinsella.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is one of the most important scholars of our time.

So write the editors of this volume in the introduction.  Regular readers here know that I wholeheartedly agree.

The book is a collection of essays written in honor of, in tribute to, and in the spirit of Hoppe.  The book is divided into five parts, with a total of thirty five essays.  I will not examine each essay, instead just touching on some, going into depth on others…perhaps skipping a few.

Grato Animo Beneficiique Memores

This section includes essays of gratitude.  A few key highlights, to which I will add little comment as about all I could do is wholeheartedly agree:

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.:

There aren’t that many thinkers who have this kind of effect. Mises was one. Rothbard was another. Hoppe certainly fits in that line.

Often times when you first hear a point he makes, you resist it….He argued that [the US Constitution] represented a vast increase in government power and that this was its true purpose. It created a powerful central government, with the cover of liberty as an excuse. He used it as a case in point, and went further to argue that all constitutions are of the same type.  When he finished, you could hear a pin drop.

I’m speaking for multitudes when I say that he helped me understand democracy as a form of nationalization of the citizenry.

Sean Gabb:

Let us consider his work on immigration.

What Professor Hoppe does is to ignore the polarity of the debate as it has been set up. Those who want an anarchist order have so far had to accept the legitimacy of mass immigration. Those who have been worried about mass immigration have had to accept the need of a state to control the border. Professor Hoppe walks straight through this debate.

Hoppe offers private property and covenant – fully libertarian – and in which case there would exist no such thing as free immigration; every property owner or community would decide requirements for entrance.  Borders would be managed in a libertarian society – “open” only to the extent that the owners approve.

He regards the mass immigration of the past half-century into western countries as an instance, not of libertarian open borders, but of “forced integration.”

Paul Gottfried:

Recognizing the area of consensus for libertarians (and the leading role played by Hoppe in this) – that of coming down against the state, Gottfried offers:

But beyond this area of consensus, there is an obvious gulf between left- and right-libertarians. This area of disagreement can be seen in a wide range of cultural, social, and historical issues, and the dividing line among self-described libertarians may be even more important than the consensus duly noted above.

Yuri N. Maltsev:

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is the most ardent advocate of liberty in our time.

Regarding his essay “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” Maltsev offers:

His twenty-two page contribution is the most devastating critique of the Marxist belief system ever written.

He was also the first to systematically demonstrate that democracy inevitably leads to the growth of socialism and the omnipotence of big government.

Jeffrey Barr:

My advisor counseled against taking Professor Hoppe, stating, “Many students find him to be…unorthodox.”

After knowing Professor Hoppe for nearly twenty years, I confess that I remain in awe of his brilliance so much so that I still feel a bit awkward addressing him as anything but “Professor Hoppe.”

Lee Iglody:

… Rothbard was always willing to entertain even the most foolish questions with his characteristic cackle and an explanation of the way things are. Professor Hoppe, on the other hand, had a much more methodological, Teutonic way of dealing with stupid inquiries, a form of Socratic dialogue with a lot of “ja, so” thrown in to punctuate the conversation. (“Government provides goods that the market cannot produce? Ja, so what do you mean by ‘goods’?”)

Ludwig von Mises is said to have regretted, not the times he stood fast, but the times he compromised. By this standard, Professor Hoppe will have but few regrets.

I salute you, Hans.


As do I.

Monday, April 16, 2018


Russell begins his specific examination of the acceptance of Christianity by the Germanic people, the first covering the period 376 – 678.  This covers the period from the Germanic entrance into the Roman Empire until the Anglo-Saxon mission by Bishop Wilfrid of York to Frisia.

When speaking of Christianity in this context, there are two prominent theologies: Germanic Arianism and Frankish Catholicism.  Seeking refuge from the Huns, the Visigoths negotiated with Valens, the Arian Christian emperor of the Eastern Empire: Arianism was adopted in exchange for asylum.

In Christianity, Arianism is a monotheistic Christological doctrine which asserts the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was begotten by God the Father at a point in time, is distinct from the Father and is therefore subordinate to the Father….The Arian concept of Christ is based on the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten by God the Father.

Several characteristics can be noted from this first encounter, characteristics that would repeat for even centuries into the future: political leaders vouched for their subjects regarding Christianization; Christianity was associated with Roman culture and the Roman polity; there was little or no religious instruction prior to baptism. 

 By the middle of the sixth century, several tribes – to include the Bavarians, Thuringians and Lombards – accepted the Arian form of Christianity; others – including the Franks, Alamanni and Saxons – remained unaffected.

Yet Valens suffered defeat and death in the battle of Adrianople; with him, Arianism was on the wane in the empire.  The Arian heresy suffered condemnation in the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Why did the leaders of most of the Germanic peoples accept the Arian form of Christianity, just as this heresy was in the process of being extirpated throughout the Roman Empire?

Some believe it is due to the Arian belief that the Son is subordinate to the Father – a characteristic easily understood and accepted by a hierarchical culture.  Others believe that Arianism spread because it wasn’t Roman – in this manner, less of a possibility that the Germanic tribes would be absorbed into the Universal Church – and therefore into the empire.

It was Clovis, ascending to the throne in 481 as the king of the Franks, who was recruited by the Roman Catholic Church to be their champion; Clovis saw that through the Roman Church he could find a means to consolidate an empire.  The Franks were, perhaps, more predisposed to become affiliated with Roman Christianity as their relationship with the Roman Empire was more gradual and less antagonistic than it was for the Visigoths.

…the overall relationship between the Franks and the Romans in the century preceding the baptism of Clovis in 496 was one of relative harmony. …it may be argued that the Franks perceived their greatest potential military threat as coming from the neighboring Germanic peoples rather than from the Romans.

Aside from baptism, Clovis was almost certainly not a Christian in any meaningful sense; yet his baptism committed the Merovingians to the Church.  Paganism was tolerated throughout.  After Clovis died, the process of Christianization stalled for almost 80 years, until the arrival in Gaul of the Irish monk Columbanus, in about 590.

During this period, little more was enforced beyond the sanctification of Sundays and holy days.  However, two important developments did occur:

…the Eigenkirchensystem, or “proprietary church system,” and the Eigenklostersystem, or “proprietary monastery system.

Privately developed and maintained churches and monasteries.  In such a system, the feudal lord held proprietary rights, most importantly the right to nominate the ecclesiastic personnel.  Through this, Columbanus succeeded in establishing a series of monasteries on the property of northern Frankish aristocrats – all the leading families had one or more of their members attracted to this new monasticism.

Still, this does not imply nor suggest that something approaching Christianity as it was understood in Rome was taking form.  The Merovingian kings did little to impose doctrinal orthodoxy; instead they were more concerned with “orthopraxy,” adhering to the cultic and ritual observances of Christianity.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Struggle Continues

In reply to my piece, My Struggle With Liberalism, C. Jay Engel has offered his thoughts: Liberalism Round Two: Bionic Mosquito Edition.  I will focus my comments on two points: the first, perhaps pointing to the crux of my struggle; the second, an avenue of analysis proposed by Engel.

The Crux of My Struggle

When engaged in any type of dialogue, I always face the decision: do I just focus on the one or two key points or do I take the time to work through many of the interesting additional issues raised?  I did the latter in my first post.  In this post I will solely focus on the key point.  Citing Joe Salerno (from my earlier post), who is summarizing his view of Mises’ liberalism:

For Mises, liberalism first emerged and expressed itself in the nineteenth century as a political movement in the form of “peaceful nationalism.” Its two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked.

The crux of my struggle is this: can the term “classical liberalism,” or even its more purified successor “libertarianism,” be defined (or ever realized) without the concept of a “nationality principle.”?

To focus on the term “libertarianism”: it is defined simply and elegantly via the non-aggression principle.  But is this definition in error, or more precisely, incomplete?  Again, from Salerno, citing 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. Every person is born into one of several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. . . .

Rothbard is not including the requirement of a “nationality principle” in the definition of libertarianism, yet his admonition must mean something; he makes it for some purpose.  Why would he advise contemporary libertarians on this issue unless it mattered to the benefit of libertarianism?

Engel, citing me from my previous post:

I am all for liberalism and libertarianism. I just don’t think it can be separated from the other stuff – common traditions, customs, and norms. In fact, the two are “indissolubly linked.”

Engel replies:

Three points: one, this is all true and agreeable; two, liberalism and libertarianism do not, by the very boundaries of their intended scopes, deny this; three: completely disconnecting the political theory from the sociology, as if they can’t work in unison, is actually a tool of the critics of libertarianism.

But this comes to my point: I know this is “true and agreeable”; I know these are not “denied” by the boundaries of liberalism and libertarianism; and I know that “disconnecting the political theory from the sociology” is not just a tool of libertarianism’s critics (and, needless to say, many of its supporters), but is also just stupid.

My point, to state again: this, perhaps, is the crux of my struggle.  Can the term “classical liberalism,” or even its more purified successor “libertarianism,” be defined (or ever realized) without the concept of a “nationality principle.”?  I am not struggling with a “nice to have.”  I am struggling with this connection as a requirement.

Or to restate it: is the definition of libertarianism complete – and is its application impossible – without that which it (or certainly its philosophical predecessor) is “indissolubly linked,” a “nationality principle”?

I have struggled with such a question for quite some time.

 An Avenue of Analysis Proposed by Engel

I very much look forward to Engel’s treatment of the following; first, citing from his previous essay:

Nonetheless, classical liberalism was a positive influence in the world and many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon, as was done by people like Mises and Rothbard.

And in response, Engel offers (and forgive the lengthy cite):

But was it? I am still working toward a solid, firm, and systematic answer. Such an answer lies in bringing together Murray Rothbard’s narrative of classical liberalism setting the world free from the ancien regime and Hoppe’s narrative of classical liberalism being a revolt against private law societies. I am certain that I will have an entire essay on this soon enough.

For now, I think that a helpful way to approach the problem is as follows: the classical liberal theorists worked in opposition to their own 18th and 19th century status quo; and the medieval private law societies (which are praised by Hoppe, BM, and myself as approaching a rough sketch of how such a society could and should be organized) developed their own frameworks in a more organic way. Classical Liberalism brought back intellectually what was done more intuitively centuries before.

I look forward to this.  Engel continues:

The solution therefore is to combine the intellectual contributions of the classical liberals (or the more pure libertarians) with the intuitive and organic model of the medievalists. Intellectualism without a cultural root to sustain results in, well, look around. A corruption of the principles, a revolt against freedom, and a cultural rot that skips along the road to tyranny.

This opens up one of my other struggles (for another day, perhaps – or maybe to be addressed in Engel’s forthcoming essay): I don’t think it is “intellectual contributions” (in the context used) that will make this possible.  The model of the medievalists combined a unique ethical code with a worldview brought forth by Christianity.  The answer may lie here, and not in the minds of the classical liberal intellectuals.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Struggle With Liberalism*

*meaning “classical liberalism,” as the term is commonly understood

As you know, there has been an ongoing discussion here regarding the issues of the role liberalism has played in creating the destructive society within which the west currently lives.  The battle lines are simple enough: classical liberalism has offered perhaps what is best about the west and also what is worst.

As you also know, this battle plays out not just in the community but within me.  I find the medieval law, based on old and good custom and tradition, to come closest to what could be considered libertarian law today – and not just closest, but longest lasting.  I also find tremendous value in the worth of the individual as an individual that is at the heart of liberalism.  Oh yeah, and I like the free market and private property stuff.

Yet liberalism was born from the fruits of the rejection of this medieval law, this custom, this tradition.  Instead of law discovered in old and good custom we have law created by man’s reason with nary a thought given to the reason that is inherent in the hundreds and thousands of years of man’s law, custom, and tradition.  And this transformation in the source of law hasn’t worked out so well.

But to the extent that the concept of “freedom” includes the material blessings enjoyed in the west – and I do not mean the frivolities, but reliable food, clothing, shelter, transportation, etc. – well, the west is quite free, both compared to much of the world today and compared to the west ever in history.  Yet, classical liberals complain – rightly so – about our lack of freedom.  So…freedom cannot be limited to – or even greatly satisfied by – such material comforts.

So why all of this rambling today?  C. Jay Engel has written a piece, “Liberalism and Loneliness?  It is a critique of a critique of liberalism.  Through this piece, perhaps I can move an inch or two closer to clarity, closer to resolving this battle within me and the discussion within this community.

As a quick aside, I believe that classical liberalism had its own shortcomings, among which include that it was not as consistent as it should have been (but the later libertarianism that succeeded it purified it)…

I agree with the “classical liberalism had its own shortcomings” part; I am not so sure about the power of libertarianism to purify.  That is expecting quite a bit from a political philosophy that can too easily free itself of the constraints of normative customs and traditions.

Nonetheless, classical liberalism was a positive influence in the world and many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon, as was done by people like Mises and Rothbard.

As noted, I find much positive and some negative in this philosophy; I do agree that many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon.  Perhaps more important, some of its doctrines should be examined in order to understand how the liberty promised by classical liberalism (and glimpsed, momentarily, in a few places for a few years in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) devolved into what can only be described as the tyranny to be found in the west today.

Engel will come later to cite something from Mises on this topic, as will I.  I think it is important to keep in mind what Mises meant by the idea of liberalism, and the context within which he took the term; I will expand on this shortly.

At its most basic, classical liberalism is merely the repudiation of aggression as a legitimate form of human interaction.

“At its most basic” this may be so.  But this is the problem – and it is compounded (not necessarily purified) by the libertarianism (as defined by many) that succeeded it: too many of us (and I include myself in this category, certainly in the past and even in my struggles today) see classical liberalism as nothing more than this “basic.”  We get rather upset if anyone points out that it is lacking in some earthly need.

Engel comes to the important point:

Any voluntary relationship that individuals have with other individuals, making up groups, businesses, clubs, gatherings, communities, and societies, these are mutually beneficial arrangements and therefore a partial fulfillment of the “want and need” of humans to interact with each other.

The point is…is this optional, as classical liberalism or the more pure libertarianism will suggest or demand, or is this necessary if one is to fully conform to liberalism as Mises saw it – even necessary if one is to make liberalism “work”?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Germanic Social Structure

The study of Germanic religiosity has always suffered from a paucity of reliable extant sources.

What were the Germanic social and religious traditions prior to and during the early centuries of contact with Christian missionaries?  In order to deal with this “paucity” of sources, studies of similar Indo-European societies are utilized:

…India, Persia, Greece, Rome and pre-Christian northern Europe…

Russell offers some boundaries: 

…the term “Germanic” refers not only to the Gothic, Frankish, Saxon, Burgundian, Alamannic, Suevic and Vandal peoples, but also to the Viking peoples of Scandinavia and the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain.  In addition, the term “religiosity” is often used when referring to the religious elements of Indo-European and particularly Germanic societies.

There are no available sources written by members of pre-Christian Germanic societies.  Archeological sources are used, as are written accounts by visitors to the Germanic regions – primarily Roman visitors.

One source dates from 53 B.C., and notes that “They have no Druids to control religious observances and are not much given to sacrifice.”  The beings recognized are things that they see – the sun, the moon, fire.

A second source is offered, from 98 A.D., noting that Mercury, Hercules and Mars are worshipped; human sacrifices are occasionally offered, animal sacrifices more so.  Their gods are not confined inside walls, and carry no human likeness.  Other sources point to devotion to “sacred trees, groves, springs, and stones, and an interest in prophecy and magic.”

There are two primary groups of German deities:

…the Aesir, comprising the gods of sovereignty and battle, Odin and Thor; and the Vanir, comprising the gods of sustenance and reproduction, Njord, Frey, and Freya.

Similar structures are found in other Indo-European societies – societies whose roots trace to either the steppes of the Urals or Anatolia (depending on whose theory you believe).

Russell relies on the work of Georges Dumézil:

…a French comparative philologist best known for his analysis of sovereignty and power in Proto-Indo-European religion and society. He is considered one of the major contributors to mythography, in particular for his formulation of the trifunctional hypothesis of social class in ancient societies.

Dumézil found a pattern in this structure that is common to other, non-Germanic, Indo-European societies and not found in non-Indo-European societies; this is described as “tripartition”:

…(1) chieftains and priests, constituting the “first function,” that of sovereign and supernatural authority, with a considerable degree of bipolar tension between these elements; (2) warriors, constituting the second function of physical force; and (3) farmers and herders, constituting the third and last function of fecundity.

It is not only this tripartition that is unique to Indo-European societies; the bipolar tension within the first group – between the chieftains and priests – was also unique.  Pairs of divinities, representing the two parts of this tension, are found in Vedic, German, and Roman tradition.

Further, the culture was patriarchal, with kindred as the foundation of its concentric structure: families, into clans, clans into tribes.  Inside the group was safe; outside was danger.  Inside, one enjoyed all of the freedoms of the group.

Most relevant to the subject at hand was the unique phenomenon of “a class of military specialists….”  Such as these organized themselves into a comitatus or Männerbund. There were specific themes regarding this class – transgressions against each of the three divisions within the society: regicide against the first, cowardice against the second, and adultery against the third.

Each of the warrior heroes, the Indic Indra, the Greek Heracles, and the Germanic Starkaŏr, is punished after each transgression by losing some degree of his power, until he finally dies.

The noble served his lord.  If he served him well, this brought material rewards and the opportunity to win glory; failure to live up to his oath brought shame.

The main “distinguishing characteristic of the comitatus,” which Clawsey finds lacking in classical and non-Western analogues, is “its reciprocity – more precisely, its being at once vertical and reciprocal,” that is, “only the comitatus combined both qualities and made the assumption that the leader in a vertical relationship had obligations as much as did the follower and that therefore a voluntary element existed on both sides.

It was this reciprocity that contributed to a high degree of group solidarity.