Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Politics According to Althusius

Politics is the art of associating men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them.  Whence it is called “symbiotics.”  The subject matter of politics is therefore association, in which the symbiotes pledge themselves each to the other, by explicit or tacit agreement, to mutual communication of whatever is useful and necessary for the harmonious exercise of social life.

I have often referred to a peaceful society when thinking about a libertarian society.  Why is that?  While peace is certainly not the same as liberty, absent peace it is difficult to maintain liberty in any meaningful sense.  In the worst case, the absence of peace results in death, whether the death of one or the death of millions.  Certainly liberty for those who think of the next world, yet I am reminded of the saying: everyone wants to get to heaven; no one is in a hurry to get there.

But even in the best case, the absence of peace means the presence of conflict; the presence of conflict means people will call for someone to do something about it.  We know where this road leads, and in fact we know that the “someone” who has been called to do something about it will create demand for his services by increasing the supply of the absence of peace.

For this reason, the statement by Althusius seems reasonable to me also from a libertarian perspective.  But the statement and, in fact, the foundation of Althusius’ views, needs a little unpacking.  The first point to clarify is his view of the word “right.”  He will often use this word, yet we should not attribute to quickly the meaning “public right” or “unalienable human right.”

For example, one cannot read Althusius without running headlong into his reliance on the Decalogue, the necessity of training in the worship of God, and the duties that ought to be performed toward one’s neighbors – call it the Golden Rule.  In other words, Althusius is no anarchist and in some ways crosses the line of minarchism. 

The issue is: does he present a model for decentralized and reasonably voluntary governance?  In other words: we need not compare Althusius to utopia; perhaps we ought to compare him merely to our current lot.  Compared to his peers – who offered Leviathan and the unitary and unified sovereign – did Althusius offer a better path?

What does Althusius mean when he uses the word “communication”?  He considers it our common enterprise, involving things, services, and common rights.  It is our daily interaction, including our obligations toward each other that are useful toward achieving and maintain this “harmonious exercise of social life.”

From a libertarian viewpoint, the most difficult aspect to get past in Althusius work is his concept and necessity of a ruler.  There is no getting around this idea in his work; the only issue is: to what extent have I voluntarily agreed to his rule and in what ways might I seceded?  This must be considered in the context that the “I” in question is the voluntarily formed sub-groups (trades, guilds, colleges, etc.), which stand between the ruler and the individual. 

These intermediate groups, as I have noted elsewhere, are fundamentally necessary if one is to hope for the decrease in state power.  Atomistic individualism is not to find its way into Althusius’ view.  Writing of such social hermits, he asks:

For how can they promote the advantage of their neighbor unless they find their way into human society?  How can they perform works of love when they live outside human fellowship?  How can the church be built and the remaining duties of the first table of the Decalogue be performed?

In these questions you find Althusius’ worldview, the picture of his society: voluntarily formed with duties willingly assumed.  The square peg of “duties” also doesn’t fit neatly into the libertarian round hole. 

He bases this issue of duties on the recognition that God did not create all men with equal abilities – this necessitates the division of labor and obligates us to mutual service.  By doing so, “no one would consider another to be valueless.”  In such a manner, a “commonwealth” is formed.

Note: “value,” in this view, is not based on what somebody says or who (or what) somebody is.  Value is based on what somebody does.  A very liberating free-market idea, when considered in economics.  Likely the same when considered in politics and social life.

From what has been said, we further conclude that the efficient cause of political association is consent and agreement among the communicating citizens… The final cause of politics is the enjoyment of a comfortable, useful, and happy life, and a peaceful and quiet welfare…


And a warning:

But if all were truly equal, and each wished to rule others according to his own will, discord would easily arise, and by discord the dissolution of society.  There would be no standard of virtue or merit, and it follows that equality itself would be the greatest inequality.

We find in this statement the downfall of universalist utopians – whether communist or libertarian.  Without hierarchy in society – derived naturally, defined culturally – society dissolves.  The issue remains: how voluntary?  The more naturally derived the hierarchy, the easier it is for the resultant structures and institutions to be accepted by the broader commonwealth.

As all men do not have equal abilities, there will be naturally formed hierarchies – in family, community, guild, college, the church, and ultimately in the governance of the commonwealth.  This will be examined next, beginning with the family.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Open Borders

You have all seen the images: the million-man march coming through Mexico toward the border of the United States.  I suppose you have also seen the pictures of hundreds of individuals climbing the fence that separates Spanish Africa from Morocco (did you know there was a part of Spain in Africa?).

Is it peaceful immigration, people looking for a better life, escaping tyranny?  Is it an invasion?  Can it be both?  How would you decide?  Are these people looking to establish homes in the unoccupied vastness of the Rockies, the deserts, the Alps? 

Are these people armed or unarmed?  Are they acting on behalf of another state?  Are they being supported by a malevolent non-state actor?  Maybe a (so-called) “non-governmental organization”?  Does an invasion require tanks and helicopters to be classified as such?  Is it OK if it is a private, mercenary army and not a state military?

If these people were marching toward your home, would you allow them an open border?  If you were paying someone – voluntarily or not – to provide protection from invasion, would you expect them to allow these “visitors”?

Until individuals in the west have complete private property rights, any talk of open borders is naïve at best and tyrannical at worst.  Until individuals in the west have complete private property rights, someone other than you will be making decisions about who does and doesn’t cross borders.

Until there are no state borders, it will be the state that makes the decision on who crosses the borders.  In a world of state borders, every decision regarding immigration is a centrally-panned, state-enforced-at-the-end-of-the-barrel-of-a-gun decision; even a position of open borders.

Anyone who calls for open borders in a world of state borders wants you impotent in the face of the million-man march.  This they describe as “liberty.”  If you don’t think The Camp of the Saints paints the picture, take a look again at the pictures from Mexico and Spain.

Anyone who calls for open borders in a world of state borders might be mouthing the word “liberty”; just keep in mind: it isn’t your liberty that they are talking about.

Thursday, October 18, 2018


…call it interim, as I still plan to read, write and learn.  You might think of this as the closing chapter of a book that is still being written.  (You could consider this the opening chapter).

The most fruitful and meaningful topic that I have explored at this blog is that of the intersection of libertarianism and culture.  My first baby steps on this topic began with the recognition that the non-aggression principle couldn’t define or apply itself; it couldn’t objectively identify all of the practical applications to be drawn out from the theory; it wouldn’t be applied in every society in the same manner.

My next steps took me to working through the benefits of a common culture, which quickly led me to a specific culture, a culture and tradition where the concepts of the non-aggression principle were most broadly applied and for an extended period – the Christian Middle Ages.  Why was this so?  What was unique about this time and place?  What was it about the various institutions that created this environment of decentralized law and governance?

Finally, exploring where it went wrong: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and Progressivism.  Each played a role, perhaps.  But what was the role?  We see the benefits from such movements, but what of the cost?  What did this Age of Reason remove from the earlier medieval society that then also took away the underlying foundations that supported decentralized governance and libertarian law?

Of course, my steps didn’t follow in this precise sequence, but generally this describes the road.  And while I have touched on the topic of what this all means, perhaps now is a good time to summarize just that.

A Strategy for Liberty

Yes, I have stolen this from the title of chapter 15 of Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto.  Rothbard offers:

If, then, the libertarian must advocate the immediate attainment of liberty and abolition of statism, and if gradualism in theory is contradictory to this overriding end, what further strategic stance may a libertarian take in today’s world?  Must he necessarily confine himself to advocating immediate abolition?  Are “transitional demands,” steps toward liberty in practice, necessarily illegitimate? No…

How, then, can we know whether any halfway measure or transitional demand should be hailed as a step forward or condemned as an opportunistic betrayal?  There are two vitally important criteria for answering this crucial question: (1) that, whatever the transitional demands, the ultimate end of liberty be always held aloft as the desired goal; and (2) that no steps or means ever explicitly or implicitly contradict the ultimate goal.

While I have not read the book in some time, to my recollection (and a quick look at the chapter titles), what Rothbard had in focus was the political and economic: education, welfare, inflation, streets, police, courts, etc.  I suggest something else – you may consider it an alternative; I consider it complimentary, as I don’t preclude any path toward increased liberty and decreased state.


It was from Ryan McMaken where I first heard the phrase (and I may be paraphrasing his original words; if so, mine are better): libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice.  It was one of those phrases that I immediately recognized as succinctly capturing an idea that I was unable to put into words. 

Libertarianism in practice is nothing if not allowing each individual (though I would say family) to have ever-increasing choices about the politics and law that they might live under, the social fabric in which they choose to live (and the social fabric that acts as a source for and defense of the chosen politics and law). 

Libertarianism in practice is most definitely not one law and society for all of humanity – yet this seems to be in the sights of many libertarians.  Anyone who advocates this is both an immature utopian and an advocate (knowingly or unknowingly) of tyranny.  To believe that seven billion people around the world want to live within a system of politics, law, culture and tradition as derived by some pimply-faced kid in front of a keyboard in his mom’s basement is to call for a Stalin to rescue humanity from its sin.

Regarding decentralization, libertarians in the west have great news on this front: there are countless such movements throughout Europe and America pointing exactly in this direction.  The National Front in France, the Northern League in Italy, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and the UK Independence Party, the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, Brexit in Europe and, of course, Trump in the United States.  There are countless secessionist movements, Catalonia being one of the more well-known examples. 

There are many – and varied – reasons behind these movements, but perhaps they can be summarized via concerns of globalist and elitist economic policies, massively subsidized immigration, and unending war.  The people are making a statement: we want less of this; we want to stop being controlled by Brussels, NATO, Washington, New York and London.  We want less of the various international crony deals and agreements.

Of course, not all libertarians see this push for decentralization as good news.  It seems to be because they do not approve of the choices made by others regarding their own governance – in other words, they believe that they have the answer for everyone else’s liberty.  Kind of like Karl Marx.

If they so favor the individual as sovereign – as many of them do (and I do not, at least not in the same meaning) – how do they expect to get to seven billion sovereign “nations” without first getting past the two hundred or so we have today?  So I say support this secession and then support the next one and then the one after that: we even have an example of this today, with Scotland considering an exit from the UK given Brexit.  I say support them all.

I don’t get it: how does support of state, international, and supranational organizations, plans, and agreements help achieve this seven-billion-individual sovereignty?  It doesn’t.  Which suggests that libertarians opposed to these movements are either naïve or are working toward an end different than your liberty.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Is Libertarianism Sufficient for Liberty?

If liberty is the objective, is the non-aggression principle sufficient?  If the non-aggression principle is insufficient, what might that mean for those who wish to develop a proper theory for the realization of liberty?

A Somewhat Discordant Introduction

I came across an interesting tidbit:

And, as predicted by the theory, these seven moral rules – love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, and respect others’ property – appear to be universal across cultures.

The authors studied sixty societies and found these behaviors to always be considered morally good.  These behaviors were found across continents, not limited to any particular culture or region.  Further, there were no counter-examples: no societies in which any of these behaviors was considered to be bad. 

This does not mean to suggest that the moral values were manifest identically in each region, or that they were held in the same priority:

‘Morality as cooperation’ does not predict that moral values will be identical across cultures. On the contrary, the theory predicts ‘variation on a theme’: moral values will reflect the value of different types of cooperation under different social and ecological conditions.

In other words, just because these different communities hold to these same rules, it doesn’t mean that the application is identical.  The concepts are the same; the lifestyles might be quite different.

What is the purpose of these moral rules?

Converging lines of evidence – from game theory, ethology, psychology, and anthropology – suggest that morality is a collection of tools for promoting cooperation.

Who cares about cooperation?  Given the antonyms, you might care about the absence of cooperation: hindrance, hurt, injury, antagonism, disagreement, discord, disunion, disunity, hostility.

A reminder from an earlier post:

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.”

It is the moral duty of the individual to conform themselves to the larger structure that exists.

Troubling for the non-aggression principle, I know.

What’s It All About, Alfie?

These seven common moral rules were learned and developed over countless generations and centuries.  Societies that figured out how to cooperate have survived; those that did not…did not. 

Yet, governments throughout the west are working diligently to destroy these behaviors.  On topics ranging from immigration, welfare, divorce, family, patriarchy, religion and, of course, property – the government supports, subsidizes and enforces culture destroying behaviors.  With these destroyed, cooperation is lost and therefore more government is “demanded.”

Let’s look at these seven common moral rules again, and consider each one through the lens of the non-aggression principle:

Not required by the non-aggression principle: love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair.

Required by the non-aggression principle: respect others’ property.

The non-aggression principle addresses only one of the seven common moral rules.  A reminder of the purpose of morality: a collection of tools for promoting cooperation.  What happens without cooperation?  We have hindrance, hurt, injury, antagonism, disagreement, discord, disunion, disunity, and hostility.

Returning to VanderKlay’s statement: “it is the moral duty of the individual to conform themselves to the larger structure that exists”; it seems this should be considered if one desires achieving and sustaining liberty.

Does this mean any “larger structure” will do?  Hardly.  Most fundamental, it is a larger structure that has been built up from custom and tradition – with these organically modified – and not a larger structure artificially created top-down by the state.  Second, it is clear that the one society where the idea of individual freedom was best developed is Western Civilization.

Will your property survive in a society absent the other six moral rules?  It seems to me not.  Does the non-aggression principle survive in a community filled with hindrance, hurt, injury, antagonism, disagreement, discord, disunion, disunity, and hostility?  I don’t think so.


Is libertarianism sufficient for liberty?  Everything about man’s cultural and moral evolution answers with a resounding “no”; everything about how cooperative relationships are formed answers with a resounding “no.” 

So why are some libertarians afraid to talk about it?  Why are some even antagonistic to the necessity of a common culture and tradition as a foundation for a society to move toward liberty?  If libertarians want to move liberty forward, incorporating this reality into the discussion is necessary.

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.

I have taken Rothbard’s advice.  I think we need to work on our theory.


Is this a criticism of the non-aggression principle?  Not at all; I consider a defense of the non-aggression principle. 

Consider it, instead, a criticism of those who believe that the non-aggression principle is sufficient for liberty; consider it a criticism of those who leave the beauty and value of the non-aggression principle open to easy and obvious ridicule.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Voluntarily From the Bottom Up

From the Preface to the First Edition (1603):

This plan and goal was conceived and attempted by me that I might possibly offer a torch of intelligence, judgment, and memory to beginning students of political doctrine.

Althusius dedicates this work to two “most distinguished and learned men,” both he describes as his relatives.  The first is Martin Neurath, a trial lawyer –Althusius’ wife was Margarethe Neurath.  The second is Jacob Tieffenbach.  So this first preface is a personal letter; it isn’t addressed to the general reader, but to two relatives, perhaps also close associates, if not mentors. 

…I have therein attributed [the rights of sovereignty] to the realm, or to the commonwealth and people.  I know that in the common opinion of teachers they are to be described as belonging to the prince and supreme magistrate.  Bodin clamors that these rights of sovereignty cannot be attributed to the realm or the people….

I know some read these words and will throw out Althusius almost as quickly as they would Bodin.  But this ignores the reality that people will organize politically – the only question is the extent to which coercion is introduced in the mix.  It is for this reason that I am attracted to Althusius – certainly he was unique in his time (and also in small company since the Renaissance) for his views on decentralization and subsidiarity.

…I am not troubled by the clamors of Bodin nor the voices of others who disagree with me, so long as there are reasons that agree with my judgment.

Althusius sees the prince or magistrate as a steward or administrator, but the rights are not his – the rights remain with the people (technically, within voluntarily-formed groups of people).  These rights cannot be renounced – in other words, they cannot be granted irrevocably or without recourse.  This seems to me an important point.

From the Preface to the Third Edition (1614):

Dedicated to the illustrious leaders of the estates of Frisia between the Zuider Zee and the North Sea most worthy lords.

The import of this dedication will be made clear shortly.

All copies of the earlier editions had been sold out.  Althusius, therefore, offers this third edition, “done during the odd hours permitted me between responsibilities to the Commonwealth.”  What was this “Commonwealth”?  It will be remembered that at this time, Althusius was the Syndic of the city of Emden; in other words, he viewed a city as a commonwealth – the highest political association.

This should be kept in mind as we move through the examination of his book – the commonwealth included a region that included people with common wealth: the key term being “common.”  Not in terms of communism, but in terms of what Althusius calls “communication”: the various exchanges done by and amongst a common group of people.

Of course, it could be argued that a modern economy does not allow for such a small commonwealth.  But is this so?  We need not confuse the trading of goods with the merging of polities.  We have Switzerland, we have Lichtenstein, we have Singapore.  Not every commonwealth need include hundreds of millions of people under one roof.

Monday, October 8, 2018

From Reformation to Enlightenment

Continuing an examination of N.T. Wright’s Gifford lectures, with Lecture 2 The Questioned Book: Critical Scholarship and the Gospels.

The Reformed appeal to ‘original meanings’ in order to renew the Christian faith.  Rationalists appeal to ‘original meanings’ in order to undermine the Christian faith.

It is an interesting connection made by Wright, perhaps offering one of the most disastrous examples of a revolution (unintended by Luther though it had been) being hijacked.  Certainly a case where the enemy of my enemy is an even worse enemy?

Since both Reformers and Rationalists were opposed to medieval Christianity, they effectively combined bringing a Protestant energy and style to the skeptical task, leaving Protestants who wanted to hold on to the Christian faith with a largely ahistorical platonic idealism.

Do you believe in the Virgin birth?  Do you believe in the physical Resurrection? “Yes” is not allowed in polite company, in the rational and reasonable west.  The Rationalists have torn such ideas to shreds, leaving those who want to hold on to the Faith with a bag of rocks.

The debate has manifested as “the confused noise which follows from the pursuit of social and cultural agendas by other means.”  These are seen in the debates between right and left; we see the signs of this in the political discourse.

Wright discusses the current state of Christian eschatology: for heaven to come on earth, the current earth must be destroyed.  The view is based on prophecies in Daniel and Ezra.  Wright offers that this is a new idea, and one not held by those who wrote and lived at the time of the authorship of these books – who instead were considering a way out of the current condition: the exile.

Whatever one’s belief on end-time theology, it is certainly clear that many Protestants today cheer on war in the Middle East, offer unqualified support for the state of Israel, and look at the current situation as the sign that Armageddon and the 1000 years is imminently upon us.  The current earth must be destroyed.

If the world is coming to an end, to be replaced by the Kingdom of God, the chances of inferring anything about the latter from the former are effectively nil.  If heaven is coming, earth has to be abolished.

Since the current world must be destroyed to bring on God’s Kingdom, why bother looking for evidence of God’s Kingdom in the current earth?

And, when Europe was set ablaze by Queen Victoria’s squabbling grandchildren in 1914 – the Kaiser, the Tsar, the King – with all the rest cheerfully trundling off to war, it all came true: Valhalla fell…

…and the dying cheered. 

A result of the rationality and reason of man set free from both the mystery and the history of God and Christ.  The world had to come to an end so that something new could be born.  Given that this end-of-the-world event was wholly created by man, we see that what was born was not God’s heaven on earth, but man’s hell: communism, fascism, liberal democracy, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, firebombing, the nuclear age. 

Technology unchained from morality.  We can only pray that this hell extends its reach no further.  Sadly, in too many churches across the west, other prayers are being offered.

By the late 1930s – and believing that the Great War had done its cleansing, end-of-the-world duty – many believed the utopia was here, “either through Hegelian progress or the Marxist Revolution.”  And when it didn’t happen – for example, when Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the Nazi-Soviet pact – hope crashed to the ground.

So much for progress; so much, too, for Hegel.


Starting from the Enlightenment and its path to Epicureanism, heaven and earth were set radically apart from each other.

There is this dark side of the Enlightenment.  It seems that the dark side begins and ends with man subtracting God from the equation – subtract the Light and what is left but dark?  Nietzsche, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, announced the already-transpired event. 

And what did man replace Him with?  After chastising man for killing God, Nietzsche’s madman saw the future well, in 1888:

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out.

"I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."

You can decide which part of that would benefit from adding italics.

The “tremendous event” can be found beginning in 1914 and continuing to this present day.  The deed that was done long before?  The Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the valid reasons for the Reformation – all played a role. 

Take your pick.


Genesis 11:4: Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Proverbs 11:2: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.