…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.
In any case, this is of no matter. It is happening, no matter what those pimply-faced kids are writing on their blogs. If free markets, Austrian Economics, and human action mean anything at all, these mean that the trend we see in the political will continue. Central planning does not and cannot work – it didn’t in the Soviet Union, and it will not in these national and supranational organizations. As this reality continues to makes its presence felt, support for such decentralizing movements will only continue to grow.
In other words, the wind is at our back on this one.
Culture and Tradition
Early on in this journey, I concluded that a common cultural tradition would be beneficial – in fact necessary – if a society was to move toward and sustain liberty: for example, generally accepted views on the application of the terms aggression, property, punishment, etc. Many of you will recall my views of shooting a child for picking (or stealing) a farmer’s apple and what such an action might mean for the future of “liberty” in the community.
My oft-used example of the new neighbors and their Sunday afternoon front-lawn sex orgies seemed to get the idea across pretty well; the neighborhood of back-yard grillers, not so much. It isn’t that a common culture is sufficient to move toward liberty; I just find it necessary.
I began developing the view that it wasn’t just a common culture, but one grounded on basic traditions of Western Civilization – grounded in Christianity as influenced by the Germanic tribes of early medieval Europe.
It is only here where I have found a law and tradition that corresponded well to what I would expect to find in libertarian law: law not created by man, but found in the old and the good; all equal under the law; man bound to each other by individual oath – and bound only if the other party kept his end of the bargain; the king under the law – not creating the law, only enforcing it; each noble vested with veto power.
It is only here where the secular and the religious each had separate and divided authority, each keeping the other in check – at times one or the other with more authority, but neither with a monopoly.
It is only here where the idea of the individual first began to take root – not after the Enlightenment, but during the Middle Ages. It was an individual bounded by the tradition and custom of Christendom – this tradition and custom was all wrapped up in the concept of “individual.” And it was only after this tradition and custom of Christendom – perhaps, more specifically, Christianity – was tossed out that the “individual” became destructive, as opposed to constructive, to liberty.
Why? Why did the individual go from being discovered and liberated to irrelevant and enslaved – as individuals truly are today? Clearly the lack of tension between church and king contributed – with the king eventually taking monopoly power.
And it wasn’t just the moving of the church to secondary; the church wasn’t the only competing authority institution. There were numerous intermediate and intermediating institutions between the individual and the king, each with its own authority in its own sphere, each substantial enough to provide some form of check on the king’s authority.
As the individual was brought to the fore, gradually each of these intermediating bodies lost authority; in the end – and we see this as fact today – there is nothing of authority to stand between the individual and the state.
But more fundamentally, a cohesiveness was lost – a common faith, a common ethic. A moral people need no laws; as humans aren’t perfectly moral, humans bound by a moral tradition need only few laws. When the Church (or the church) had a position of esteem and authority, it was able to perform this function – teaching a moral life, sanctioning those who did not abide. Not a sanction with prison – well, at least not a prison on this earth.
Of course, not all libertarians would agree with this – many see religion as a hindrance to, if not the enemy of, liberty. I just keep in mind: something or someone will govern. Better a law that is above all men; better a cultural ethic that is supportive of moral behavior (hence, less need for legislation) than a cultural ethic that says all morality is relative (hence increasing demands for a heavy-handed state to solve the problems that come with relative morality).
Is there a solution on the horizon here? I only see one, and that is for Christian leaders to start teaching Christianity, which means preaching against much of what they currently preach for: war, torture, spying by the state, unconditional support for Israel, unconditional obedience to the government. It means speaking truth on all issues associated with individualism run wild; just consider the dozens of various gender-identity labels in existence today or gender-neutral (I can’t believe I am writing such words) bathrooms and let your mind roam free from there.
It means Christian leaders start to teach on living a productive and moral life. We know, today, that there is a market for this. It has taken a secular preacher to show the way. Jordan Peterson is selling out halls to speak on a productive and moral life, taking the Biblical stories and applying them in a meaningful way in today’s world. Young people – and certainly young men – are flocking to this story. There is a market opportunity, as the demand seems high.
Christian leaders have the pulpit (literally and figuratively), they have the audience, they have the institution behind them; most importantly, they have the Gospels – fully supportive of such a message. Note: I don’t speak of theocracy; instead, I suggest a cultural ethic that is conducive to man living in a free society. Even many atheists (and perhaps better than many Christians today) already live this ethic.
When it takes a psychology professor to lead the Christian charge, it is clear we are facing headwinds.
None. This post is the conclusion…at least for now.