Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Libertarian Grand Narrative

Grand narrative or “master narrative” is a term introduced by Jean-François Lyotard in…1979.... Narrative knowledge is knowledge in the form of story-telling….The narrative not only explained, but legitimated knowledge, and when applied to the social relations of their own society, the myths functioned as a legitimation of the existing power relations, customs and so on.

The grand narrative is presented as a more successful means of appeal than is an argument based on facts, abstract theories, and intellectual consistency.  It is a narrative that presents a prevailing interpretation of past events. 

Everything from Christianity to communism offers its own grand narrative.  Everything, that is, except libertarianism – because libertarians rely on facts, abstract theories and intellectual consistency.  Libertarians are too rational to rely on story, it seems.  Unfortunately for libertarians, more people like “story.”

Hans Hoppe has proposed eliminating this shortcoming:

…the greatest challenge for libertarians is to develop a grand historical narrative that is to counter and correct the so-called Whig theory of history that all ruling elites, everywhere and at all times, have tried to sell to the public: that is the view, that we live in the best of all times (and that they are the ones who guarantee that this stays so) and that the grand sweep of history, notwithstanding some ups and downs, has been one of more or less steady progress.

In this lecture, Hoppe has offered the first crack at presenting this narrative, one that can offer a counter-example to this Whig theory of history.  For this, he focuses on the decentralized Middle Ages:

…I have identified the European Middle Ages or what is sometimes also and better referred to as Latin Christendom, the roughly thousand-year period from the fall of Rome until the late 16th or early 17th century, as such an example. Not perfect in many ways, but closer to the ideal of social perfection than anything that followed it and in particular the present democratic order.

…the Middle Ages represent a large-scale and long-lasting historical example of a State-less society and as such represent the polar opposite of the present, Statist social order.

As regular readers know, I have been working through a similar problem – except I never thought of it as creating a “grand narrative.”  I have also come to the same place that Hoppe came to many years before I did. 

Now we have a recent lecture by Daniel Ajamian that seems to carry this idea of a narrative further along.  To summarize: the Enlightenment killed God; once God has been divorced from the individual and from reason, liberty was lost.  Of course, there are several aspects of this narrative that were not addressed in the lecture.  It is difficult to expect a finished product when Hoppe just kicked off the project a few months ago.

It seems a worthwhile undertaking, this idea of creating a libertarian grand narrative.  As mentioned, I have inadvertently been doing something along these lines – all-the-while not thinking in terms of narrative.  Perhaps it is worthwhile to start putting this together in narrative form.

There is a filter to run this narrative through, I believe: Christianity, natural law, and the non-aggression principle.  I think liberty cannot stand on just one of these.  In what condition will man find the most freedom?  Perhaps it is the condition that is consistent with his ends, his purpose – as developed by Aristotle and through to Aquinas.  If so, why?  If not…then what?

Why is the governance and law of the medieval period most consistent with man’s ends or purpose?  What made it so?  Why was it lost?  These are all questions that must be addressed if this narrative is to make any sense, if it is to be considered whole. 

As mentioned, I have – certainly inadvertently – been working on just this project.  The first phase – although I didn’t think of it as such – was my work in debunking the narrative that we have been force-fed, challenging much of what we were brought up to believe.

The second phase was to develop a proper narrative, one that conformed to what I have come to see as far more accurate – and more favorable to liberty.  The more I worked through this second phase, the less I considered going back to the first (although I am not ignoring it).  Both phases were advanced by an extended reading list – long and growing, with no end in sight.

Unfortunately, it is not organized in a narrative – and certainly not one that is useful for all levels from newcomers to old hands.


Owen Flanagan of Duke University, a leading consciousness researcher, writes, "Evidence strongly suggests that humans in all cultures come to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are inveterate storytellers." … As noted by Owen Flanagan, narrative may also refer to psychological processes in self-identity, memory and meaning-making.

Man lives by story – a narrative.  Libertarians lack a narrative.  Maybe, as Hoppe suggests, it is time for libertarians to develop one.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Middleman

Middlemen, actually.

Many students, when they begin the study of philosophy, have it subtly conveyed to them that nothing much of interest happened in philosophy between the time of Aristotle until the advent of modernity.

Casey addresses several of the philosophers and philosophies introduced during the Hellenistic period. 

Epicureans: Epicurus founded his school of philosophy in 306 BC, sixteen years after Aristotle’s death.  Epicureanism is materialistic “through and through,” according to Casey.  Atoms smashing together, with no directing intelligence whatsoever.  It seems he could be considered the intellectual grandfather of the new atheists. 

The good life is the life of pleasure; not pleasure in a positive sense, but pleasure as in avoiding pain – both to body and to soul.  Human values other than pleasure are rejected.  Morality and justice are merely matters of expedience, varying according to time and place. 

Again, very “new atheist: all they can offer is “happiness” and the avoidance of pain when asked about how to give life meaning, when asked what it is we should strive for.  What a shallow, empty life.  I cannot imagine that anyone who truly believes this actually finds any happiness in it.

Cynics: a version of nineteenth century radical anarchists.  Their escape lay in the renunciation of everything we might consider the goods of life. 

The key ideas of Cynicism are the acceptance of nature as norm and the rejection of culture, self-sufficiency as a key to release from bondage to social control, and a habit of speaking truth to power…

Cynics were citizens of the world – cosmopolitans.  Not in any positive sense, but in the sense that they rejected the limitations and restrictions of the polis.  Casey describes these as “the Hippies of Hellenism.”  Sex, drugs and rock and roll.  Hey, anything peaceful! 

Sceptics: skepticism could be seen as a desire for intellectual calmness, freedom from the desire for certainty.  No position in philosophy is any more believable than any other.  They survive this by conforming to whatever customs and practices of the place where they live.

Some sceptics offer that there is no such thing as truth; others suggest that there is, but humans are not capable of discovering it.  It seems a terrible world to live in, with no foundation on which to stand.  It would make me very cynical.

Stoics: stoicism had the most impact on its immediate environment.  The omnipotence of the state was repudiated; the moral law of the individual was sovereign.  Evil in the world is the product of ignorance; it can be avoided or minimized if one conforms his mind to universal reason, or logos.

The political implications are that all human beings are essentially the same in kind; all citizens of the universe – cosmopolitan.  As mind is common to us all, then reason is also common to us all – making us all rational beings.  From this, we will agree on what we should or should not do; therefore law is also common to us all.  The universe is our community.

It seems the Stoics should speak with the Sceptics – it isn’t clear how they can get along with each other…rationally.

Cicero: No matter what constitutional provisions are made, the character of political society will be determined by the character of those who participate in it.

Cicero presented five theses:

1)      The universe is governed by Providence
2)      Man is an animal but one whose power of reason makes him akin to the gods.
3)      We have been made to share justice with one another and justice is natural
4)      Despite their local differences, human beings are essentially the same
5)      The development of our human potential demands that we live with one another in community.

One can see natural law in this, and one can see it further developed in the Middle Ages and in Aquinas. 


What a mess.  Fortunately, for the West, the birth of Christianity was not far off.  This would bring some focus to the governing philosophy – a path from Aristotle through Cicero and then to Aquinas. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

It’s Only Natural

The opening chapter of Casey’s book is entitled “The Dawn of History.”  Through this chapter one can discern why much of what is advanced in today’s society is destructive to society.  But before getting to this, Casey constructs what is unique about man:

Human beings are singularly badly constructed for survival. …David Hume comments, “Of all the animals with which this globe is peopled, there is none towards whom nature seems, at first sight, to have exercis’d more cruelty that towards man in the numberless wants and necessities, with which she has loaded him, and in the slender means which she affords to the relieving these necessities…”

Ibn Khaldûn offers that many dumb animals were given more perfect power than God gave to man.  Man must consciously contrive necessary behaviors whereas other animals have such behaviors instinctually.  These contrived behaviors begin at birth; from Frank Tallis:

“The human infant must have a high quality of care, and this is best delivered by two parents working together for an extended period of time – in effect, two parents in a monogamous relationship, sharing a strong pair-bond….”

A male and female, committed to each other for at least long enough to raise the children that they produce.  Hard to see how human life on earth would ever have survived absent such an institution. 

It is also hard to see how human life would have survived “if procreation had not been put under the dominion of a great passion.”  I think I need not explain how this kept the man interested in what otherwise results in a lifelong burden.

So now we have a male, female and child.  Next comes the division of labor – and guess what?  It was sex-based: women specialized in child-bearing and child-rearing, and foraging near the home; men specialized in long-range hunting and protecting the family.  The father was more expendable than the mother; as long as the female survived, more children were possible.  Overall men had the worst of the bargain: whereas women faced danger primarily in procreation, men faced danger in both provision and protection. 

Casey examines the impact on these relationships brought on by two very recent revolutions: the Reproductive Revolution and the Technological Revolution.  In just a few short decades, abortion has gone from rare to common, divorce has no social stigma, even the concept of illegitimacy is forbidden, and homosexual behavior has gone from being vilified to being praised.  Sex can now be totally separated from reproduction – friends with benefits, if you will.

In what amounts to a few moments of the history of man, his entire social structure has been overturned; the social, economic, and political consequences are yet to be seen.  The implications are still being worked out, “with fear and trembling.” 

Casey next addresses the patriarchy.  We are told that patriarchy is the universal political structure that favors men over women.  No mention of the burdens that come to the man or the benefits that come to the woman; no mention that the structure is rooted in the protective function played by men – and can only have been played by men if the species was to survive.  No mention that most men are as politically, socially, and economically impotent as most women. 

Men have to be prepared to sacrifice their lives in order to protect the women and therefore the species, as it is only women that can give birth.  Casey offers an example of the “low and devious cunning, nineteenth century British parliamentarians – all of whom were men – who…

…attempted to conceal their male dominance by legally prohibiting women from working in coal mines and reserving those delightfully dirty and dangerous jobs for their brother patriarchs.

Even today, the bulk of physically demanding – and dangerous – jobs are dominated by men.  Is it a scheme?  Casey offers that men must be the only oppressors in history that are…

1)      Less well-served by the education system that they created
2)      Are greater victims of physical violence
3)      Are treated with greater severity by the criminal justice system in respect to divorce and child custody as well as criminal sentencing
4)      Do a staggeringly greater proportion of the dirty work – the real dirty, and dangerous, work
5)      Are less well-treated by their health systems
6)      Live statistically shorter lives

…than the oppressed “other.”  It is difficult to identify any other alleged oppressor / oppressed relationship where such things would be the case.  Perhaps this does demonstrate one thing: as far as “oppressors” go, men might very well be the dumbest of the lot, and, therefore, the dumber sex.

Perhaps the most compelling argument: Casey suggests one considers the imbalance in the demand for sex.  Who really holds the power in this relationship?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Parallel?

At the Mises site, there is published an article by Hans Hoppe, entitled “Banking, Nation States, and International Politics: A Sociological Reconstruction of the Present Economic Order.”  I focus on one section:

While it is in everyone's economic interest that there be only one universal money and only one unit of account, and man in his pursuit of wealth maximization will not stop until this goal is reached, it is contrary to such interest that there be only one bank or one monopolistic banking system. Rather, self-interest commands that every bank use the same universal money — gold — and that there then be no competition between different monies, but that free competition between banks and banking systems, all of which use gold, must exist.

While reading this, it struck me: there is a parallel to this and the medieval order – a period in history when law was relatively libertarian and governance was quite decentralized.  I took a crack at capturing the parallel, with changes noted in red:

While it is in everyone's political interest that there be only one universal ethic and only one ethical yardstick, and man in his pursuit of liberty maximization will not stop until this goal is reached, it is contrary to such interest that there be only one king or one monopolistic state. Rather, self-interest commands that every king use the same universal ethic natural law defended by the Church — and that there then be no competition between different ethics, but that free competition between kings and states, all of which use the Natural Law defended by the Church, must exist.

To summarize my modifications:

Economic = Political
Money = Ethic
Gold = Natural Law defended by the Church (the Universal Ethic)
Unit of Account = Ethical Yardstick
Wealth maximization = Liberty
Bank = King
Banking System = State

My modified paragraph describes quite well the medieval order.  So it got me to thinking further…the context of Hoppe’s words is his description of the development of money in the market; this was driven by the desire for maximizing economic efficiency.  In my modified paragraph, I find maximized liberty.

In neither case do we find perfection – either a perfectly efficient market or a perfect liberty. Nothing done by imperfect humans can be perfect.  But in both cases we find maximum choice, maximum possibilities.  In both cases we find examples of the maximum (economic efficiency / liberty) afforded to man on earth.

There is a story to be told here.  Maybe someone has written it; if so, I welcome a link.  In any case, I will think about this some more.