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The London Libertarian

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Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

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Philosophy Posted on Thu, April 03, 2014 14:57:26

hypocrisy From the Greek for acting a part, in particular today simulating a virtue with the intention of misleading others. But in a broader sense it is simulating anything deceptively, even a vice: Cecily was right when she said, “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy” (The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde). A liar is ipso facto a hypocrite with respect to the lie. And *proactive lying is in itself at least somewhat *illiberal (see *honesty). But a liar might thereby be upholding a more important *moral value than honesty, such as even politeness can sometimes be. Thus hypocrisy is certainly not always immoral.

However, merely failing to reveal one’s, supposed, moral (or other) faults, without affecting not to have those faults, is not hypocrisy. Nor is it hypocrisy to give advice that one does not pretend to live up to oneself, as famously observed by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Nor is it hypocrisy to have ‘double standards’ (to *discriminate) with respect to the treatment of different, groups of, people. These points are contra the, muddled, *commonsense understanding of ‘hypocrisy’. Furthermore, this *meme is very often used as an ad hominem fallacy. For it is simply not relevant to the *truth or morality of what someone says that he might be a hypocrite (except in certain self-referential cases).

A *libertarian *anarchist is not inherently hypocritical (or even morally culpable if he were) for using *tax-funded resources or working for the *state. He can hardly avoid using *coercively *monopolized, tax-funded streets and there is no reason that he should: he merely asserts that it would be better if the streets were anarchically owned. He can honestly replace a statist *academic by joining a predominantly tax-funded *university. He can work for a tax office with a view to, at least later, helping others to minimize their tax-*extortions. A fortiori, he can unhypocritically live on tax-extorted handouts given that he is in effect *punished by state-extortions and rules if he does work, *bribed with *government benefits if he doesn’t work, and that he is thereby tax-punishing almost only *statists (in principle, perhaps he should offer his infinitesimally small share of state handouts back to the tiny number of libertarian tax-extortees, but then equally so should the libertarian academic and tax official). It seems that a libertarian can unhypocritically take most state grants or subsidies on this basis. Moreover, money cannot be legitimately owned by the state. And the more one takes, the less it leaves the state to spend on its *criminal activities.

There must, however, be grey and black areas of state handouts and employment that it would be hypocritical to accept while averring libertarian morals. It is hard to see how one can take tax money for armaments or *arms research, or be an *immigration or customs officer—unless, perhaps, one is taking bribes to let people and products in (see *corruption). What of a torturer or a politician? (The latter usually being responsible for indefinitely more suffering, albeit often in diffuse *opportunity cost form: he reduces *utility far more compared to what it would have been, but with the loss broadly spread.) Neither position would seem to have any libertarian excuse, unless it were a genuinely libertarian politician whose real purpose were to *depoliticize.

Despite the fuss that people make about it, it is usually completely irrelevant, or at most trivial, whether normal statist politicians are hypocrites or not. What matters is the *objective damage to *liberty and *welfare that they assist the state in causing.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

critical-rationalist libertarianism

Philosophy Posted on Thu, April 03, 2014 12:34:35

critical-rationalist libertarianism Many, probably most, *libertarians think they need some form of *justification, foundation or support for their *ideology. Various attempts include basing it on *autonomy, *contractarianism, *natural law, *utilitarianism or some other form of *consequentialism, and, of course, empirical evidence. Although one can subscribe to, or simply use, any of these to defend, or criticize, libertarianism without also being a justificationist.

There is an explicit non-justificationist alternative: *critical-rationalist libertarianism. If someone asks a critical-rationalist libertarian to justify his views, he would probably decline to attempt this as he thinks it impossible. He does not adhere to libertarianism on any basis whatsoever. Like all theories, it is ultimately a mere conjecture. All one can do with a conjecture is test it with empirical evidence and intellectual criticism; both of which must also involve conjectures that themselves always remain open to testing. Thus the only *reasonable policy is to look for the best tests or criticisms available.

If it comes to convincing a critic, this can only mean answering his specific *criticisms as far as possible. Even if this were eventually done to the satisfaction of the critic, it remains just as much an unjustified conjecture as before. It simply wastes time to attempt a futile justification when one will have to answer the specific criticisms of all comers anyway; yet one can also usefully think up criticisms for oneself and attempt to answer them.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

critical rationalism

Philosophy Posted on Thu, April 03, 2014 12:32:33

critical rationalism Put simply and starkly, this is the view that absolutely all alleged knowledge is ultimately only fallible theory: mere guesses that we can test but which never become more probable by passing those tests. No truth is ever established to any degree at all. What follows can only outline an explanation of this counterintuitive view.

It is part of *common sense for people to demand that unusual views, such as *libertarian *anarchy, must be proved, verified, *justified or at least somehow supported (if they are not simply dismissed outright for being ‘absurd’ or *extreme); however, no such demands are usually taken seriously with most people’s own favored views. If Karl Popper’s (1902-1994) critical-rationalist epistemology is correct, then they are demanding what is logically impossible

Popper was originally interested in the demarcation between science and non-science (not science and nonsense, as is sometimes thought). It cannot be true that scientific theories are epistemologically verified or justified (the general term he prefers to cover all types of foundationalism: the view that knowledge is supported in some way), because such universal (hence infinite in scope) theories could never be supported by a finite amount of evidence—even if all that evidence were unproblematically accurate. Thus there is no solution to David Hume’s (1711-1776) restatement of the epistemological problem of induction. Induction as an epistemology is a myth, just as was its original logical form in Aristotle (c384-322BCE) as the supposed inverse of deduction. The popular insistence that there is some form of induction and justification nevertheless, is a futile attempt to refute with common sense a *philosophically argued conclusion.

But Popper noticed a crucial asymmetry: the falsification of universal theories is logically possible; we need just one counter instance. ‘All swans are white’ cannot be verified by any finite number of positive instances of white swans. It can be falsified by one instance of a non-white swan; as this ‘well-supported’ theory eventually was falsified by the discovery of black swans in Australia. So, methodologically, we can make a virtue of producing bold universal conjectures that we do not pretend are ultimately supported by evidence and then test these conjectures as severely as we can: both by observation and criticism. We can happily admit that, in principle, we might be mistaken about any theory regardless of the amount of testing. This became known as ‘falsificationism’.

Consider some relevant implications of this view. There is no reason to think that we are in fact mistaken about any particular theory unless we find an apparently good counter instance or criticism of it. So skepticism must be maintained in the sense that *knowledge is always uncertain, but not in the sense that knowledge is impossible: we often possess theories that are true. Metaphysical theories are merely empirically unfalsifiable but they may be true. And all scientific theories have metaphysical presuppositions or consequences. Apparently singular observations are also both theory-laden and have infinitely many consequences. Thus they too are in the situation of not being verifiable; though Popper himself sometimes writes of the ‘confirmation’ of single instances. This view is not to deny that probabilities exist, but only to imply that they too do so within the framework of what are ultimately mere conjectures. Critical rationalism is both descriptive and prescriptive. It describes what we have to be doing to do science at all: conjecturing and testing. But it also prescribes how to do science better: bolder conjectures and more rigorous tests.

Critics sometimes suggest that falsificationism is not falsifiable, and so fails by its own standards. It is true that it is not empirically falsifiable, though it is criticizable, but an epistemological theory is not supposed to be a scientific theory. Philosophy is not science. Some critics also object that one cannot conclusively verify the counter instance either, so falsification is also impossible; alternatively, that if falsification is possible then to falsify a universal theory is thereby to verify its negation, so that some verification is possible too. However, it is part of falsificationism that a ‘justified’ falsification is not possible. Putative falsifications are themselves conjectures that remain open to testing; though we can test only one thing at a time and all tests assume much. The point is that we could, in principle, observe a single counter instance of a universal theory (see a black swan) while we could not, in principle, observe verifying instances (see all swans, at every time and place, being white). So as a falsification is at least possible we are, as before, entitled to conjecture that we have discovered a falsification if we cannot seem to refute it. But we never leave the realm of conjecture.

Partly thanks to the critical work of other philosophers than Popper, this falsificationist epistemology has been extended to mathematics, logic, *morals and every other area of knowledge; and has become known as ‘critical rationalism’. Outside the empirical sciences the method is about actively and unceasingly seeking criticism with the rejection of any kind of epistemological foundations; even in logic and mathematics: a valid proof has no more force than its assumptions. Assumptions or conjectures are all we have to go on in all areas of knowledge.

It is possibly pedantic to eschew all ‘justificationist’ expressions in everyday speech, especially arguing ‘for’ (i.e., supporting) a theory: it would be like refusing to say ‘sunrise’ because that contradicts the idea that the Earth goes around the Sun. It is sufficient that one understands and makes plain that a theory can ultimately remain only a conjecture and that such arguments can only properly elaborate the consequences of, or apparent evidence about, a theory; which is useful for understanding it and stimulating criticism. Many alleged ‘justifications’ are merely just such explanations and elaborations.

Perhaps there is at least one non-foundationalist usage of ‘justified’ that critical rationalists can use consistently. This is simply in the sense that some thesis has been ‘squared’ with the apparent facts and any criticisms. In other words, the thesis appears to be without problems. But this is not to say that it is positively supported in any way or that it will remain apparently ‘justified’ even in this sense.

If critical rationalism is thought not, exactly, right, then seeing which theories withstand critical scrutiny can still be accepted pragmatically as a useful way to deal with theories; even by justificationists who cannot agree about which theories are justified and how. This practical point is not to minimize the theoretical differences. The classical view of knowledge is of justified, true belief. Critical rationalism denies that justification is possible, observes that most important scientific theories will not be true, and holds that belief is irrelevant. Thus the critical rationalist view of knowledge has been humorously explained as unjustified, untrue, unbelief.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

arts and sciences

Arts Posted on Thu, April 03, 2014 12:27:44

arts and sciences Do the arts and sciences depend on the *state? There is no good evidence that there would be insufficient investment in the arts and sciences if they were left to the *free market and *charity. Indeed, the arts and sciences both began and flourished long before state involvement. And many of the greatest scientists and artists in history did some of their greatest works without state ‘help’, and even in the face of state *persecution. The state often tries to jump on a bandwagon and take some of the credit, but it inevitably crowds out the competing alternatives and so people cannot see what best alternative would otherwise have existed (the *opportunity cost). Thus even any occasional state-funded ‘successes’ will on balance be at the expense of greater lost opportunities.

In the unlikely event that the market and charity left the arts and sciences languishing, there is nothing sacred about these activities such that they axiomatically deserve to be funded by *tax-*extorting *money from people who patently do not find them worth paying for in their current forms. In reality, state involvement results in *political bias and *aggressive *monopoly replacing diverse and efficient free *competition among would-be supporters and would-be practitioners. One cannot seriously maintain, for instance, that new art has wonderfully improved since the Arts Council of Great Britain (now of England) was formed (1946). A lot of it seems deliberately to insult the public’s intelligence or values at the public’s *proactively imposed expense. Contrast this with design, which has flourished almost entirely on the free market.

At the *statist extreme, we see an atrophy of art and science as they are perverted into little more than state *propaganda and other purposes, as seen in the worst excesses of the old *totalitarian *regimes of China and the USSR. Art and science might sometimes have given the appearance of thriving under political patronage such as in the Renaissance, though a lot of this was really private or semi-private. But that cannot defend any extortion that paid for this. And there is no reason to doubt that the richer people and richer businesses that would have existed without taxation would have spent even more on, and on a greater variety of, art and sciences.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Politics Posted on Thu, April 03, 2014 12:23:39

democracy There are few ideas about which there is more *commonsense confusion and *political *hypocrisy than democracy (*‘liberty’ is a rival in this). Etymologically, ‘democracy’ means ‘people rule/power’. The original democracies in Greek city-*states involved voting on important matters for all *citizens—which at that time excluded women, slaves and metics (guest workers). A *civil organization that freely chooses to adopt some form of voting as a decision procedure is not thereby democratic, as voting itself is not inherently political (i.e., about state rule).

Most Western *nation-states today claim to have ‘*representative democracies’, which are asserted to be a kind of ‘indirect democracy’. But the people manifestly do not rule or have power. Therefore, this is somewhat like calling slavery ‘representative self-ownership’ or ‘indirect self-ownership’. For these so-called democracies are, in fact, elected oligarchies merely posing as democracies; because of the *legitimization that is afforded by the false *propaganda that ‘the people are ruling themselves’ in this way and so somehow *consent to the consequences. That is, most adults have a vote that *collectively decides who is elected (which is the one rare and fleeting moment that a glimmer of democracy might be asserted to exist), and then the elected oligarchs do whatever they want, if they have a majority, until the next election possibly changes the majority party or coalition. However, even most such would-be ‘oligarchs’ are themselves, in effect, political eunuchs (or ‘lobby fodder) unless they are also elected among themselves, or appointed to high office, or (threaten to) collectively rebel by voting against the *government. (On the complete worthlessness of an individual *subject’s political vote in this system see *voting.)

A slightly more democratic, and possibly safer, sense of ‘representative democracy’ (really still oligarchy) would be sortition, whereby a lottery decides which, say, five hundred people rule for some period; with a trickle constantly joining and leaving to ensure some continuity. This is more representative as, over time, it must take a statistical representation of all types of subject. But an enthusiastic minority would inevitably still dominate the proceedings and most people would probably see it as too onerous a disruption to their lives, unless it paid much better than they earned otherwise.

‘Delegational democracy’ means that people are elected to implement the actual wills of their electors. And this would be a sort of democracy. But it is a mystery how the delegates are supposed to know what the electors want beyond a few issues. If the delegates are going to do regular surveys and adhere to the results, then why would they be needed as delegates? Some form of full-blooded democracy, with people directly voting on any number of issues, would easily be practicable; though having all able actively to participate in the debate is more problematic.

So it is clearly possible to be far more democratic than we are now, but politicians do not want democracy. This might partly be because they see the pitfalls of rule by an uninformed and capricious majority, but it must also be for the obvious reason that they prefer to be elected as oligarchs with the *power, prestige, and pelf this personally gives them. Luckily for them, most members of the public lack any real interest in, or understanding of, politics; so the public do not seek any serious democratic involvement.

None of this is intended to argue for real democracy. Any more-serious form of democracy would almost certainly be more danergously *authoritarian, even *totalitarian, than elected oligarchy. Democracy as such is inherently a form of *majoritarianism. There is no democratic principle limiting what democracy can interfere with. However, any attempt at democracy would probably soon collapse into a less dangerous oligarchy following Robert Michels’s (1876-1936) “iron law of oligarchy”; as career politicians come to dominate the *rationally *apathetic masses.

Like elected oligarchy, all forms of democracy are the continuation of *‘civil war’ by other means (see *cold war). One side *proactively imposes on the other by threat of force but without actual bloodshed. Thus democracy is an enemy of liberty and also *welfare; not least as it flouts the efficient *economic calculation of the *market. A ‘*liberal democracy’ is more or less a contradiction in terms, at least insofar as ‘liberal’ refers to liberty. The more it is liberal, the less it is democratic. A completely liberal system would be a *libertarian *anarchy.

For the political systems of the *UK and the *USA, see those respective entries.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Politics Posted on Thu, April 03, 2014 12:18:48

state As this is not a dictionary of word usage, the historical etymology or alleged essential meaning of the word ‘state’ need not constrain us. *Libertarians mean to refer to any dominant *political *organization in a *country, which we have no practical trouble indentifying and for which ‘state’ is merely a handy label.

A state is not a *nation or a *country. A state is an organization of people with the *authority to rule by *aggressive *coercion over some definite regions. Having the *power to *proactively impose with impunity, a state has ultimate control of all *persons and *property in its domain; though its *subjects are not thereby *slaves. States rely on general *public acceptance or acquiescence, which occurs if only because most people assume it necessary that some organization must *run the country. Such general support does not mean that states and their activities are, tacitly, *consensual or *contractual, even when *‘democratic’. A consensual or contractual state would be analytically absurd (as there would be no proactive imposition), like a ‘married bachelor’ (but not as obviously inconsistent). Even if a state-like organization were genuinely contracted into by all adults in some region, this would not bind children below the *age of majority or any *future generations.

The origins of a state are invariably by conquest, whether from within or without the regions *oppressed. “War is the health of the state” in that states tend to grow larger and stronger relative to their subject populations by going to *war; even a losing state. There are no services that are essential to a state; not even the provision of *law and *national defense. The state, qua state, rules rather than serves. In exercising its rule, there are four distinguishable broad aspects that are severally essential to, and all typical of, the state: *parasitism, *persecution, *privilege and *Procrusteanism. In practice, all these activities are described using *legitimizing *propaganda. Without at least one of these there would not be a state; or it would exist in a dormant way, at most. Any other aspects of the state are *economic and so would exist more efficiently without state interference; by the *market or *charity. Thus a state is a kind of dominant *criminal organization but with a popular legitimacy that completely obscures this *fact for most people.

Modern states usually include an executive, legislature, judiciary and courts, *local governments, a *bureaucracy, armed forces, state *police, state *schools and various *‘nationalized’ production and service industries, which also rule to varying degrees though power flows down from the top of the *hierarchy. What remains is *civil society.

Note that the above account is a non-normative theory, in outline, of what states are, and not a definition (whether stipulative or of usage). See also *Mafia; *politics; *sovereignty.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Politics Posted on Thu, April 03, 2014 12:14:15

politics The word ‘politics’ comes from the Greek ‘polis’ meaning city-*state. In the modern sense, politics is about what states do, or the *factual or *moral study of this. Only in a metaphorical sense can there be said to be ‘politics’ in an office, *school, etc. The *politically correct idea that *everything is political is a *totalitarian aspiration rather than an accurate description.

It is irresponsible to be *apathetic and cynical about politics: it is better to be antipathetic and damning. Politics is the *crime of *organized *license by the state; and the majority of crime in any *society with a state. Politics is the war of all against all that Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) mistakenly took *anarchy to be: one man’s gain in politics is another man’s loss; unlike the market where both sides gain in a trade. Politics is mainly what is morally wrong with the world. Without politics we would all be considerably better off in almost every aspect of our lives, as its destructiveness is compounded year on year. The four horsemen of the political apocalypse are *parasitism, *persecution, *privilege and *Procrusteanism. In practice, a state cannot be found that does not have all four to some degree. And, analytically, at least one must exist for it to be a state at all. In more detail, the whole of this dictionary deals with the evil and *waste inflicted by politics.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Liberty Posted on Thu, April 03, 2014 12:10:05

liberalism In the classical sense, liberalism is *libertarianism; though the misleading etymological route of ‘liberal’ relates to generosity rather than *liberty. People sometimes assert or assume that classical liberalism is not as *extreme or as theoretically rigorous as libertarianism. But there were some classical liberals who were, at least for some time, more or less *anarchists (though not always using or accepting the label, e.g., Lysander Spooner [1808-1887], Gustave de Molinari [1819-1912], Herbert Spencer [1820-1903], Auberon Herbert [18381906)], Wordsworth Donisthorpe [1847-1913], Benjamin Tucker [1854-1939]) and some had elaborate theories (often being the same people). And there are many (most?) libertarians who are not anarchists and many have a paucity of theory (often being the same people). It might still be suggested that a distinction can be made in that classical liberalism is broader than libertarianism because it goes well beyond *minarchy. But many self-described ‘libertarians’ go well beyond minarchy too, so this would mean rejecting their self-descriptions for no apparent reason beyond attempting to introduce a distinction.

The main reason for using ‘libertarian’ instead of ‘liberal’ is the risk of confusion with ‘modern liberal’ (especially in the U.S.). And ‘classical liberal’ can sound obscure or old-fashioned. The rise of modern liberalism began as those who called themselves ‘liberals’ started viewing the *state as also a route to liberty, but often in some alternative sense of that word, rather than merely the main obstacle. This has evolved, or degenerated, into an increasing *ideological muddle that includes parts of classical liberalism, *democracy, *egalitarianism and *political correctness.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

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