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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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The Enlightenment paradigm, the Romantic reaction to it and liberty

Liberty Posted on Sat, April 18, 2020 14:03:41

There is clash between the Enlightenment paradigm that dominated in the eighteenth century and the newer Romantic paradigm that emerged with Rousseau’s reaction to it, especially in his exchanges with Voltaire. The Romantic outlook sees enemies everywhere whilst the Enlightenment sees a basic harmony in society with the biggest problem being the massive ignorance that even the most knowledgeable people are bound to retain.

For example, the Enlightenment sees common economic interests and basic harmony most of the time, and maybe even all of the time, but the Romantics tend to think trade is a sort of rip off; somewhere, even if they cannot quite see exactly where. So the Romantics hold some get rich but usually only at the expense of the poor whereas the Enlightenment outlook sees the mutual gains of trade, even though one side never gets to be in the richest class. Here the Enlightenment gets the basic economic facts right and Romance fosters the common zero sum delusion, that is sadly retained by current common sense.

And it is similar with debate too. That debate is competitive is a common Romantic idea but quite false, as eristic motivation is harmless enough and cannot alter the logic of the common aim in any debate itself being the truth, even though that might well be distinct from the motivation of the debaters. So debate is basically co-operation, rather than zero- sum competition. And it tends to aid Enlightenment. Polemical or eristic motivation will be a social boon if ever it motivates debate, as debate both fosters enquiry and also the testing of ideas too. In any debate, there are both sides and the case each side might have plus the quest for truth that they do both have in common. The morality of debate should include what Karl Popper held to be the duty of self criticism, or honesty, just to aid Enlightenment all round, otherwise the truth might be neglected.

Both the Enlightenment, and the reaction to it in Romance, tends to apply to all other paradigms. We can expect any Romantic to have enemies so, for example, a Green Romantic will think in terms of “us and them”, but an Enlightenment Green will most likely not, but just think non-Greens are mainly just ignorant. Both paradigms can err. As Pope says, “to err is human.” He adds, “to forgive is divine”. But if a Romantic converts to the older Enlightenment he will think only ignorance is the problem rather than it being as some people basically are, and maybe as they are almost bound to be.

We think many things are natural that are merely habitual. Aristotle said habit was second nature. But any insight might show us that we have a bad habit. I think the Enlightenment paradigm of “one and all” is more efficient than the Romantic one, of “us and them”, but they are both mere paradigms for liberal propagandists.

It is part of Romance to imagine the party differences in politics are tribal rather than of the mere information people might have and that the Enlightenment thinkers are naive to think many people, if any, can be converted over from one side to the other. Psychologists, like Jordan Peterson, takes all that for granted and talks of the political party positions as if they were stable individuals. The Romantic psychologists base a lot of what they see as their science on mere passing ephemera for the parties run on current affairs rather than on principle. The psychologists feel they are non-ideological but they embrace the Romantic outlook.

Most philosophers are confused about freedom and liberty.  We have individual liberty, where we do whatever we like; given the situation we are in. As Hobbes said, all we do is what  we want to do, either as a means or as an end. This is not particularly social and only death ever ends it. Even in prison, we can do this or that. Our liberty is restricted but not thereby ended in gaol. If we are attacked in prison we can fight back, if we are still conscious and have some fitness, but it might be unwise to do so. Duress does not remove individual liberty. We are free to at least attempt to rob or to murder others, if ever we are bad men and so we may want to do so. The good man, as even Aristotle agreed with Socrates and Plato, will not want to do so, but he did not agree with them that mere knowledge of the good ruled out  immoral options by making men good. Common sense never agreed with them on that and Aristotle defended common sense. However, I think they were both quite right.

So people were free in the Hobbesian individual sense even in the late USSR. But they clearly lacked social liberty there. We can all use our individual liberty to try to achieve social liberty.

Social liberty is the liberal, or libertarian, ideal. This is just the above individual liberty but with some respect to the liberty of all others; so we do not rob, do not murder, etc., but rather we treat all others with respect regarding to their liberty. 

The very opposite of social liberty is war. War always destroys social liberty and that rather than the truth is the first causality of war. War cannot similarly affect much truth [or belief i.e. what we see as true, as that will be as vital as ever and needed for all that anyone does], though truth, unlike the facts, can be destroyed. Books can be burnt, for example. We need to make fresh truth whatever we look to see what we are doing. Our other senses do fresh empirical “research” too, to reformulate our needed fresh belief so we can see to do whatever we want to do. Opportunity cost is the only cost and it applies to all we do.

Hobbes thought that liberty would be a war of all against all and that the state might end this anarchy by forcing peace onto people but there he was exactly preposterous or he got it the wrong way round as the state is a war machine aimed at wat and the affairs of state, politics, is to do with war, indeed it is cold war. So if we rolled back or even removed the state we would get not only more liberty but also more peace too.

The Libertarian Alliance

Liberty Posted on Wed, April 25, 2018 14:06:49

The Libertarian Alliance [LA].

This is an alliance between classical liberals and anarcho-liberals. It uses the longer word of “libertarian” in its title as the word, “liberal”, has been largely taken over by statists, ironically the very opposite of the free traders they replaced, as the statists are protectionists, ipso facto.

The new statist liberals arose within the UK Liberal Party, from about 1870 onwards and by the 1930s they were, by far, the great majority in the Liberal Party. The statists, who want more state activity, as they feel there is not enough politicians or enough politics in society but the traditional, or the pristine, liberals always felt was way too many politicians and far too much state activity and that it was actually dysfunctional for both individual and for social welfare.

So today’s Liberal Democrats, whom are nearly all statists, seek yet more state control but the LA members seek far less; or even none at all if they happen to be anarcho-liberals.

This is because the LA members find the state to be both uneconomic and anti-social too, as politics both wastes the money it taxes off the public and it also fosters a dependency culture that tends to sap all individual responsibility. This personal responsibility, that arises from liberty, is held by LA members to be vital to the good society.

So the main aim of the LA is social liberty; i.e. the full individual liberty that also respects, and fits in with the liberty of one and all. The means to this is both by reducing taxation and whatever the state provides, replacing it with free, or freer, institutions, to be achieved by persuading the general public, of the value of social liberty though free discussion with anyone who wants to discuss those matters with LA members but maybe more so with keen intellectuals or with outgoing extroverts who will be keen to freely discuss those matters. Thus the LA aims at repealing most of the current statutory law. It expects social liberty to allow most people, if not one and all, to flourish to the extent that they can do so as a result a freer society, if not immediately of a completely a free one. The more liberty we have the better for all people.

The LA holds public meetings, that are recorded and then placed on YouTube and the LA members take part in its own and in other Internet discussion groups to that end.

Why the progress of liberty has been slow

Liberty Posted on Fri, January 30, 2015 16:43:47

What is liberalism? And, if it is so good, as the liberals say, then why has it not made far more rapid progress?

Whether pristine liberals are conservatives depends only on how much liberty there is in the current status quo. Presumably, the T.H. Green-like neo-liberals from the 1870s, and the Labourites too, are conservatives today. As liberty has been ebbing since 1860, today’s liberals will look radical, or maybe reactionary as they want to revive liberty that many might feel is to try to revive the past but the aim is liberty not trying to revive the past which is never likely to be an aim of anyone and would be futile if ever it was. Liberals today simply want more social liberty, not only the liberty lost since 1860 but much more still. Indeed, many liberals want to get rid of the state altogether. Whenever they do, then they will become conservatives. Whether we are conservatives depends on what we want to conserve.

Liberalism is clearly part, some even think the whole, of basic morality, so there is a sense that nearly everyone the last 3000 years, or more, were partly pristine liberal, and had the basic idea that they should not impose on others without consent, but they do not vie this idea with many other ideas that rival it, or even see that many of those ideas are in competition, if not logically clash, so most people do not see a need to vie our ideas for overall coherence, that many people today might even think is an odd, or an extreme thing to do, if we are not philosophers, and in this case, where we would have an extreme result of suggested anarcho-liberalism, or, at least, that we cut back the state about as much as we can, for many of the rival values held in current common sense today are not compatible with social liberty, or even with basic morals, but indeed they clash with morals. They are allowed only by tacit or unwitting licence or even with quite explicit privilege. This privilege is often thought to be realistic if not quite ideal.

The LA members basically do vie their ideas, and they throw out statism as a result, as it is based on this special licence and privilege e.g. to kill and plunder in war. The LA wants to get all people to do likewise.

Pristine liberalism is just the quest for social liberty, which is just the ideally civilised respect we all ought to have for the liberty of all rather than just our own individual liberty, that we tend to have naturally. This is basically just respect for all persons. I think we do know the basic rules best here whenever boy meets girl, for that is where the proper way we should treat others has received most attention in literature and song over the last few thousand years.

We all like our own liberty, to be free to do what we want to, and we all, more or less, tacitly know this, so being too bossy when boy meets girl will rarely be used by either side during courtship. Savage individual liberty is doing what you want regardless, but social liberty additionally incorporates a civilised respect for the liberty of all others.

If ever bossiness emerges, from one side or the other, when boy meets girl, later on, well after the honeymoon period in marriage, say, then it will usually be seen as a fault, though the side at fault might not openly admit to it, even when it is realised. We are often reluctant to admit that we are at fault. The husband who attempts to dominate too much may well admit it as a fault as may well the wife who nags too much after a time. Tolerance is needed and this tolerance of others, especially of their liberty, is pristine liberalism; tolerance is a candidate for the top liberal idea. But an important liberty is that for either side to reject the other person when we no longer want to tolerate that person, or to never to begin a relationship at all in the first place. All this is social liberty, both sides being free.

So as we all accept the liberal idea as part of our basic universal morals then a pristine liberal movement should be like going downhill, as the people are all partly liberal already. It is in our basic morals. Moreover the liberal idea is not only part of basic morality but is haply the leading, or top, value in morality. Social liberalism is merely showing consideration for the liberty or persons of others. Why, then, have the liberals not, long since, won out? And then why did it decline after 1860, [oddly, by evolving into almost its opposite of statist neo-liberalism by extending the political power of the state] instead of continuing with the steady progress with increasing social liberty up till that time? Those are two interesting questions. I will attempt to give the core answers to both below; but I suppose a whole book might be written on either or both.

The answers to both have two aspects, first of desirability and second of practicality. On desirability, liberalism may be the top idea, but is it all that we want we want? Today, most people would say not but the liberals tend to say it is.

The main answer to the first of the lack of speedy progress has already been given: most people do seriously not vie or mesh their ideas explicitly for consistency and coherence; they are rarely energetic philosophers, but they do tacitly and naturally indulge in such thought a bit. But the reason this explicit vying of ideas needs to be done is because, despite the liberal idea being the top moral idea and the fact that aware moral ideas normally trump rival non-moral value memes, or ideas, liberalism has many rivals: indeed he whole political outlook is full of them. As already said, vying for consistently is seen as extreme and current common sense holds any extreme to be error. But that is a clear fetish, as many extremes are welcome by all e.g. extreme good health is just one example.

Most of the rivals to liberalism are old, as is the state and politics. Tradition and conservativism are strong in any society as they represent what has survived trial and error. So this gives most people to settle for a common sense mix of ideas rather than rejecting the ideas that clash with the liberal idea as the LAers do.

Standing as traditional is almost on par to successful standing up to reason, as it is often thought to contain quite a bit of actual testing by reason. This will be the tacit natural thought that most people will have given whilst being mainly interested in other things that they are doing. What ideally would be the case would be for most people to look at the main enemy of social liberty, the state, with their undivided attention to see if it is beneficial, as current common sense holds or whether it is anti-social as the doctrinaire or ideological liberals hold to be the case. The liberals say that main result of vying our ideas explicitly will be to reach liberalism, will be an anti-statist stance that clashes with the state, which has a long tradition that stands as a defence. This anti-state conclusion is a bit too radical for most people, at least at first. They are interested in doing other things.

But even the statists, or politicians, also feel there is too much apathy in society, or rather people are keen to do other things rather than look on the whole, that they tend to think neglect being keen on the good things they suppose the state can do. The local vicar thinks most are not keen enough on religion too. Why is this? One major reason is that society has long since been based on the division of labour that tends to train us to mind our own business and we tend to do this in terms of play as well as work. Only philosophers tend to look at the wood for even in science they are usually looking at mere trees. This means that most people are not often interested in other things.

But few people do vie their ideas anyway. Philosophers do tend to do so, but philosophy has ever been popular, though we all indulge in doing a bit of it; even if it is not realised to be such.

So most people settle for not being extreme liberals; but they, nevertheless, do retain the liberal idea as their top moral value. Such people accept the common sense idea that the state is basically good, so the fact that, in politics, or overall state administration, the state employees can not only do immoral things but that it might even be, given current common sense realism, their duty to do such things, as they are due to do so as part of their work for the state, and the state is accepted as needed and good, is widely accepted as merely being realistic. That politics clashes with liberalism is seen to be just the practical limits of liberalism.

Common sense therefore allows different standards for the state; the state is given license or privilege. Few think it odd that the fictional spy, James Bond, is licensed to kill, for example, despite holding that murder for the ordinary person is about the most immoral act that could be done. The ideological liberal, who does vie his ideas, will think this distinction very silly, as well as downright immoral. Why privilege the state or politics? The pristine liberal sees no reason as to why. But most people today do. They feel it is only practical to do so. It is practical politics but is it morally right? Is politics itself right? Pristine liberals tend to think not.

There are many other ideas that liberals oppose that current common sense, whilst agreeing that the liberal idea is at the top, or at least very nearly so, nevertheless, thinks the doctrinaire liberal ideology of the LA is being way too extreme to use this top idea to negate as being actually immoral. That, it is commonly thought, is to be so extreme that it is almost descending into being mad.

This is the sort of thinking, that most people hold today, is what helps to keep the pristine liberal movement at bay as being wildly extreme and so slows its progress; or even fosters opposition to it. The state is thought to be highly desirable, as tradition suggests it is so. Why? Because the state is still here; we still have the state. That is enough to get tradition on side for why did they not get rid of the state before if it is as bad as the liberals say it is. It was thought to be desirable in the past so maybe it is, on the whole, today. But only a few philosophers, or quasi-philosophers, are willing to look at the whole and to also explicitly vie their ideas.

Then there is the problem of practicality. Even the LA itself is not completely an extreme anarcho-liberal group but rather it is an alliance between anarchists and limited statists. The latter doubt if we even can dispense with the state. Most liberals in the past have been like that, indeed they have held that the state is basically good, but that the market can do some things, maybe most things, better. Many LA members are still like that, as well as nearly all the pioneers of modern liberalism since about 1500. But since about 1700, actual anti-statist liberalism first emerged that saw the state as evil rather than good, but still thought it a necessary evil. Tom Paine said it was a necessary evil in Common Sense (1776), as it was needed to deter and punish crime from those who do not respect other people. Ideally the evil of punishment would never arise but as some criminals are highly likely to offend, then this necessary evil will be needed to deter them.

In the nineteenth century, some anarchist-liberals, like Josiah Warren, emerged who greatly influenced J.S. Mill, who was a candidate at being top economist and the top philosopher, not only in the UK but even in the world, as well as being the top liberal in his heyday.

The LA has all three types of liberals but not the statist neo-liberals who emerged after 1860, though the enlightenment paradigm propagandists often welcome them still calling themselves liberals as they are critical of pristine liberalism, laissez faire but, oddly, not so often of free trade; though both terms mean the same thing, i.e. liberty from the state, but some authors, especially academic historians, have attempted to say there is a difference, as they say that free trade is between nations whereas laissez faire is liberty within the nations; they feel that means two distinct types of liberty! The neo-liberals do often think they retain the liberal idea in their democracy, and they explicitly do in their moral criticisms of others [indeed, in their basic morals] in being against rape, and the like, but their rampant statism even within their democratic ideal, shows up that they also have many delusions and inconsistencies in their statist “liberal” creed.

Anyway, the pure liberal idea is rejected by most people on the idea that its practicality is severely limited, especially in its main opposition to the state.

Despite such common sense objections, liberalism made steady progress up till the 1860s, but then, within liberalism itself, there was a reaction. The Liberal Party never had accepted the anti-statist meme within liberalism and when it formed a government, or an administration, that aspect of liberalism not only seemed extreme but also quite perverse to almost any member of the House of Commons [MP].

Many novelists and historians had earlier felt there was more to the top Tory authors like Thomas Carlyle, his epigone Charles Dickens, and his disciple John Ruskin who wrote against the commercial society and the idea of free market or its utilitarian bourgeois outlook, especially the chief utilitarian propagandist, Jeremy Bentham. This Tory outlook was part of a wider Romantic reaction was against the very idea of Enlightenment, that is associated with the liberal idea. J.J. Rousseau began this Romantic reaction against the French Philosophes but soon Edmund Burke made this movement more substantial with his attack on Richard Price and Burke soon converted many of the 54 authors that wrote against him, like the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, to Romance. One result of all this was a lot of diverse propaganda that was always effectively, if never quite explicitly, against liberty. Many in the Liberal Party tended to agree with the MPs that more politics was needed to counter this heartless laissez faire. As the pristine liberal MPs got older, or died off, the switch from classical liberalism to statist neo-liberalism was all but complete by 1900, with, maybe, the sole exception of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.

A factor in this was the rise of the Fabian Society from the mid-1880s onwards, that made the idea popular that socialism was to the left of liberalism, to exploit the sense of progress that the early pristine liberals like James Mill and Francis Place won from about 1800 on for the liberal idea, and the Fabian had success with this idea to the extent that, today, the modern mass media call pristine liberal free market ideas right wing! Why? Because they oppose statism! This very successful propaganda group, the Fabian, followed up Joseph Chamberlain in his generational case against Gladstone to replace pristine liberal ideas with the newer statist ones. This was yet another clever emotional move to suggest that the future lay with statism and imperialism.

However, in 1886 Chamberlain left the Liberal Party over Home Rule for Ireland, but, by then, nearly all the younger MPs that he left behind were statists. Joseph Chamberlain’s innovation of statist neo-liberalism was home and dry. The pristine liberal idea was in abeyance till its slow revival beginning in the 1950s, but this time mainly as a moral movement to get the public to think seriously about anti-social politics.

The reformation of Islam

Liberty Posted on Thu, January 08, 2015 14:38:38

The long swansong

Satire is the chief enemy of Islam in those swan song days of its prelude before its “death” in the form it has been hitherto, but, its new life, after this “death”, a new life as a normal bourgeois religion is slowly emerging before our eyes.

This normalisation is what its adherents have long dreaded, and many Muslims still dread it today, but most of Islam’s younger members, especially the males have already been there since about 1970. It was clear that many teenaged males, and also older males, in their twenties, were drinking beer on par with the UK natives in public houses, or pubs, by the late 1960s, yet that alcohol consumption is a great departure from Islam, even though mosques were, back then in the early 1970s, springing up as though the creed was growing rather than ebbing.

Most of the many UK mosques, maybe, date from the early 1970s; a lot certainly do. But by 2070, they will most likely be closing UK mosques more rapidly than they are the forsaken Christian churches in the UK today.

This normalisation of Islam is a cultural tide that many Muslims still wish they could roll back. That is what the Rushdie affair of the 1980s was about and it is what the attack on the magazine offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris yesterday, Wednesday, 7 January 2015, was about too.

Twelve people were killed in the attack on the magazine offices to get revenge for targeting Islam in their cartoons. Eight were journalists and four others, including two policemen were also killed. Eleven others were injured; a few were reported by the BBC as badly so.

The reaction will only enhance the felt need for most Muslims to conform to French normality. A few more Muslims might join the jihad to try to protect Islam as it still is, but way more will want to conform to religious normality as a result. So, ironically, the cultural tide they seek to resist will be boosted by their resistance. Such jihad resistance can only effectively score own goals, even if they do also recruit a few to aid them in the short run.

Cherif and Said Kouachi are said to be the main two attackers on the magazine yesterday. They are now on the run, but still armed. Cherif Kouachi was sentenced to three years in gaol, back in 2008, for recruiting jihadist fighters to go to Iraq from Paris. Yesterday, Hamyd Mourad, 18, on hearing his name on the news, handed himself in to a police station in Charleville-Mezieres. So he is already keen to conform. That indicates that even the very committed may soon drop out, owing to this sort of activity.

The magazine’s office had been earlier firebombed in 2011. It had been a long running aim of the staff of the magazine to deliberately normalise Islam.

Bystanders yesterday reported that the gunmen shouted in the street as they made their getaway, saying “we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” , “we killed Charlie Hebdo”, and “God is Great” [in Arabic] too, but if they have killed off this particular magazine, many new ones are highly likely to arise to further satirise Islam. The aim of Charlie Hebdo staff to normalise Islam looks unstoppable, even if the magazine itself now folds up.

A defense of intellectual property

Liberty Posted on Sat, December 13, 2014 14:45:44

Intellectual property is a sensitive subject in the libertarian community. It is one of the subjects where libertarians just cannot agree what the libertarian position should be. There are a lot of very vocal opponents of the concept. While I think they have some valid arguments, their radical case against all intellectual property always failed to convince me. That is why I would like to lay down some arguments of why I continue to defend the basic concept of intellectual property.

That is not to say that I am a big fan of current intellectual property legislature. I am a passionate anarchist, I want the state completely out of the law production business. However there are forms of intellectual property where I don’t understand why we should get rid of them.

Before we start arguing about the pros and contras, let us first start with defining the main characteristics of intellectual property. Only when we are clear about what characterises intellectual property we can identify it when we see it. Intellectual property means the ownership of information. This can be anything from music, design, literature or in case of patents even the simple knowledge about something. Characteristic of ownership is that someone has the exclusive right so use, distribute or even change these information. As a consequence, that means nothing else, but that the owner can prohibit other people the use of his owned information.

If this characterisation is valid, my first thought is that I cannot see how you can completely get rid of this concept. There is one form of intellectual property that has been around for a very long time and is essentially the basis of contracts. I am talking about what today would be called a brand, that is the exclusive right of one company to use a certain name for their products.

Why can we not get rid of this? Let us take an example. Let us say we get rid of intellectual property. Then, tomorrow every soft drink producer would have the right to label their drink coca cola and even use the same design as the current owner of that brand. How could you make sure in such a world that if you have a contract with someone to deliver coca cola to you that that person is delivering the right coca cola? I don’t see how. Words need to have a clear meaning in order for contracts to make sense. Interestingly, opponents of intellectual property are willing to admit that indeed a company delivering the ‘wrong’ type of coca cola would commit a fraud. However, they are categorically denying that what we are dealing with is intellectual property. But why is it not? If it is indeed fraud than that would mean that one company has more right to call their product coca cola. And if one company has more right to use these information then it seems to fulfil the characteristics of intellectual property as described above. As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck.

I may be wrong, but my impression is that opponents of intellectual property have such a hard time calling this just that, because once there is a precedent for intellectual property, the debate would change from if to how much intellectual property we need. That seems to make them uncomfortable for two reasons. Firstly, they have identified some problems with intellectual property. And secondly, because of these problems there needs to be a limit to intellectual property, but it is hard to tell exactly where these limits would need to be.

Let us look at some of the alleged problems. The biggest problem for libertarians seems to be that intellectual property limits physical property rights. Since intellectual property always needs a medium, the intellectual property owner effectively has the right to control to some degree how people use their physical property. This can go as far as to control how someone uses his body when singing a song to which I own the copyright.

This is a problem because most libertarians seem to really be propertarians. That is they think that property is liberty or at least that liberty is defined through property rights. They seems to overlook that property rights are just a strategy to maximise interpersonal liberty in a world of scarcrity. Interpersonal liberty in my view should be the ability to do whatever you want as much as that is practically possible without limiting the ability of others to do the same. If that is true, then property is only libertarian in so far as it maximises this liberty. Most physical property seems to do that. However, there can very well be forms of property that do not serve that function and should therefore be rejected. David Friedman points to a couple of problems with propertarianism in his machinery of freedom.

If we were to live in an ideal world without any scarcity, we would not need property to maximise interpersonal liberty. Indeed, property in such a world would limit the freedom of people. That means that if our goal is to maximise liberty, we should only support forms of property that are serving that purpose. And I would argue that there are forms of physical property that do not qualify as libertarian and that there are forms of intellectual property that do.

But is the limitation of physical property really a unique feature of intellectual property? It seems to me that it is a general feature of property. When I own my body, a lot of Libertarians would say that I should be able to do with it whatever I want. However, does that mean I can slam my fist into your face? Of course not. Your face is your property and I cannot damage your property with mine. My property rights are always limited by other people’s property rights. Property as a social concept is therefore always limited by certain boundaries. So the notion that unless I can do whatever I want with it, it is not property seems false. The only debate we can have about property is, how far should this concept go. So yes, intellectual property limits the physical property rights of other people, as does every property right. This should not be a criteria to reject it.

The real criteria is, does it limit the liberty of people unnecessarily. I think in some cases it does and in some cases it does not. I would argue whenever intellectual property is needed to create desired content, it clearly enhances the liberty of people.

Let us take an example. Currently the last episode of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is coming into the cinemas. The first two episodes where already a big success. People rushed to watch it in cinemas and bought it on discs or as a download later. Therefore the third instalment will predictably be another success. Clearly, the production of this film makes a lot of people happy and they are willing to spend some money to see it. The total production costs of all three films are estimated to be about 561 million dollars. This is not because there was a lot of wast of money, but producing a film like this really costs that much money. But with copyright laws in place the film will bring in more than enough money to compensate for these costs.

However, I cannot see how this film would have come into existence if it was not for copyright laws. What would be a possible alternative business model to bring in that much money? In the dream world of the Hobbit it would be hard to sneak in any advertisement, like letting him wear the latest nike shoes or drive a certain Mercedes model. Advertisement later also does not work. Why would an advertiser pay to get the rights to advertise in the middle or before the film, if he could just copy and distribute the film himself.

You might say that this is a classical case of special interest policy. Why should people be forced to pay for your film. If you cannot finance it voluntarily then it should not exist. Of course I agree, people should not be forced to pay for the film. However, the case is a bit different here. We know that people are willing to pay for the film voluntarily. The only thing that copyright laws make sure is that those revenues go to the producers, so that they can be compensated for their costs.

Does this unnecessarily infringe on the liberty of copiers? I cannot see how, for when the film is not being produced they would not have anything to copy. So clearly they would not be better off without copyright laws. In a nutshell, when this film is not being produced no one wins anything, but a lot of people lose. This is exactly the difference between this case and a special interest policy case like the famous candlestick makers petition from Bastiat. It is a ‘everyone loses’ situation. How does that maximise liberty? Why should that be a libertarian position? And if ‘everyone loses’ does not bother you as a libertarian position then why not oppose property in general? What justification is there for property if it wasn’t for the fact that property enhances everyone’s choices in life. Not having property would also be a ‘everyone loses’ situation. Economic progress would be impossible and the scarcity would be greatly increased. But at least I would not be restrained by the boundaries of other people’s property. In fact there are people calling themselves libertarians who do argue against all property. To me, this seems silly in a world of scarcity.

Even the person who is copying wins with this type of copyright protection. After all now he has something to copy. He may have to pay a small fee, or he may just do it secretly, but at least he has something to copy, which clearly enhances his choices in life and therefore his liberty.

On the other hand there are clearly bad intellectual property rights that should be rejected from an interpersonal liberty maximising position. A good example of bad intellectual property rights are rules like the copyright still lasting long ofter the producer of it has died. This is clearly not helping to produce more interesting content and therefore infringes on other people’s liberty unnecessarily.

This also addresses another common argument against copyright. Which is that information are not scarce. This is overlooking that intellectual property tries to protect good, new information. Good intellectual content is very scarce. If you argue otherwise then tell me where I can find the information how to cure cancer. If it is not scarce, it should be easily accessible.

All other arguments against intellectual property rights that I have come across are essentially dealing with current wrong legislature of this idea. Yes there are lots of problems here, reaching from silly rules to using copyright as a tool for censorship. However, this is simply a general problem of having a state running a society. We also have this problem when it comes to physical property where the state provides very unlibertarian concepts of what that is supposed to be. In any case I believe, if you cannot protect your rights on a free market, you probably should not have them. And if it were to turn out that intellectual property rights are unenforceable in an anarchist society I am certainly not going to call for the foundation of a state to do so.

To sum up, I cannot put myself behind the cause of completely abolishing intellectual property rights. There definitely seem to be intellectual property rights that are helping to create interesting new intellectual content. This content is definitely enriching my choices in life and therefore my liberty. I do not want to give up on that.

positive liberty

Liberty Posted on Sat, June 21, 2014 12:30:53

positive liberty ‘Positive *liberty’ is supposed to be when you are able to do whatever you (ought to) want to do, rather than merely not being actively prevented from doing something (which is ‘negative liberty’). The main problem with ‘positive liberty’ is that it appears to be a tendentious attempt to belittle the *liberal or *libertarian conception of liberty. For ‘positive liberty’ looks much more like ability or, valuable/approved, opportunity (in many cases it is a *privilege at the *tax victims’ expense, who thereby become underprivileged). It is conceptually confusing to try to dress these up as the kind of ‘liberty’ that really matters, rather than to argue for their importance independently and admit that liberty might need to be constrained in order to promote them. It smacks of *politically-correct speak.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

Kant and liberalism

Liberty Posted on Mon, May 19, 2014 15:55:05

How much of a liberal was Kant?

When I first read A Theory of Justice (1971), around 1975, the two principles of justice (p60) seemed, at once, to be anarcho-liberal, even though Rawls was no witting anarchist but quite the contrary, he seemed to have loved the state.

As Rawls made a fuss about Kant I might have, back then, thought the same about Kant too, for treating all persons as ends in the first place and only as means with their permission, is indeed pristine liberalism: I do not want to use that ugly long word “libertarianism” very much here [or elsewhere] but I agree that liberalism since the 1880s has been taken over by statists, both the word and the movement too. So the longer ugly word has, maybe, proved useful but I still do not want to use it very often. Neo-liberalism did not all begin with J.A. Hobson, but he was in the first wave of the true neo-liberals or statists. Rawls wrote just as pristine liberalism was finally reviving.

[Far more on the metamorphosis from pristine to statist neo-liberalism, and indeed about Hobson, is due from me later on this blog, in the history section].

Oddly, it was only a few years back, about 2012, that the same thought did occur to me with Kant. That the pristine liberal idea has been the top idea since about 1750 with almost one and all has seemed clear to me since about 1970, though, even within the socialist movement! Clearly, most people feel that rival memes restrict the liberal idea, especially where the state is concerned. The state is clearly illiberal but most people feel we simply have to have a state so they accept it scotching liberty as a mere practical necessity. They effectively agree that the state can be licensed to kill, and to abuse people in many other ways too. They privilege politics on the idea that we simply have to be realistic.

The LA differs from common sense just being consistent with treating one and all as ends first of all whereas most others feel that we all need to be realistic about the state. To be realistic they overlook that the state is licensed to do many things that if done by the ordinary person would make that person a criminal. This privilege allows most to feel that the liberal idea is compatible with the state. This is where the LA disagrees with the general public. Most people do not vie their ethical ideas. They do not bother very much about possible clashes of ideas. But most people do realise that the pristine liberal idea applies fully when boy meets girl. They show a full knowledge of it there; maybe because literature and song has caused them to think a bit more about that sort of encounter.

A fond friend of mine sent me a copy of “TGIF: What Social Animals Owe to Each Other” by Sheldon Richman. He suggested to me that the article took a similar position to me on Kant and liberalism. Other pieces that have read of this author seem way too statist for my liking, even though I advocate toleration for statists on the idea that they most likely feel we must have the state, even if it is negative sum. They also might not realise how illiberal the state really is. Most people do not. So statists should be tolerated. Tolerance is maybe the chief liberal idea after all. Indeed, the LA is an alliance between anarcho-liberals and minimal statists. However, Richman has, hitherto, looked to me to be more like 1880s neo-liberal Rawls or Hobson than like a statist LA member.

I never did think much of common idea amongst many libertarians of the USA of reducing pristine liberalism to non-aggression. Illiberal acts like theft do not usually look like aggression, for example. But it does abuse those we steal from as it fails to treat them as ends but rather theft just ignores their property rights rather than being aggressive towards them. Moreover, reactive or defensive aggression might be perfectly liberal. Liberals are near pacifists, but not quite pacifists, as they reserve the right of self-defence. Richard Cobden got John Bright to renounce his Quaker, or Society of Friends, pacifism to embrace the liberal right of self-defence. Bright ran the risk of being expelled from the Friends when he did so, but they did not expel him in the event.

Below, I wish to discuss what Richman says. He begins with:

“If I were compelled to summarize the libertarian philosophy’s distinguishing feature while standing on one foot, I’d say the following: Every person owes it to all other persons not to aggress them. This is known as the nonaggression principle, or NAP.”

By contrast, I would say that liberalism stands for social liberty. Thomas Hobbes felt we had wild individual liberty in any case. Even if gaoled, whatever we do is either a means to some end or an end in itself. This does not exclude criminal behaviour. We always do have Hobbesian individual liberty.

By contrast, John Locke thought there was a natural law, that God made, which all humans could intuitively comprehend, though he feared most people were nevertheless still going to be sinners, that would get them to respect an equal liberty of one and all as being right, thus social liberty was this respecting of the liberty of all human beings, even if the ethics, theology and philosophy of Locke puts that meme in terms that might seem quite unreal to a modern atheist. Social liberty is just respecting the liberty of one and all.

But this liberty is not only just no proactive aggression, let alone no aggression at all. It is respect for any person as an end first of all. We need permission to use any person as a means, thus we have no liberal right to use anyone as a mere means without explicit consent from that person. NAP is not enough. But treating others as an end is enough. To that extent Kant, like Rawls, embraced the liberal principle, even if he did not see the clear-enough the ramifications.

Richman continues:

“What is the nature of this obligation?

The first thing to notice is that it is unchosen. I never agreed not to aggress against others. Others never agreed not to aggress against me. So if I struck you and you objected, you would not accept as my defense, “I never agreed not to strike you.”

Even an explicit agreement rests on an unchosen obligation.”

Yes, we find rather than choose the moral law. Kant went back to Plato in realising that ethics was a matter of Form or of abstract memes. Many of his critics have thought that Form, or mere categories, were empty but we fill the space with guesses, and the guesses need to be coherent but observation is not applicable to ethics in the ordinary sense, thought the likes of J.S. Mil might plea that we do observe the results of our arithmetic, which in on par with ethics in this respect. The later Plato, thus his student Aristotle also, erred when they threw out the Forms completely instead of revising them towards being more realistic but the likes of Karl Popper and Roger Penrose have done well to revise them more realistically in the twentieth century.

Karl Popper is roughly right with his materialist realms of world one [W1] to do with matter, world two [W2] to do with mind and world three [W3] to do with memes or ideas, though we can add an immaterial realm that is prior to those, but that Popper might well have rejected, of facts, ethics, and the like that I would call world zero [W0]. This latter is not only metaphysical but ontological. Large brained animals may well intuit moral rules in this realm of W0 roughly as Locke imagined for this seems to be roughly what Locke was getting at with natural law, I would say but it was not created, it seems not to an atheist like me, anyway. But it is a realm that large brained animals are highly likely to discover. We create the means to realise what there is [W3] but not ever the facts [W0] nor what there is in matter or events [W1]. So Richman is right that the moral law is not chosen. Nor is moral pluralism even possible, as the backward Politically Correct [PC] adherents tend to assume.

Injustice is not material [W1] but it is finally a matter of right, if not ever quite of fact. We cannot make a science of ethics, as there is nothing that we can observe, or to experiment on, any more than there is in mathematics; both use only coherence for we cannot experiment nor observe. Moreover, we all do know the basics of morals as young children, in that we can repeat what is right or wrong, even if we do not quite adopt them as such. So no science of ethics ever was needed by the masses though lots of realisation or adoption of them is needed by very young children and even some adults. Ethics maybe only has the role in study of getting some questioning adults to see that what the small five years olds can usually repeat is adequate for society. Otherwise, ethics, that needs to be very simple to be practical at all, is way too simple to ever be a serious science. Any normal human being can guess the ethics content needed without instruction from others, though all are free to think they might abuse others by flouting what they are told is right and wrong. Socrates and Plato held that if ever anyone adopted those simple ideas as well as just guessing the content then they would, indeed could, do no wrong but Aristotle held that they both flouted mere common sense there and most have agreed with Aristotle on that ever since.

Richman continues:

“Even an explicit agreement rests on an unchosen obligation. Let’s say you lent me five dollars, I refused to repay the loan, and when you demanded repayment, I said, “Why am I obligated to repay the money?” You would probably reply, “Because you agreed to repay me.” If I replied, “True, but when did I agree to abide by my agreements?,” what would you say? If you said that failure to repay constituted aggression, and I replied that I never agreed not to aggress against you, we’d be back where we started.”

Clearly, not repaying a loan has nothing to do with aggression and not agreeing to honour an agreement hardly implies a lack of agreement but rather it implies, at least, some agreement. Richman seems to be poor when he overlooks that.

He continues:

“Of course this would point the way to absurdity — an infinite regress of agreements to keep my agreements. We would get nowhere. There has to be a starting point.”

But why do we need any beginning?

Ontology does not seem to need one, even if material events do. Different materials change in different degrees, but facts never do, though the longer a person lives, the more facts he will know about his own life to put in his autobiography, though most of us maybe think the actual mundane facts of our past is not going to be interesting enough aid us much to write a book that many others will ever want to read.

Richman adds:

“If I were to ask, “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against them,” what would you say? I presume some answer rooted in facts would be offered because the alternative would be to say this principle has no basis whatsoever, that it’s just a free-floating principle, like an iceberg. That would amount to saying the principle has no binding force. It’s just a whim, which might not be shared by others. In other words, if a non-libertarian demands to know why he is bound by the unchosen NAP, libertarians will have answers. Their answers will differ — some will be more robust than others — but they will have answers. At least I hope so.”

Richman has this bias in favour of grounding answers in facts or against mere assumptions but the sceptics refuted this backing up, or grounding, idea about 2500 years ago.

The sceptics saw that any observation creates only an assumption; as does any valid argument. Evidence can, in principle, refute but never quite back up any thesis.

This hardly means that our word means nothing. Richman looks confused there, as so many in the colleges are. Few, if any of us, look to ground a promise that we will do this or that in some justification beforehand. But justificationalists imagine all sorts of such unreal prerequisites.

A true anti-liberal might not be immediately impressed by any answer that a liberal can give as to why he cannot gratuitously attack others for fun, if ever he fully feels it is all right to begin with. But few actual people are that illiberal. The near ubiquitous golden rule, found in eastern authors, like Confucius, as well as in Christian and pre-Christian authors, will normally have some hold on almost anyone, anywhere.

However, George Bernard Shaw did have a pertinent criticism of the golden rule of “treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves” for we are all different. Indeed, a thug might accept that we treat each other others thuggishly but a lady might insist in all personal relations being ladylike but that is not that treating all persons as ends so much as two dysfunctional universal ways of treating others. But liberalism dodges the Politically Correct meme that there needs to be same treatment for one and all rather than holding that each person has liberty and is to be treated as a personal end. So the liberal principle is even better than the golden rule is. But the golden rule does ensure that we do not wontedly attack others as we want no one to wontedly attack us.

Richman continues:

“Now if we have an unchosen obligation not to aggress against others and that obligation is rooted in certain facts, this raises a new question: Might the facts that impose the unchosen obligation not to aggress also impose other obligations? If one unchosen obligation can be shown to exist, why couldn’t the same foundation in which that one is rooted produce others?

To the question “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against them,” I would respond along these lines: because we individually should treat other persons respectfully, that is, as ends in themselves and not merely as means to our own ends. But some libertarians would reject that as too broad because it seems to obligate us to more than just nonaggression. They might answer the question this way: “Because one may use force against another only in defense or retaliation against someone who initiated the use of force.” But this can’t be sufficient because it amounts to a circular argument: To say that one may use force only in response to aggression is in effect merely to restate the nonaggression principle. One shouldn’t aggress because one shouldn’t aggress. But the NAP can hardly justify itself.”

NAP, on the face of it, is completely pacifist for any defensive aggression is clearly aggression. The alternative to a circular argument is an invalid argument. We use logic as a test of coherence. We use observation as a test of truth. Neither ever can back nor build a thesis up, as the Sceptics of old rightly saw. Deduction tends to reduce valid content rather than to amplify by logic for valid logic is all downhill. Justification is the will of the wisp.

NAP is clearly an inept idea of what liberalism amounts to but Kant’s moral law idea, that Richman says he would answer as being liberalism, does gives us liberalism as it is, free of property or of the market, which both serve the liberal idea in our modern world very well but are not of its essence even though they do clearly both serve this liberal principle. Richman says Kant’s moral law justifies, in some way, but that looks like a mere figment of his imagination. It is the liberal idea rather than any justification of some sort, all of which are as imaginary as unicorns. Nor is such a silly imagined condition needed. That is just as well, as it is not available. But Richman lacks the wit to realise that.

However, Richman feels a justification is needed. He goes on:

“So we need a real justification for the NAP, and the one I’ve offered seems like a good start. The NAP is an implication of the obligation to treat persons respectfully, as ends and not merely as means. Of course this also requires justification. Why should we treat other persons respectfully?

NAP needs to be dumped rather than justified. Properly understood, it is a small part of liberalism, but on the face of it, NAP looks pacifist. Anyway justification never did exist. It is a mere superstition.

Kant’s moral law requires no justification; nor does any idea. Justification is mere whimsy. We should do the right thing as it is the right thing. But we can hear criticism as to why some might feel it to be the wrong thing instead. Such criticism should be welcome by any liberal propagandist. All ideas should be tested, as far as possible, by criticism.

Richman goes on:

“Many libertarians, though certainly not all, approach the question of just conduct — specifically, as it relates to the use of force — from egoistic considerations, such as those provided by Ayn Rand. They say we should never aggress against others because doing so would be contrary to our self-interest: the dishonesty required by a life of injustice would be psychologically damaging, and we’d eventually run out of victims.”

This is not so far from the golden rule, which is very common around the world. It is empathy rather than justification. Ayn Rand is hardly original in what she says. As John Hospers reported, she hated anything remotely like thought, and she was not even polite enough to read his book that he gave here on ethics. She longed only for flattery. She was lucky enough to get it in superabundance. There seems to be nothing else worth saying about her. Her books are hardly worth reading.

Richman goes on:

“Socrates and Plato saw a problem with the first part of this answer. If one could act unjustly toward others while appearing to be just, could unjust conduct serve one’s self-interest? Egoistic libertarians can be asked the same question. What if you could lead an unjust life with a guarantee of the appearance of justice? Must dishonesty be damaging? The same people who would say yes to that question, however, would also say that a person who spins a complicated web of lies to keep the Nazis from learning he is harboring Jews in his attic won’t suffer such damage. If that person can escape harm, why not the unjust liar? Saying that one set of lies is for a good cause doesn’t strike me as an adequate answer. How would a good cause save someone from the harm of “faking reality”?”

Apart from flouting the moral law, which we might not like to do, it is not clear that lying damages us, It does slightly abuse others, at least, maybe it might sometimes badly abuse them too, though there are also many so-called white lies that most seem to think are near-enough completely harmless.

Richman continues:

“So it seems that a simple self-interest model doesn’t take us where we want to go: to the unchosen obligation to respect people’s freedom, or more broadly, to treat persons as ends and not merely as means. I would be a little uneasy if a libertarian told me that it is only his self-interest that prevents him from clubbing me on the noggin and making off with my wallet.”

Well, any liberal will usually want to respect social liberty as an end, ipso facto. It hardly matters why one embraces liberalism in the first place but the chief reason might be that it is the only coherent morality and that it might one day get explicit universal agreement, thereby solving problems that the state gives rise to like the problem of war.

Rickman continues:

“And yet, self-interest still might provide an answer. Roderick Long tackles this problem in his extended essay “Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand” (PDF). What Long shows, to my satisfaction at least, is that Rand’s notion of self-interest as expressed in her nonfiction essays is too flimsy to support the libertarian prohibition on aggression and the general injunction to treat people respectfully. To be more precise, Long shows that Rand’s explicit writings on ethics are a tangle of at least three different and inconsistent defenses for the nonaggression principle (one of them Kantian — how’s that for irony?).”

But this support, or the need for it, is all imaginary anyway, Long and Rickman are as backward as Rand was in that respect. The liberal principle does float free of any foundation, as does all other memes; including all those used in science. And liberalism is the respect for one and all, thus for their liberty rather than only about everyone being free from gratuitous aggression.

Richman now takes a detour into confusion:

“Before we get to this, however, we must invoke an important distinction that Long emphasizes: instrumental versus constitutive means to an end. An instrumental means is external to the end. A constitutive means is intrinsic to the end; we can’t imagine the end without it. Long uses the example of a man dressing up for evening out (where “dressing up” includes a necktie). Shopping for a tie is an instrumental means. Wearing the tie is a constitutive means — it is part of what we mean by “dressing up.” One can dress up without shopping for a tie, but one cannot dress up without wearing a tie.

We can look at justice, which includes respect for other persons’ rights, in both ways. Does respect for their rights serve our self-interest merely because we would earn good reputations and others will cooperate with us? (This is Thomas Hobbes’s position.) Or is respecting their rights also a constituent of living a good human life? The answer is crucial. In the first case, one’s self-interest could be served by acting unjustly so long as one could appear to be just. In the second case, one could not flourish by acting unjustly even if one could go undetected. As Socrates suggested, it is preferable to live justly with a reputation for injustice than to live unjustly with a reputation for justice.

Long shows that Rand has both instrumental and constitutive elements in her nonfiction writing on ethics; in some places she says a person’s goal should be survival, while in other places she speaks of survival “qua man.” It isn’t entirely clear whether individuals should aim at the longest possible life regardless of the type of life or at a particular type of life regardless of its length. (Her novels appear to take the latter position — suicide is even contemplated by heroic characters.) If it’s the first, then violating someone’s rights might occasionally be to one’s self-interest. Imagine that at 4 a.m. you pass an alley in a deserted part of town where a man is passed out and a hundred-dollar bill is sticking out of his pocket. The chances of getting caught are zero. Do you take the money? If not, why not? An instrumental model of justice should say to take the money. A constitutive model would not.”

Richman errs badly here for what idea of justice would ever endorse theft? Hobbes might say it is not just as there is no justice in a state of nature but he will not say it is actually just, or morally right, to abuse others in a state of nature. Richman as tied himself up with this irrelevant distinction between what is constitutive and what is instrumental and he has fallen into this muddle owing to a search for an impossible foundation that is not possibly available; or ever needed. Liberalism is clearly about our end of social liberty for all not about any instrumental means.

Richman then says:

“It might be said that a rational person acts on rational principles even if in particular cases his or her self-interest is not served.”

But here we are on about liberalism, not Hobbesian individual freedom, which has no need to respect others, but rather a social liberty with the ain to respect a similar liberty for one and all. Richman seems to forget that in his attempt to make some sense out of Roderick Long.

He continues:

“But Long points out that such “rule egoism” ends up being no egoism at all, since the rule is followed regardless of its consequences. This approach is deontological, not teleological, as Rand would want it. So the reply is inadequate.”

Yes, liberalism is deontological but then the idea that utilitarianism describes another rival moral law is fanciful. Natural rights describes the same moral rules as does utilitarianism, as Joseph Priestley repeatedly pointed out in the eighteenth century; but his supposed epigone, Jeremy Bentham, lacked the wit to realise that when he went on about natural rights being nonsense on stilts. The difference was merely in the choice of words rather than in what the likes of Locke were referring to out in the world to by natural law. As Hobbes said, words are mere counters rather than actual money.

Many say they cannot find “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” in Priestley’s writings but Priestley may well have reached more people by talking than even he did by his many books. He was a one man eighteenth century open university.

“What are the grounds for accepting the constitutive model of virtue, including justice?”

There Richman goes again, looking for imaginary grounds, or foundations, when there can be no such thing. And there never were any such thing, as the sceptics made clear 2500 years ago.

Richman goes on:

“Turning to Aristotle, Long writes,

For Aristotle, a human being is essentially a logikon animal and a politikon animal.…

To be a rational animal is to be a language-using animal, a conversing animal, a discursive animal. And to live a human life is thus to live a life centered around discourse.”

If Aristotle held that reason required language then he merely over rated language.

Most thought is tacit.

Richman goes on:

“Our nature as logikon is thus closely allied with our nature as politikon. To be a politikon animal is not simply to be an animal that lives in groups or sets up governments; it is to cooperate with others on the basis of discourse about shared ends.…”

If Aristotle held that man was a political animal then he over-rated politics too. Most men have always been apathetic about both religion and politics.

Anyway, politics is about proactive coercion rather than free co-operation. Politics is intrinsically illiberal. It is anti-social rather than the social boon that Aristotle imagined that it was. The state needs to be cut out if all are to be treated as ends. If this cannot be quite done then it needs at least to be rolled back as much as is possible.

Richman continues:

“Being politikon is for Aristotle an expression of being logikon; just as logikon animals naturally conduct their private affairs through reason rather than through unreflective passion, so they naturally conduct their common affairs through public discourse and rational persuasion, rather than through violence.…”

But all politics is about proactive coercion or government, if not open violence. Gratuitous coercion, that politics always involves, certainly risks open violence. Here Long, and Richman too, is overlooking that politics is always unfree, that it is about coercing others proactively or gratuitously, always about abusing people by ignoring that they are personal ends thus politics is intrinsically illiberal.

The two authors concerned here, Long and Richman, also hold that the passions are free of reason, and that is false too. They hold that reason is social, but that is never quite the case. We think as we die in an individual way, thought others usually do aid us in thought if not with dying. But even a great teacher cannot do the thinking for us entirely, no more than a good cook can usefully eat for us. Hobbes was right on the biological units of humanity for we are all individuals.

We discover and shape our passions though thought, for there is no thought-free passion that neglects how the world seems at any one time to the thinker, as the Stoics rightly saw back 2500 years ago.

Locke was roughly right when he said the natural law was for respecting the liberty of one and all and Kant that we should be all respected as personal ends rather than as mere means, as Richman rightly endorses,

Richman continues:


“Thus, Long adds, “To violate the rights of others, then, is to lessen one’s humanity.… To trample on the rights of others is never in our self-interest, because well-being cannot [quoting Aristotle] ‘come about for those who rob and use force.’”

One’s goal is to flourish by achieving excellence in those things that make one human — Aristotle says that “the task of man is a certain life, and this an activity and actions of soul with logos.” One cannot flourish if one lives in a nonhuman way. If this sounds like Rand, it’s because her fictional characters understand it, even if her nonfiction essays do not express it unambiguously.

Long concludes,

A truly human life, then, will be a life characterized by reason and intelligent cooperation. (Bees may cooperate after a fashion, but not on the basis of discourse about shared ends.) To a logikon animal, reason has value not only as an instrumental means to other goals but as an intrinsic and constitutive part of a fully human life; and the same holds true for cooperation. The logikon animal, insofar as it genuinely expresses logos, will not deal on cooperative terms with others merely because doing so makes others more likely to contribute instrumentally to the agent’s good; rather, the agent will see a life of cooperation with others as an essential part of his own good.

Aristotle’s book on friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics beautifully elaborates on this point. Long and Neera Badhwar’s article on Rand at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is also worth reading, especially the section on virtue, vice, and egoism.”

But Aristotle endorsed the city state, that was illiberal in its use of coercion. Ayn Rand thought she could have a state without taxation, but it is far from clear whether we ever can, and even about half of the LA membership might hold that anarchy is either impossible or undesirable but that the anarchist members are going the right way, even if they are deluded that we can ever get rid of the state entirely. The statist LAers tend to hold that liberalism is a mere ideal, that cannot be completely achieved, but that is still useful, as it is good to try to get as near to the liberal ideal as possible. They held that the smaller the state, or the lower that taxation is, the better. We might not get complete social liberty, but the nearer we got to it the better, those statist LAers may well hold. But they tend to thereby agree that the state, or that government itself, is intrinsically illiberal; that to govern people is thereby to scotch treating the governed as proper ends.

Richman continues:

“If this is right, we owe respect to others’ humanity, via respect for their rights, because the activity manifesting that respect is a constituent of our own flourishing as logikon and politikon animals. We owe it to ourselves to owe it to others. This Aristotelian insight points to an interpersonal moral realm in which the basic interests of others meld in important ways with our own. “To the extent that we are logikon animals,” Long writes, “participation in a human community, together with a shared pursuit of the human good, is a constitutive part of a truly human life.”

But does this show that we owe anything more than nonaggression? It seems so. We abstain from aggressing against others because, as logikon and politikon animals, we flourish by engaging the humanity of other individuals. Clearly, abstaining from aggression is not the only way to engage their humanity, just as aggression is not the only way to deny their humanity. Thus these Aristotelian considerations entail the obligation to treat others respectfully broadly.”

Maybe, but there are also people who do not like company every much and liberalism allows them to refrain from joining in. To treat such people as ends we need to respect their liberal right to remain on their own. The scientist, Henry Cavendish, is an example of such an eccentric from the history of science. Cavendish was basically friendly but also very shy in that he hated company. He was always willing to lend out books but he would prefer not to meet to do it, so he arranged to put the book in a certain place at his home so the borrower could collect it at a later time without ever meeting him.

Richman goes on:

“One last question remains: Is this obligation broadly to treat other persons as ends and not merely as means a libertarian matter? It is, at least in this way: The obligation broadly to treat other persons as ends and not merely as means is validated by the same set of facts that validate the nonaggression principle.

This looks like a mere delusion, as there is no process of validation of mere assumptions. We can test them by logic or observation as best as we can, but we are thereby testing for truth or coherence, that the assumptions must have prior to any test, rather than epistemologically promoting them by later work that we do on them in some way. So any achievement of truth is by mere assumption itself. We have no ability to promote any assumption by use in science or epistemology.

Later tests simply attempt to see if we have the truth. We cannot deny that, though it passes all tests, the assumption might still be false. As this might be so, we all do have the Popperian duty to always try to refute our own pet ideas.

We can get others to attempt this for us by entering into debate with them, where we usually return the favour by attempting to refute their ideas. No matter how eristic debaters argue, or how hostile they feel towards each other personally, the institutional aim of all debate is at the truth.

Richman continues:

“Nonaggression is simply one application of respect. Thus a libertarian society in which people generally thought that nonaggression was all they owed others would be a society that should fear for its future viability qua libertarian society.”

Non-aggression is inept in many ways, and it is certainly not liberalism. Kant’s idea that Richman adopts by implication is, but note that Kant never saw it as such, no more than Rawls did his social contract version of it. It is way better at summing up the liberal idea than the non-aggression slogan, but no words exclude some misunderstanding. The cited slogan suggests pacifism but that is not meant by those who say it. They mean only no gratuitous aggression. The Kantian words are way clearer as well as way more comprehensive. They also show it is about people not about mere property, which is another all too common misunderstanding of the liberal idea.

Richman goes on:

“Finally, I’m sure libertarians do not have to be reminded that nonaggressive affronts against persons may be responded to only in nonaggressive ways. Neither governmental nor private force may be deployed to counter peaceful offenses. Why not? Because the rule of proportionality dictates that force may be used only to meet force. In other words, some obligations are enforceable and others are not.

(While thinking about this article, I profited mightily by conversations with Gary Chartier.)”

Richman is right to reject the misleading non-aggression meme in favour of the Kantian meme of treating of one and all as a personal end. Kant was far from being a consistent liberal, but he was, as were maybe most people since, or even before his day, to our own, a liberal of sorts but also way too tolerant of many illiberal ideas too, to further the liberal paradigm very much. Kant was no liberal propagandist. Toleration is maybe the chief liberal idea but it cannot viably tolerate the negation of social liberty much and still survive as such. It must try to insist that others are not abused but that is not only to have mores against gratuitous aggression but also no other abuse of people such as theft or cheating. So tolerance is a major liberal virtue, maybe even the chief liberal virtue, but it is not tolerant of illiberal activity if ever we can get rid of it.

Kant famously said that he would sooner see the world destroyed rather than to tell a lie. That was ironically not particularly honest of him! It was the sort of white lie that was sheer hyperbole, but did not seem to cheat anyone. What Kant would have most likely have seen as too extreme is to advocate, wittingly and openly, the sort of liberalism that the LA advocates but to do so is way less eccentric than the fuss he made, inconsistently, over mere lying.

All illiberal acts are not equal, as Richman says in his conclusion, for some are trivial but others may be as grave as murder. No nation-state has been unwise enough to outlaw lying, as far as I know, but all that I know of do outlaw murder. Kant would not have needed to be as extreme as he was about lying to be the sort of liberal propagandist that we badly need today to roll back the state. But Kant was no liberal propagandist. So, like most people, he held the liberal idea as a moral idea but he was not enthusiastic enough about it to advocate it as the solution to many problems that faced the people of his day, problems that still faces people today, as they are owing to the dysfunctional nature of the state. Like most people, Kant was basically liberal, but only in a passive way. However, his formulation of the moral law is clearer than the non-aggression slogan as a short way of presenting the liberal idea.

sport abuse

Liberty Posted on Mon, April 07, 2014 15:03:04

sport abuse “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame, is sport in action.” (Or so the immortal bard should have written: “lust” on a *libertarian basis being a healthy delight). While exercise is healthy in cautious moderation, virtually all sporting activities, including athletics, are an abuse of the body to some degree. Sport abuse, unlike so-called *‘drug abuse’, is almost a pleonasm. It is an irony and a *hypocrisy that many people who are otherwise *health *fascists often encourage and even participate in this so-called *natural and healthy activity.

Sport abuse will inevitably result in a variety of sporting injuries throughout the time that the abuser continues with his dangerous habit, and some of these injuries can last the rest of the abuser’s life even becoming exacerbated with time. With many of the hard sports, such as football, running and *boxing, there is a significant risk of permanent *disability and even death. And most of this entirely foreseeable damage will be treated using *state *healthcare at the expense of *tax-victims, which is inexcusable (see *seat belts and helmets).

It might be suggested in its defense, that this is a valuable physical *addiction involving naturally occurring opiates from exercise that are as good and as harmless in themselves as heroin. But this is not a sound defense just because of the alternatives of such safe recreational *drugs or moderate exercise. It is also a psychological addiction, but there are myriad beneficial psychological addictions that could better replace it.

Apart from the damage done to human bodies, the amount of time and *money that is spent indulging in active and voyeuristic sport abuse is phenomenal: a not insignificant proportion of most *countries’ *national products. And yet the state often grants *criminal *privileges and tax-extorted subsidies for sport, especially athletics (e.g., *compulsory purchases for national sports grounds and billions of pounds taxtorted to fund the UK Olympics). This is part of the same ‘bread and circuses’ tactic used by Roman emperors to distract people from the infinitely greater damage caused by *politics. Sport is also the very opposite of a safety valve for national differences. For it is used to stoke up the *nationalism that the nation-state requires to survive and to go to *war.

There is also the fact that many sport abusers become insidious sport pushers of one kind or another, and often push sports to very young *children (including their own sons and daughters) and, at the very extreme, even participate in its compulsion within state child-prisons, i.e., *schools, which is *morally indefensible.

Despite all this, it remains the libertarian prerogative of the individual to pursue this addictive, harmful, mindless, life-wasting depravity at his own expense; and even viciously to entice others into doing the same. One has a *right to choose how to spend one’s own life. Needless to say, if one can affirm individual *liberty even in this *extreme case, one should have no problem with tamer areas such as those involving sex and drugs.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

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