Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why I’m a Libertarian


I frequent a conservative Christian website called “What’s Wrong With The World” (WWWTW) where my Libertarianism is often challenged on the basis of Natural Law theory, the “common good”, or on some other philosophical footing.  Now I have to admit that their views of Libertarianism are so worked out that most of them describe it in terms completely foreign to me.  I’m often confronted with “doomsday scenarios” where, in some theoretical Libertarian society, all societal structures break down (even the family) and all that is left is individuals battling other individuals in a barren wasteland.  (The only thing missing is the zombies!)  Now, I’m only a recent convert to Libertarian thinking and as such am not well versed in its history or philosophical underpinnings.  I will say this though: the Libertarianism I have learned about from Libertarians themselves differs dramatically from that described by the WWWTW sages – so I’m not sure what exactly they’re against, but I’m fairly certain what I am for  For simple-minded me, Libertarianism is all about the nature and proper role of government. 
First, the nature of government:  Government is the only entity in society (other than parents) that can legitimately exercise coercive control over individuals.  The government can come to your house, break down your door, confiscate your property, drag you and your family into the street and beat you to a pulp if you resist – all with relative impunity (even if it turns out later that it was the wrong address).  Individuals (even parents) cannot legally do that.  We, as a society, have collectively agreed to submit to an authority with the power of life and death over us.  We do this because we believe in the necessity of government for order and peace.   Everything the government does (and this is important), ultimately resolves in the threat of lawful force if resisted.  Even the most innocent of crimes---say parking tickets---if ignored long enough will result in the government forcing its will upon you.  The nature of government then, is ‘legitimized tyranny’.  Or, in the words of Thomas Paine, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."
So, given the tyrannical nature of government, the question then becomes “over what areas of society should we grant such tyrannical authority?”  In other words: “what is the proper role of government?”   The pure Libertarian answer is that the role of government is solely to protect the innocent from force and fraud.   Coercive force, in a Libertarian society, is legitimate only for keeping the peace and protecting the innocent.  A Libertarian State then, would have departments of Defense, Corrections, Law Enforcement, and not much else.  Other shades of Libertarianism will add other areas into the mix such as Immigration, Environmental Protection, or whatever.  But each area added moves the State one step further from pure Libertarianism.  (Of course you'd still have an independant Judiciary and a Legislative branch - though the legislators would have much less to do in a Libertarian society!)  For me then, the answer to the question of 'areas to grant tyrannical authority over' is: “as few as possible”.  I’m not a pure Libertarian.  I think that a nation should have borders and an immigration policy.  I also think there needs to be environmental protections of some sort.  And, I know that many Libertarians are pro-abortion – I’m not.  I think that the primary function of government is to protect innocent life.  For me, that means life at conception (see: Science, more specifically: Biology, even more specifically: Genetics, for further information).
So where are we at in this country?  Well, currently in this country, we have allowed the government tyrannical access to so many areas the list is dizzying!  (For a list of just the federal departments of government see here.)   We have collectively agreed that we are willing to submit ourselves to coercive force in the areas of health care, transportation, agriculture, retirement, education, commerce, the environment, housing, wages, labor relations… the list goes on and on and on!  And, if you doubt that these departments would ever use force against us, think again.  Many of these departments have “enforcement divisions” consisting of armed officers.  The Department of Education, for instance, has its own law enforcement arm (the “U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General” or “OIG”) that, on June 7, 2011 broke down a door to a Stockton, CA residence, dragged a man and his three children out of their home, handcuffed the man and detained all of them for several hours in squad cars for the “crime” of living in the previous residence of the man’s ex-wife (who was wanted on some warrant having to do with student loan fraud).
Such is the nature of government.  Something as seemingly innocuous as the Department of Education can, when provoked, turn quite ugly!
Interestingly, the one area from which the government has voluntarily withdrawn its tyranny is in the area of the US currency.   This, in spite of the constitutional mandate stating that “only Congress” can coin money and set its value!  So who does the government trust to create currency and set its value?  Believe it or not it has given that power over to the banking industry!  Yes, the Federal Reserve Bank (a private bank over which the government appoints officers – but oddly refuses to audit) is in charge of the money supply in this country!  It’s a little like letting the fox guard the hen house.  (Of course that's another issue worthy of its own thread!)
So - build a house without a permit: the government steps in, condemns your house and kicks you out on the street; forget to pay your parking tickets long enough: they haul you off to jail; arbitrarily devalue the US dollar so your buddies in the banking industry can profit: government winks, extends their open hand and looks the other way! 
This then, is the nature and role of government in this country.  It’s time people, to think Libertarian thoughts and get ourselves free!

15 comments:

Gyan said...

I am glad to have a proper discussion here. My initial observations
1) You are misusing the word "tyranny".
Tyranny means abuse of an authority. But along with many Americans of libertarian trend, you use tyranny to mean any imposition of a foreign will; thus such an oxymoronic term as ‘legitimized tyranny’.

2) Libertarianism is all about the nature and proper role of government.
NO. It is Natural Law that tells about the proper role of Govt, and defines tyranny as serious violation of Natural Law even if it is by consensus. Thus a regime where abortion is legal by popular demand would be still tyrannical.

See, I define "tyranny" by degree of violation from Natural Law, not by having to obey a superior power.

Libertarianism is about denial of the political nature of man and reducing the human interactions to voluntary exchanges.
But man is born into a political context--into nations and tribes. You can wish away this reality.

I had recommended you David Friedman's A Machinery of Freedom (freely available on Web). It builds a blueprint for a purely libertarian society-where Justice and Defense shall be voluntary.

Could you read and let me know if you agree with Friedman?
If you don't, then you are actually not a libertarian but only a disappointed conservative.

Gyan said...

The libertarian (and the liberal generally) begins with men in a state of nature--this is Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau -- and then forming a society for mutual protection and security (against other men and nature) though a social contract by which men give up some of their freedom in exchange for the advantages a social living brings in.

Thus society is a loss in liberty (Locke I think finesses a bit) AND if a better way to arrange society could be found, consistent with maximizing security and liberty, the trend of the liberal naturally would push him toward the new arrangement.

Much of the modern conservatism agree with this. It is a mainstream conservative view.
But there are serious problems with this view.
1) Man is and has always been born into a context, a society and thus men are never in a state of nature, and have never been so BUT man always exists and has always existed in a state of law.
This is the Aristotelean view expressed in the aphorisms
1) Man is a Political Animal --political in the sense of polis
2) The City is Prior to the Individual and the Family
Though many Catholics bridle at (2), but (1) is unobjectionable to them.

It is the Princes that exist in a state of nature (Locke), i,e. the tribes and the nations.
Our difference with Locke is that he held that man originally existed in a state of nature but now he does not.
But we consider than man always existed in a state of laws.

Gyan said...

The liberal economics, by not paying proper attention to the political context, generates paradoxes.

The liberal economists start with an individual and his property.

But we ought to start with a nation or a tribe and its territory.

Otherwise, you would be hard put to intellectually defend immigration controls and defend absurdities like the citizens of a nation being co-owners of the national territory.

A property and an ownership is essentially different from a territory.

Ownership exists in a state of laws and is defined and secured by Arguments that conclude in a Right.

Territory exists in a state of nature and is defined and secured by Force that conclude in an Occupation.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi Gyan,
thus such an oxymoronic term as ‘legitimized tyranny’

Yes, also 'necessary evil'. I realize that both don't fit with classical Christian and/or natural law definitions of 'tyranny' and 'evil'. But both express the contradictory nature of government: "we're here to help you and, if you resist us, you're going to jail".

You asked me to read David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom. I found it online, like you said, and just skipped ahead to the chapter tiled: "WHAT IS ANARCHY? WHAT IS GOVERNMENT?" (I thought "why not go right to the meat!")

He starts that chapter by stating: "In Part 1, I described myself as an anarchist and asserted that government has no legitimate functions."

From that statement, I have to assume he's really an anarchist and not a libertarian. I could be wrong, after all I only read a few paragraphs!

You then asked if I agree with Friedman. Since I'm no anarchist and since I think there are legitimate roles for government, I'd have to say no. Of course, I'll have to actually read the whole book to really know!

As for your "state of nature vs. state of laws" argument, that really goes over my head. I embrace Libertarianism strictly as a rule of good government - not as a philosophy. I know that there are Catholic Libertarians (Judge Andrew Napolitano for one) who use Natural Law theory to justify Libertarianism. I don't know the arguments they use - other than the argument from rights.

I'm also unsure about the nation, tribe, territory thing. I view a nation as a collective of individuals with a common interest. This is how I personally justify immigration, national defense, etc. I don't know if I'm an actual Libertarian or not.

Gyan said...

David Friedman claims that his anarcho-capitalism is the logical climax of liberalism dating or arising from Adam Smith. He explicitly calls himself as an heir of classical liberals such as Adam Smith.

I agree with him. If the Individual is Prior to the Nation then the logical position is Friedman's. I will recommend you to read him more fully.

You are not defining your position other than saying that some present abuses of State power are bad. I fully agree with you regarding the abuses but you have not made the position that these abuses are essential to the Govt authority.

Gyan said...

"a nation as a collective of individuals with a common interest"

A very modern or post-modern view. A nation as a convenience.

But a nation is a community of love is an older view.

The nation has also essentially to do with birth and thus race. America you may say is defined by its propositions, but there would have been no propositions had there been no American people defined by their common ancestry first.

Read the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution for explicit language.

Daniel Smith said...

I'm sure that my lack of historical perspective keeps me from understanding things the way you do.

I'll take your word that nations used to be about race, birth, class, etc. From my modernist view however, America was designed to be different from other nations (at least in principle though perhaps not initially in practice). Theoretically, America was a place to come and be free from the constraints of race, birth, class etc.

Gyan said...

I made an incorrect statement which I will now correct and that includes and puts into the context the "proposition nation".

Nation is a community of love that unites a people animated by a common vision of Good.

There is nothing about race here and nation is NOT essentially about race. All modern races, that we see, have been constructed, some very recently, such as "White" race in America. The English race e.g was constructed from ancient Britons, Saxons, Romans, Danes and others.

The Hindu Nation (e.g. India) is an amalgam of various castes (e.g. races that do not intermarry) that are arranged in a intricate way but fit together and form the Hindu nation. Even in "mono-racial nations" the nobles were not marrying into peasants.

Having said that, the nation requires two things
1) A common vision of Good that includes things like a conception of Justice, worship, family etc.
It need not be and usually not is absolutely uniform. Nations are very intricate hierarchical things.

2) Neighborhood in space: since we are embodied souls and not disembodied spirits.

Gyan said...

You have often made a statement to the effect that Govt has not role in defining (and policing?) morality and it belongs to the Churches to do so.

Is this statement a Church teaching?
Certainly, the Catholic Church does not depend upon State to define morality but it does insist that the State play an active role in combating immoralities, e.g. pornography.

Daniel Smith said...

Having said that, the nation requires two things
1) A common vision of Good that includes things like a conception of Justice, worship, family etc.
It need not be and usually not is absolutely uniform. Nations are very intricate hierarchical things.


I don't think any modern nation has a common vision of Good. Even Christians are divided over that issue. The closest thing you'll find on Earth to a nation that embraces a common Good would be an Islamic theocracy - and even they can't agree!

2) Neighborhood in space: since we are embodied souls and not disembodied spirits.

This seems to go without saying.

You have often made a statement to the effect that Govt has not role in defining (and policing?) morality and it belongs to the Churches to do so.
Is this statement a Church teaching?


I don't know. I don't belong to a "church" (meaning a man-made denomination) so I have no church teaching that I must conform to. I base my statements on the fact that unregenerate man has no foundation on which to base a definition of "good" and, as such, will always end up with some system of relativism. The Church (and by that I mean regenerate humankind in communion with God) has at least some authority to base its definitions on. Even then, there is leeway for personal beliefs (see Paul's admonitions about the weaker brothers, food sacrificed to idols, Sabbath days, etc.)

Certainly, the Catholic Church does not depend upon State to define morality but it does insist that the State play an active role in combating immoralities, e.g. pornography.

Well, I'm not a Catholic so that doesn't mean a whole lot to me - other than the fact that I wouldn't want the Catholic church defining morality for me.

Gyan said...

"the fact that unregenerate man has no foundation on which to base a definition of "good" "

And how do you know this fact?
On the authority of a Church, perhaps?

Daniel Smith said...

And how do you know this fact?
On the authority of a Church, perhaps?


Actually, no. I have come to this from personal experience and through revelation.

Gyan said...

"I'm not a Catholic so that doesn't mean a whole lot to me "

There are 100 million Catholics in America so
1) Your remark is not politically wise.
2) I hope you agree that many Catholics have been among wise and holy men of Christ, Surely their opinions over 2000 years carry <> weight?

Gyan said...

I have come to this from personal experience and through revelation.

Private revelation?
Consider the history of Private Judgment?>
Is it so encouraging?

Daniel Smith said...

Gyan,

I don't discount the Catholic church - nor do I view it as singly authoritative. As for politics, I don't want a church/state. I don't think that is the role of the church, nor the correct function of the state.

And, yes my revelation has been private, but tested against public. In the end, each one of us is accountable to God for our own diligence in seeking the truth. If that leads you to the Catholic church, that's fine, it has led me a different way.