Regarding McDonald vs Chicago, which a great number of libertarians are hailing. I hate to be a potential party pooper here, but when the cheering subsides, it should probably be pointed out the Supreme Court, in fact, incorporated a “privilege” and not a “right.” The fact is, much of the country(at the State and local level) has been moving toward liberalized gun laws for some time. This decision, mark my words, is going to end up precipitating federal legislation that is going to apply a uniform standard for the privilege to own guns, what type of guns, how many guns, what guns can be carried concealed, that is likely, in the aggregate, going to be much more burdensome than most State laws. Oh, and you are going to be registering this privilege with the DHS in the future. Yes, there will be few that benefit from this decision, specifically those like McDonald that live in enclaves of brain dead liberalism(it is these enclaves which are going to try to skirt this decision with prohibitive burdens which is going to spark federal legislation), but most might want to hold off on the cheering. If you live in, say, Texas or New Hampshire, should you really be celebrating the national Incorporation of a privilege where the burdens and obligations can now be imposed by congress? The federal lobbying wars over the burdens and obligations attached to this privilege will not likely be good news for libertarians. Libertarians suck at chess…
A short Quiz. What type of traffic by far constitutes the bulk of “unauthorized traffic” across the public internet? Answer that, and you will know what the so-called “The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010″ intends to address. There is a sophisticated “libertarian class analysis” that can be employed here, but I would caution against being diverted by nonsense of an “internet kill switch.” Tier 1 and Tier 2 providers have invested immensely in redundancy over the years because network down time, resulting from either hardware failure or electrical grid failure(power failure), can be an extinction level event. Even if you flipped off portions of the power grid, you wouldn’t be able to “kill” the public network. And even if, say, you could, it should be noted that “killing” it for even a day would have devastating economic and welfare costs on the global economy, noting that a great deal of global internet traffic flows across the US internet backbone.
So “re-engineering the internet” will not mean re-engineering redundancy so that any one person or group can effectively shut down the public network. At this point, it would be a massively welfare costly endeavor that is not only impractical, but frankly would introduce an obvious huge security hole. No, “re-engineering the internet” means something else here. It is, in effect, the continued subverting of the evolving IPv6 standards, particularly the security protocols, to political ends. What we end up with is either a de facto or de jure “federal license cartel” gestapo enforced over network management. Networks involved in any significant peering will have to employ “federally certified administrators” who will be involved in ensuring that network routing will be in compliance with federal guidelines, that is to say, federal guidelines on how IP traffic will be analyzed and filtered before routing. If it’s not de jure mandated, then it will be “softly” mandated by offering “liability” protection to those who participate. If you don’t participate, then you will be exposed for full liability for “security breaches.” And what are these security breaches? Chinese or East European hackers stealing state secrets or flooding “critical infrastructure” networks with Denial of Service attacks? Laugh the fuck out loud. No, the greatest incidence, by far, of “unauthorized” traffic is copyrighted digital traffic and piracy. So, it should be plain to see that although this Bill is not being “sold” as a mechanism to combat copyright(it’s being sold in terms of protecting National Security) before passage, the end result will be that this is exactly what it will be used to combat. If you don’t “participate” in following federal guidelines in the filtering and routing of traffic, you will be liable for copyright violations. So, yes, federal guidelines are going to be written to try to stop copyrighted digital work being distributed over bitTorrent. Yes, this will also be used to try to combat the likes of Wikileaks and it’s distributive model of disseminating embarrassing classified information the government doesn’t want you to know about. A simplified but accurate way to think of this is to imagine every border router for every Tier 1 and Tier 2 network being reprogrammed to filter traffic according to “federal guidelines;” guidelines, of course, that will be subject to the political process and influence.
Often, I hear/read ignoramuses parrot the line that the government “invented the internet.” These ignoramuses probably wouldn’t know a protocol from a hole in the wall. This is absurd nonsense, given the amazing breadth and scope of what actually underlies what we collectively refer to as “the internet.” It’s been a cumulative evolution of private, public, and joint public-private action. To elucidate on this really requires an entire book. But I can say the internet, although a decentralized, packet-switched network, does require cooperative, collective action, as coordination problem, to effectively serve as an effective wide-spread communication network; really in a myriad of ways. The Internet Society, since the early 90s, has been the umbrella organization for these many cooperative, often informal groups, such as the IETF. The Internet Society’s stated mission is: “to assure the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world.”
The internet as a wide area, decentralized packet-switched network than delivers formatted information that be accessed from a myriad of different hardware devices and nodes can’t work without a plethora of agreed upon standards, up and down the IP stack. Admittedly, there has been a significant informal public-private joint role in this, including the development and adoption of the OSI model itself. However, in using the terminology of Hayek, this informal public-private partnership(and it has been mostly informal, not formal) was “planning for competition” and not against it. However, since the planning of IPv6, the eventual 128 bit internet protocol replacement for the current 32-bit IPv4, I’ve noted that this joint public-private partnership in some areas has become quite a bit more formal, especially in the area of security protocols, noting the NSA has long been involved in the development of “the security” of IPv6, and that planning in some aspects has turned from planning for competition to planning against competition. The future internet is being subverted by politics, which counters the assurance of an open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world.” Instead, the future internet is evolving where some are clearly going to benefit more than others.
“The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010″ is rich material for a libertarian class analysis deconstruction. What we are seeing is a formalization of a joint public-private partnership to plan against competition in a communications network that many hold out to be the last remaining bulwark against rogue statism. People like Michael McConnell and the sleazy corporatist symbiosis between the NSA and the likes of Booz Allen Hamilton is in our future, and it only portends the coming corporatist sleaze between government, Corporate Media, and corporate security. Rest assured, the NSA is going to be heavily involved in enforcing “copyright.”
And as I’ve written on many previous occasions, tell me what the copyright laws are at the end of this century, and I can tell you what kind of government humans will have.
In a previous post that briefly touched on the “libertarian slant” that has emerged on the Fox Business Network, I noted that, contra to the likes of Lew Rockwell, the honor of the most distinguished “libertarian” show in broadcast media history actually belongs to Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!, which has been broadcast on Showtime since 2003. However, I’ve become aware of two recent interviews of Penn Jillette, here and here, which touched on some issues related to the show, in particular, why:
Penn feigns incredulity concerning the exclusion of the Vatican episode from the DVD of last year’s season. This is not the first time this has happened. In 2005, in Season 3, the “Holier than Thou” episode, which was highly critical of Mother Teresa, was only shown once. The scheduled rebroadcasts were replaced with a previous episode. Jillette took some heat over this at the time, responding with the same type of feigned incredulity on display now.
Frankly, I wouldn’t bother posting about any of this until I read Jillette’s comments about why he won’t do a show on Islam. He would be afraid for his life. I’m not going to criticize him if he honestly thinks he would end up the way of Theo van Gogh if he were to do show on Islam; however, I will criticize him on his ancillary commentary regarding the tolerance and “reasonableness(willing to play within the rules)” of Christians in contrast to Islamic fundamentalists.
First of all, it should be noted that Penn downplays the organized Catholic movement resolved to get his show removed from the air. Bill Donahue’s “Catholic league” may be more or less a one man media crusade, but, rest assured, Brent Bozell’s many organizations, with whom Donahue often partners with, are not. Bozell wrote a scathing critique of Penn & Teller after they had the unmitigated gall to blaspheme Mother Teresa. Bozell’s intentions to rectify this were clear: pressure Viacom to kill the show. This hasn’t directly succeeded, but the efforts have succeeded in censoring the show’s criticisms of the institution of the Catholic Church.
Last year, after the “Vatican” episode, Bill Donahue issued what almost could be construed as a fatwa against Penn & Teller. The likes of Donahue and Bozell employ extremist language to motivate the troops to work through the State(i.e, “legal” means) to exact retribution. But what if the State wasn’t really an option, and if the tables were turned, that is, Catholic and Christian Institutions were dominated and manipulated by the East as Islam has been manipulated and dominated by Western Political influence since the end of the first World War?
Chris Floyd’s recent post saves me the trouble of having to qualify a thesis regarding the role I believe the West has played in radicalizing Islamic fundamentalism. The blowback from this allowed neoconservatism to likewise fan the flames of extremism in American Christian fundamentalism, to make genocide an acceptable part of foreign policy because we are in a war of civilizations, a war of tolerance vs intolerance. I realize the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali frequently make the rounds to emphasize the need for 24 hour bodyguard protection, but, of course, it should be pointed out that late-term abortion providers in the US have to employ private security to protect themselves from assassination by extremist Christian fundamentalists. If we employ the same type consistent standard of what constitutes “terrorism sponsorship,” how can one not construe Christian Evangelical support and influence over the barbarous Uganda regime is also not an obvious example of such?
From a historical perspective, theres no case to made that Christianity has been any more tolerant than Islam. In fact, I think there is a case to be made that that the Ottoman Empire was much more tolerant of, for example, Jews, than Christian Europe ever was. The question is why is the 21st century so rife with religious fundamentalism, after a century of political domination by the West? That would be a great Bullshit! episode to do. But I give this warning: you might not like what you find…
Via Reason, we learn of another righteous rant from J. Neil Schulman. It seems someone had the unmitigated gall to criticize his support for Glenn Beck on Facebook, resulting in Schulman launching a tirade on his blog eviscerating libertarians for their puritanical exclusivity. Schulman reminds us he was eating chicken and beans with Murray Rothbard before anyone had heard of the word libertarian, and that his book defending gun rights, which he calls one of the most popular books defending the right to keep and bear arms(I must admit, I never heard of it; I had to look it up. It had a grand total of 2 reviews on Amazon.com), cost him his marriage and a possible lucrative writing career in Hollywood.
But here’s the thing. We libertarians generally like to pride ourselves on logical thinking. So, appeals to authority,poverty,wealth,influence, number of books sold etc don’t cut the mustard. These are commonly employed logical fallacies. I’m not going to question Schulman’s own dedication to libertarian principles, but his so-called authority and influence mean squat in making a rational appraisal of Glenn Beck’s contributions to the libertarian cause.
The first thing to note is that Beck didn’t write this so-called “libertarian” novel, The Overton Window. He freely admits it was ghostwritten, just like all of his books are. Media figures and politicians use ghostwriters all the time when producing non-fiction work, particularly in the realm of politics, but for creative works of fiction, I think it’s a bit in bad taste to use ghostwriters and slap your name on it as the author. Beck says he came up with the story, and I won’t question that. But he is in no way a science fiction writer.
Beck has used his radio show and TV show to promote authors like Hayek, indeed the recent surge in sales of “The Road to Serfdom” can largely be attributed to Beck. Beck, in addition, has more or less borrowed from Tom Woods in his running critique of progressivism, a critique that once used to linger only in the obscure bowels of libertarian conferences, but which has now leaked into mainstream media and commentary. Are these good things? Yes, by themselves, they are. But it should be noted that progressivism, just like libertarianism, is hardly a unified ideology. While I think there should be an all out assault against “corporate liberalism,” it should be pointed out the there never would have been a self-identified libertarian revival in the United States without the historical revisionism of the New Left, which thoroughly debunked the New Deal State and the Progressive era. This scholarship played a vital role in the revival of laissez-faire(and by laissez faire, I mean the replacement of the political economy with the Catallaxy; I’m not referring to Ayn Rand’s idea of laissez faire, which is an Objectivist political economy).
From a libertarian perspective, there are a number of issues with Beck. For every show he may promote the likes of Hayek, he devotes equal time promoting the idea the America is Christian country and that liberty requires a religious, Christian foundation. This is an abhorrent message. One of the greatest threats to liberty, if not the greatest threat, is the confluence of State and Church. From a libertarian or liberal perspective, this shouldn’t even be a point of debate. Anyone who delivers a message to the contrary should be roundly condemned. No “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.” Another issue is where exactly was Beck before 2008? He says he has “changed,” but when I go to his website, I find documents like this, which puts him squarely in the cadre of the Bush Statists who are now fighting against the “radical Obama transformation” of America. Beck is a partisan and he is playing to partisan crowd, a crowd that saw Bush “defending America and Freedom.” Of course, the fact is that Obama, in reality, is just window dressing of Bush’s third term.
Schulman claims Beck has joined the “libertarian fight.” But I go to Beck’s website, and I see he is launching a new “liberty tour” with Bill O’Reilly. That’s a train to no where. Frankly, when I think of Beck, PT Barnum comes to mind. Suckerz. Schulman likes Beck because he plugged his book on his radio show. There’s coin to be made here.
In a subsequent post, Schulman demonstrates once again his version of libertarian purity, wherein he devotes considerable space to outing a private correspondence over a copyright dispute with a certain libertarian media organization’s publication of his articles. It’s plain as day obvious what organization he is referring to and who the director of that organization is. Hint: it’s the one Schulman sits on as a member of the advisory panel and the one that has a Creative Commons 3.0 license for redistribution/republication of all content. I should say I am a little taken back if that organization does subscribe to some version of a generational cycles theory of history attributed to William Strauss and Neil Howe, but I’m hardly surprised by the egotistical self-importance Schulman attaches to his own writings.
When discussing libertarianism and ideology, I think ideology is important, but ideology without dogmatism, for the most part. The only areas where I tend to be dogmatic on are “Church and State,” “war,” and “freedom of movement.” Other than that, most of my criticisms pertaining to the libertarian wars is where I think people are being disingenuous. I will point out when Cato types, such as David Boaz, claim that libertarianism is not anarchism, and that they have never met a libertarian anarchist. Right. I criticize the “Lew Rockwell” types, the Rothbardians, who mock the idea of “the constitution” in libertarian circles, but then go on conservative talk shows or go to conservative conferences, and pontificate about grave government usurpation of our glorious constitution. I don’t think you get anywhere by being dishonest and disingenuous.
Libertarians constantly complain about being in an ideological minority vis a vis libertarian justice/ethics. However, I’m not sure the battle is really conceptual anymore. I think the ideas of libertarian class theory, government failure, distrust of government, are fully part of the popular culture. Libertarianism doesn’t suffer from a conceptual problem; rather it suffers from an empirical problem. If there were concrete, viable empirical alternatives to the State in terms of governance, then think the case for liberty could be much more easily made…
David Friedman has now put up the full text of The Machinery of Freedom, 2nd Edition in PDF format. Or, I should say, he obtained permission from his publisher to host one of the “pirated” copies that had been floating around the web. Friedman’s book,originally published in 1973, along with Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto,” which was published around the same time, served to provide much of the intellectual framework that would launch the 2nd libertarian movement in the United States.
Whereas the first American libertarian movement, forged in the latter part of the 19th century, had been more “socialist” in incorporating some of the ideas of French Mutualism(i.e, the likes of Proudhon), the 2nd would be much more along the lines of the radical French Laissez Faire tradition. Both Friedman’s and Rothbard’s books inherited from a lineage that can directly be traced from Comte,Dunoyer,Thierry, Say, Bastiat and Molinari. But if you have read both books, you will know that they are are not exactly saying the same thing. Rothbard, operating from a framework of Austrian Economics and Natural Rights, deduces a anarcho-capitalist social order. Friedman, however, operating from a neoclassical and consequentialist framework, distinguishes between “anarcho-capitalism” and libertarianism, and devotes considerable space to argue that libertarian principles are not sufficient to deduce a libertarian social order. His case is that an anarcho-capitalist order, that is a free market order that provides law and public goods, as well as the usual capital goods and services associated with a capitalist economy, will approach a libertarian social order. Most of his book, then, addresses, from a neoclassical point of view, the market provision of goods usually associated with government, arguing against the problems of so-called “market failure” in the provision of such goods, or at least making the point that market failure is a smaller problem than government failure. The one provision of a public good that he cannot address satisfactorily is “National Defense,” which he calls the “hard problem.”
Of course, it bears pointing out that just a year later, Robert Nozick would publish “Anarchy, State, and Utopia,” which was not only meant to counter Rawlsian liberal justice in academic circles, but to serve as a (supposedly) convincing rejoinder to libertarian anarchism. With Nozick and Ayn Rand, along the financial backing that would eventually align behind the formation of the Cato Institute, not to mention the rise of the Chicago School in government and academia, the anarchist element would subside and give way to a Statist version of libertarianism, primarily aligned more or less with the Republican Party. The disaster of the Bush Administration, which signaled to everyone that the era of “Big Government” was hardly over, that it was actually about to be ramped up exponentially, served not only to revive radical libertarianism but to revive it’s left-wing roots. With the awesome publishing power the internet, the historical works of the historical schools became widely available. Now radical libertarian wars would not be just limited to consequentialist vs deontological versions of Laissez Faire, but would begin to include a revival of debates over “What is Property?” There would emerge a movement of “left-libertarianism,” which is just an intellectual revival of sorts of the original American libertarian movement, with it’s growing “anti-capitalist” critique. Not to mention the Ron Paul movement, which has injected “Rothbardianism” into mainstream political discussion, but, in repeating the mistakes of the “paleo phase,” is working through the GOP that is recruiting candidates who combine this with Big Government Cultural Enforcement. Libertarianism has become a big political buzzword, but, as a movement, it is utterly intellectually disjointed and incoherent.
So, in this environment, within a larger social context of historic public recognition of government failure, Friedman is looking to publish a new edition of his book. I look forward to the contribution…
Revisiting a recent post, Gene Callahan and Libertarian Obligations, I want to re-summarize my rebuttal regarding Callahan’s “obligations.” What Callahan was really saying is that where there is some mechanism of voice(i.e., voting), there is an impersonal duty to obey the State and that you are obligated to use legal means to correct injustices, perceived or otherwise. My rejoinder to this is simple: Positive Law is what the Political Class says it is. I don’t need to make a long, conceptual case starting from Hobbes and then progressing to the class analysis of the radical French liberals to justify this. I can make a simple empirical observation. Under the Byzantine, vague complex array of laws in the federal criminal and regulatory code, we are all guilty of being a felon, which is why 95% of federal defendants end up plea bargaining. All it takes is to become the object of an aggressive prosecutor, noting that if you attempt to defend yourself, the prosecutorial class has wide latitude to charge you with “obstruction of justice,” which is “crime” that needs no underlying crime to be actually charged with and prosecuted for.
There is no legal means, no means of voice, short of abolishing the political class, to change this. Therefore I reject “Callahan’s Obligation,” and note that what this obligation really entails is that we resign ourselves to being criminal subjects of the State.
I bring this up again because I’ve noticed that there has been additional discussion of Callahan’s claims since my original post, in particular noting the discussion at ar Roderick Long’s Blog. In addition, Gary Chartier shot me a comment to check out his detailed article regarding the legitimate use of force in a Stateless Society. But an important point to keep in mind from my brief reading of Callahan’s blog is that his principle beef seems to be with “ideological anarchism” itself, and that his principle strategy(to support his “obligation”) as a former libertarian seems to be baiting libertarians into internal squabbling over the positive case for libertarianism. He knows the species. However, from my undergraduate days as a mathematics major, the case/proof against B(“libertarian obligations”) is not a proof for A(“obligations to the State”). Ignore making the positive case for “B,” and go after negating “A,” as I have done, to make the case against Callahan.
By the same token, however, the case against “A” doesn’t constitute “proof” for “B,” although I do see great propaganda value in attacking “A,” particularly the obligations attached to the National Security State, in promoting a libertarian alternative. But it should be noted that I am a Hayekian, and not a devotee of the praxeological method, which means I think more in terms of game theory and coordination problems rather than a “deduced praxis” of human action. But as a radical libertarian, that is, an anarchist, I am a critic of Hayek’s gymnastics with respect to common law. I take the Hayekian position to it’s logical conclusion, that is, Market law. But because of the historical problems associated with land, and that land is the one thing that can be susceptible to an obvious market failure, I take a Georgist position on land.
The typical critique against “Market Law” is a cultural one, that culture will overpower markets. But that’s not actually scientifically correct. A recent paper in “Science,” that I discussed previously at Freedom Democrats, is one of the more comprehensive anthropological studies to demonstrate that markets universalize values across cultures.
Liberalism rooted in market law instead of politics seems far fetched and absurd to most today, but certainly no more absurd than the idea of liberalism rooted in “constitutional law” would have seemed to those at the height of European feudalism. Unfortunately for us, these institutional shifts don’t operate on a timeline that might be hospitable to our lifespans. Nonetheless, the radical libertarian critique against the institution of the state churns on; it’s not dying out. It is the replacement of the political economy with the free market, the Catallaxy; from positive law being what the political class says it is to one being what the free market says it is…
With the recent ascent of Hayek’s book, “The Road to Serfdom,” to the top of the Amazon.com bestseller list, there has been renewed debate about Hayek’s influence in shaping modern economic and political thought. Don Boudreaux recently went to town on the Wall Street Journal for insinuating that while Hayek’s work has had a lasting effect on popular culture, it has, nonetheless, been more or less dismissed by mainstream academic economists. This conclusion by the Wall Street Journal was, in large part, based on a quote from Paul Samuelson’s essay, “A few remembrances of Friedrich von Hayek.” I found this interesting because last year, after the death of Samuelson, I wrote a post at Freedom Democrats, Samuelson and Hayek that reviewed that very essay. Unfortunately, that essay has since been firewalled at SciencDirect.com, but I did find a reprint archived at Brad Delong’s blog, of all places.
If you read the entire essay, it’s apparent the Wall Street Journal is giving a Hayek little bit of the shaft in terms of what Samuelson actually said. In it, it is clear that while Samuelson didn’t think much of Hayek’s “The Pure Theory of Capital” as a counterweight to Keynes’ General Theory, he outlines how Hayek’s eventual formulation of the Knowledge Problem would win the day in the Socialist Calculation debate and writes clearly that Hayek deserved the 1974 Nobel Prize for “his notions about decentralized information economics.”
Samuelson did criticize the “Road to Serfdom” on an empirical basis, noting that history had written a different outcome contrary to the warnings of Hayek; in particular that the West shifted to “mixed economies” instead of “Nazi-Burma-Mao-Castro totalitarianism.” But, in this criticism, he is indeed misreading Hayek, and like many, are conflating Orwell’s fictional pessimism(it should be noted that Orwell was indeed influenced by Hayek) with what Hayek actually wrote. Hayek certainly did not write that governments couldn’t change or that the road was inevitable, but in warning against central planning, he specifically noted he was not talking about the type that was “planning for competition” but rather the type that “planned against competition.” Samuelson, in my opinion, closed the book on history a bit too soon. I would argue that the United States is in many ways is violating the warnings Hayek outlined in his book, noting that Nazi Germany arose out of a duly elected constitutional government that in many ways was fashioned on the US model.
Hayek, in the chapter, the “Socialist Roots of Nazism” how a religious, conservative “socialism” paved the way. There are parallels to Bush’s compassionate conservatism, which was really a type of religious communitarianism. This was bad enough, but the diabolical elements came in the aftermath of 9-11, when the many on the conservative, religious right saw the War on Terror as a holy war, a long war against Islam. Anti-Muslim rhetoric became rife and the language and practice of a legal detention regime against accused members of that class became accepted. Germany always had that conservative Prussian military culture in it’s tradition, a tradition, that for the most part, had been foreign to the US; however, in the aftermath of 9-11, almost overnight, the glorification of the military, the glorification of the police and fireman as “first responders” in a National Security paradigm became universally embedded in the culture. Obama would drop the anti-muslim rhetoric but continue the same policies, really institutionalizing the legal detention regime(with the political right still calling him a “raghead marxist”). The Obama domestic policy, this “public-private” partnership seems entirely guided by how to “plan against competition.” Every piece of “public policy legislation’ is now cast as a “national security issue,” which mirrors Heyek’s warnings in his chapter “Security and Freedom.” Now, of course, the head of DHS tells us that the greatest security threat to the US in internal, “Homegrown terrorists,” and that we need to re-engineer the communications networks to guard against this threat. The prospect of military and Police drones surveying the american public is a coming reality.
To think that “The Road to Serfdom” is not applicable to the US is ignoring the clear reality. But the threat is not from some Orwellian dystopia, because, frankly, “information economics” makes this implausible. Rather the threat is an institutional government of arbitrary power. I call this National Corporatism. In the United States, National Corporatism will be underlain by the Pink Police State.
Gene Callahan, a former scholar at the Mises Institute and libertarian writer, has apparently repudiated libertarianism. Granted, I’m not at all that familiar with his work, but his critiques of libertarianism(he calls himself a recovering ideologue) are popping up in the libertarian blogs I read, so I decided to take a gander at his blog, Crash Landing. I found two entries that perhaps summarize his new found beef with libertarianism. The first being his latest entry, Obligation, the second being Confessions of Recovering Ideologue, Part I.
Let’s look at his “Obligation” post. He writes:
Obligation is the crucial idea denied by libertarian political theory. We can have obligations that we did not agree to take upon ourselves.
Here is David Walsh on that fact:
“The political is never merely an option, for we are embedded in a network of obligations before we even begin. This was the weak point of all social contract explanations of civil society, with their inevitable implication of the arbitrariness of a state founded on individual choice. Kant reminds us of the extent to which the state provides the conditions for the exercise of free choice and is thus beyond the realm of choice. We are obliged to support the political constitution under whose order we exist, not because we derive benefits from it or because we have given our consent, but because it is part of the order of being.” — The Modern Philosophical Revolution, p. 62.
Well, it’s true that Libertarian Justice, for the most part, is thin when it comes to impersonal duties–that is duties or obligations owed to no one–and primarily is concerned with enforcement, or dispute resolution, with respect to personal duties, that is, duties owed to each other. Callahan’s assertion that libertarianism denies obligations is not really correct. It is, no doubt true, however, that libertarianism is pretty skeptical about impersonal duty of obedience to the current political order, as if it were some law of nature. That’s why libertarianism is properly understood to be a left-wing political theory, and not a conservative one.
In “Confessions of a Recovering Ideologue,” Callahan states his objection to “Ideological Anarchism,” sees no distinction in the violence underlying enforcement of private property rights or the territorial property of the State, and blames anarchism for undermining the modern State.
But anarchism is just a mutant strain of the ideological bacillus that is causing the rapid degeneration of most modern societies. It is certainly not the cure for its fellow bacilli. Rather, the anarchist depiction of the State as nothing more than a street gang only serves to increase the amount of State coercion. The actual way forward towards a less coercive society consists not in de-legitimizing the State, but in legitimizing it, in other words, promoting voluntary compliance with the State’s laws in so far as they are just, and working to change them peacefully in so far as they are not. To the extent that anarchists recommend the State be ignored they thwart the former movement, and to the extent anarchists scorn participation in the current political process they prevent the latter.
In a sense, Callahan’s argument, in the above post, mirrors the the Mark Lilla argument the made the rounds at the same time, namely that libertarianism was the blame for the dysfunctional modern State. Lilla pinned the blame on the merging of the hippie counter culture with “free market economics.”
Callahan’s critique against libertarianism, from his point of view, I think boils down to his assertion that there is an impersonal duty to obey the State for the most part, and where the State is “unjust,” work through the system to change the laws. The NAP argument, or “coercion” argument” against the State is rejected by Callahan because he views the same type of coercion underlying enforcement of property rights. A Libertarian class critique of the political order is dismissed because the informal institutions of culture suffer from the same problems.
From my point of view, however, Callahan’s defense of the State is largely construed from pointing out “weaknesses” in libertarianism. However, I would point out that I can make a stronger case for libertarianism by pointing out the weaknesses of the State, particularly the evolving National Security State. Callahan can talk about obligations to obey the State, but what about any obligation not to remove yourself from the jurisdiction of the State. Callahan is silent on this, but libertarianism is not silent, because “right of exit” is fundamental to any libertarian political theory, and is the “ultimate out” when dealing with political or social failure. The Evolving national Security State is more or less moving to crush this right.
Callahan’s communitarian justification of the State has some glaring weaknesses. In his “Obligations” post, he resorts to making a social institutional claim for the legitimacy of the State, but in his earlier post regarding “Ideology,” he rants about the cultural scourge that is undercutting this very legitimacy. Blame this on whatever you want to blame it on, but Callahan’s rants against libertarianism destroying this underlying cultural legitimacy doesn’t exactly solve the “communitarian dilemma” here. Finally, Callahan’s appeal to some “Kantian” duty to obey the State is belied by the simple fact that he can’t, in practice, obey it. He is a criminal; he is guilty everyday of committing multiple federal crimes, just as all of us are. This is the empirical reality of the liberal “rule of law.” Hobbes, in his social contract theory, dismissed politics in lieu of the “leviathan” because of the prospect of positive law, which he advocated, being in the hands of a political ruling class. Callahan, in the end, like the rest of us, mutters his prayers nightly to whatever god of choice that he doesn’t become the object of the aggressive, arbitrary prosecutorial power of the State. If he claims he doesn’t, then he must feel himself privileged among men.
There is no libertarian obligation to be resigned to the fact that you are a criminal…
Back in May, Brad Spangler published a quick dismissal of Georgism which I criticized in a follow-up post. Spangler never responded to the criticism of his position, which I believe is rooted in a flawed understanding of Georgist rents. There was a good discussion at Freedom Democrats with one libertarian blogger, Kurt Horner, taking the standard Lockean position. I don’t think Horner got the best of it in that discussion.
Below is my original reply to Spangler.
I found this recent article by Paul Craig Roberts at Counterpunch interesting. Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration, has drifted towards a more radical viewpoint over the years, particularly in the aftermath of the Bush Cheney Regime. Roberts would become one of the more popular writers for the progressive Counterpunch Newsletter. In March of this past year, he announced his retirement from political journalism, signing off with the following words, “The militarism of the U.S. and Israeli states, and Wall Street and corporate greed, will now run their course. As the pen is censored and its might extinguished, I am signing off.”
However, it looks like he has decided to un-retire, at least for the moment, writing a piece excoriating progressives for increasingly calling for “Direct Action” as a means for protest but nonetheless sticking to public disarmament as a goal of public policy. I suppose, Alexander Cockburn, by publishing this article, casts Counterpunch as a right wing scourge against the duly established peoples’ institutions of the Department of Homeland Security, but, I nonetheless imagine most progressives aren’t particularly enamored with accepting the idea that an armed citizenry is an inevitable push back against “Big Government.”