The target of my criticism in my previous post responded to my critique in an update. Unfortunately, the author, Fritz, chose to close comments so I will publish my rejoinder here. The short of it is that the failure the author accuses me of–not sufficiently researching his true position and thus mischaracterizing it–is the thing he is actually guilty of with respect to criticizing my position. Succinctly stated, the author largely wastes his time with a straw man counter-attack. When I wrote that the definition of liberty is “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others,” the author assumed that I was a subscriber to some type of moral universality of “platonic forms” before proceeding with a lecture on the distinction between a moral theory and a social theory. All very nice, but he is arguing against archetypes constructed in his own head.
Just as this particular blogger has his litany of posts regarding moral foundations, social theory, etc, I have my mine. If you read them you find that I am more or less a moral non-cognitivist contractarian. I am skeptical of any normative claims of regarding libertarian property rights regimes, etc. I place the primary value on coherence, not purity. Thusly, I separate libertarianism as political critique from a libertarianism as a social theory. I subscribe to the coherent political critique that stems from the 19th century French Liberal class critique(Thierry,Comte,Dunoyer, Say, Bastiat, etc) of political economy. I synthesize this with the methodology of modern rational choice.
And the social theory is indeed a social theory, not a moral one. Non-coercion(NAP) is useless as a basis for a social theory because all social interactions and contractual arrangements are coercive in that they necessarily impose moral constraints on agents as pure maximizers. Instead, I look to the Justice of Mutual Advantage as the foundational basis of the social theory. This is hardly radical in and of itself since liberalism, as a political theory, more or less roots political obligation in a rational JMA calculation. Libertarianism, in positive sense, observes that the State inherently violates the JMA constraint. It thus looks to alternative institutional means as the enforcement mechanism for justice. By justice, in an institutional sense, I mean a regime that is mutually beneficial to everyone(i.e., better off with the regime than without it).
Now since liberalism gives us civil society as natural and the State as artificial, if we subtract the State, we are left only with civil society. Obviously, civil society then has to be the source of governance. If we are actually interested in JMA regimes, then empirical observation has demonstrated that society is where they have to come from–both as the institutional source and the enforcer.
Framing the libertarian position in this manner provides a bit of clarity in regards to the typical claims of a Utopian or a Nirvana Fallacy objection. Is the Nirvana Fallacy the position that JMA regimes can emerge from civil society alone or is the fallacy inherent in the JMA objective itself. Or thirdly, does JMA have to be tempered by other principles of justice? Once we actually define the composition of the so-called Nirvana Fallacy, what the specific “unrealizable alternative” actually is, then we can actually begin to frame a coherent debate.
If the objection is to JMA itself, then the objector essentially repudiates liberalism and its social contract methodology to begin with. This is rooted in a simple moral objection.
If the objection is that JMA regimes cannot emerge from civil society alone, but the objector nonetheless accepts JMA, then the objector is forced to confront the problem that the State is a violator of the JMA constraint.
If the objection is that JMA must be tempered by other principles of Justice, then the objector still nonetheless has to introduce these “tempering justice principles” through the front-door of the social contract, meaning that they have to be (hypothetically) shown not to violate the JMA constraint.
The point: can a clever deconstructionist demonstrate that any deviation from the status quo is guilty of the Nirvana Fallacy. Answer: Yes. Translation: The Nirvana Fallacy can more or less be reduced to “leave well enough alone.”
Frankly, I don’t think “leave well enough alone” is a convincing counter-argument to libertarianism.
Does Order Come From Liberty or Does Liberty Come From Order?
In general, we can distill the essential differences between the libertarian and conservative worldview down to who is the rightful parent in the Liberty vs Order relationship. Is liberty the mother or the daughter of order? This former is the liberal position; the latter is the republican(communitarian) one1. The author here is claiming that not only is the conservative worldview the correct one but that the conservative position is the “true libertarian” one. I consider this an expropriation, and it merited a rebuttal.
Let us re-summarize the blogger’s argument:
(i) Libertarian moral foundations cannot be the foundation for liberty because libertarian moral foundations are artificial mental constructs that sow conflict and strife, not peace and cooperation
(ii) libertarians must respect evolved social norms because the norms have evolved for the purpose of creating the necessary order for cooperation and peace–and this is liberty
(iii) (ii) is given a Hayekian spin
My previous post addressed (ii) and (iii). It didn’t address (i). For starters, I’m the wrong type of libertarian to be a model for (i)–which I gather is supposed to imply morals deduced by means of abstract reasoning. I am more or less a moral non-cognitivist. I do not subscribe to “Natural Rights” nor to the proposition that reason is the source of moral judgements. Reason is a means to secure our moral ends but not source of the ends. So I say, of course, morality is relative; the “value” of moral judgements(“values”) are measured relative to a given moral foundation. A fancy way of stating this is that value judgments V are Statements S that have no truth content.
Now I do subscribe to the “presumption of liberty.” Following Anthony de Jasay, we can say that the “presumption of liberty” is an essential component of logical argument–of constructing an argument–so that an argument for liberty does not necessarily presume a preference for liberty. In this sense, the “presumption of liberty” is not a subjective value judgment.
But to get to the point, there simply is no such thing as “libertarian moral foundations” L. They are shared presumptions, such as the presumption of liberty(if you ascribe to the presumption of innocent before guilty, then you ascribe to it as well…so it’s not just “libertarians”), shared arguments, shared outlooks, but these things do not stem from a single moral foundation L. If we required them to–that everyone share L–then libertarianism would indeed be moral theory and not fit for social application(other than functioning similar to a religious industry).
And the social theory does not require shared moral foundations because JMA is rooted in a strategic calculation regarding cooperation–minimizing the price to be paid to gain the cooperation of others. We empirically verify this everyday with the observation of trade.
So the author’s argument (i) is rejected because the premise is false.
I will re-summarize the argument against (ii). It is flawed both conceptually and empirically. The conceptual flaw is the presupposition of the “order” itself as a static thing or a thing has settled into a final equilibrium. The blogger rejected having his position characterized as a “traditional ought” in terms favoring the order equilibrium. Instead, his claim for this settled thing appealed to its instrumental value regarding the produced consequences of cooperation and peace. The consequences are what he defined as liberty. But this violates the “Presumption of liberty.” The equilibrium is simply an arbitrary stopping point, and a presumption of order(or authority) is placed on any non-approved action disturbing the order. The problem with treating liberty as ends (instead of means) can be aptly demonstrated by Peace and Cooperation operating under a Presumption of Authority. If you click on my link to “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” and read my brief introductory comments, you see that Orwell was describing a regime whose political and social hierarchy were in eternal equilibrium. This produced the de facto results of peace and cooperation. So, Big Brother would have to be classified as an example of “True Libertarianism.”
The empirical flaw with (ii) is that there is no such thing a single culture or norms C. I’m not merely referring to the different cultures across nations or continents. Any Culture C is composed of embedded subcultures(or counter cultures), each having their own informal set of institutions and norms. The reason I referenced Thaddeus Russell’s work,”A Renegade History of the United States,” is because it directly refuted our blogger’s contention that such things as abortion or homosexuality can only become accepted value norms via the coercive power of the State. Russell’s volume throughly debunks that canard by documenting the cultural norms of a large number of early Americans(the working classes, lower classes and slaves) who did not share the puritan norms. Homosexuality, abortion, interracial sex, drunkenness, leisure were accepted values of these classes. And as Russell chronicles, the governing classes devoted a great deal of concern with forcing these social convention rules regimes to conform with “republican virtues.” The emergent thesis from Russell’s book is that much our social freedoms originated from these alternative social convention regimes. So Russell’s scholarship counts as historical disproof of our blogger’s contention regarding homosexuality and abortion.
The difference between “Liberty is the Mother of Order” and “Liberty is the Daughter of Order” can be cast thusly: (i) the former treats liberty as means and operates according to a presumption of liberty (ii) the latter treats liberty as ends and operates according to a presumption of authority. The first is liberal and libertarian. The second is republican and communitarian. To claim that “true libertarianism” is (a) communitarian and (b) respectful of the presumption of authority is a gross expropriation. Any appeals to some Nirvana fallacy against (i) is rejected as nothing more than a mere Statement that the Status Quo is the final reality.
In anticipation of the blogger Fritz’s objection that his conception of liberty has to count Big Brother within the classification of “true libertarianism,” I will preemptively quote this from his website: “not all social regimes are regimes of liberty. Liberty requires voice — the freedom to dissent — and exit — the freedom to choose one’s neighbors and associates.”
Of course, “exit and voice” in Fritz’s conception are still subject to the presumption of authority. As Fritz himself demonstrates here: Illegal Immigration: A Note to Libertarian Purists
It is anathema to them that the United States exists primarily for the purpose of protecting its citizens and their liberty rights. (Well, it did exist for that purpose originally and for a long time, and it still does to some extent.) Libertarian purists seem to believe that, somehow, defense would be unnecessary and rights would be enforced even if the United States did not exist as a coherent, delimited entity. Good luck with that!
Exit and Voice operate under a presumption of authority that places a burden on the exerciser that the exercise of these “rights” does not disrupt the existence of the State as a coherent, delimited entity. Chuck Schumer would absolutely concur…
1 Please note: liberal and republican refer to the respective political philosophies/traditions and not to partisan politics or parties.
I consider Thaddeus Russell’s “A Renegade History of the United States” to be a particularly important contribution to libertarian scholarship(even though Russell doesn’t explicitly identify as a libertarian). A mere reference to Russell’s work punctures the assumptions implicit in this post that attempts to equate true libertarianism with Burkean conservatism. From the post, “Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism”:
A “true” libertarian respects socially evolved norms because those norms evidence and sustain the mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and voluntary aid that — taken together — foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. And what is liberty but willing peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior?
If socially evolved norms include the condemnation of abortion (because it involves the murder of a living human being) and the rejection of same-sex “marriage” (because it mocks and undermines the institution through which children are born and raised by an adult of each gender, fate willing), the “true” libertarian will accept those norms as part and parcel of the larger social order — as long as it is a peaceful, voluntary order.
The “pseudo” libertarian — in my observation — will reject those norms because they interfere with the “natural rights” (or some such thing) of the individuals who want to abort fetuses and/or grant same-sex “marriage” the same status as heterosexual marriage. But to reject and reverse norms as fundamental as the condemnation of abortion and same-sex “marriage” is to create strife and distrust, therefore undermining the conditions upon which liberty depends….
The pseudo-libertarian … is afraid to admit that the long evolution of rules of conduct by human beings who must coexist might just be superior to the rules that he would arbitrarily impose, reflecting as they do his “superior” sensibilities. I say “arbitrarily” because pseudo-libertarians have not been notably critical of the judicial impositions that have legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, or of the legislative impositions that have corrupted property rights in the pursuit of “social justice.”
Now as an admirer of both Hayek and de Jasay, I take the idea of the “ordered anarchy of social convention” very seriously. However, this author commits two related fallacies in his equation of his version of Burkean conservatism with libertarianism. The first fallacy is that an evolutionary social convention rules regime is not subject to evolutionary adaptation. We can identify this fallacy then as the argument from tradition. The second fallacy is not so much a logical one as an empirical one: the “tradition” is not the actual tradition.
The empirical fallacy is demonstrated by Russell’s volume. The so-called purported “tradition” was not the actual social convention rules regime. As Russell documents, state actors have devoted a great deal of concern with forcing social convention rules regimes to conform with “republican virtues.” And this fact leads us back to the first fallacy that destroys the “Burkean” claims of conservatives. Indeed, it is this fallacy that prompted Hayek to famously reject conservatism. 1
We can define the Burkean objection as offense to a “rationalist ought” in contrivance against the social convention rules regime. But the converse of this is a “traditional ought” in contrivance against the social convention rules regime. The latter is how Hayek defined conservatism and this is why he rejected it. Our blog author, who plasters Hayek across his his blog, is an expropriator. Hayek’s later identity as a “whig” was a statement of rejecting the claims of both the “rationalist ought” and the “traditionalist ought” against his increasingly evolutionary social framework methodology.
I often rail against conservative pollution of libertarianism. For good reason. It denies liberty while portraying itself as the true heir of liberty. Liberty is simply defined as “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others.” But there is a faction of those who argue that “do what you want” is in and of itself harmful to others. I count our conservative blogger among the deniers. Quoting his own words(taken from his sidebar):
John Stuart Mill opined that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” But who determines whether an act is harmful or harmless? Acts deemed harmless by an individual are not harmless if they subvert the societal bonds of trust and self-restraint upon which liberty itself depends.
It is quite a farce that those who deny the essential meaning of liberty to nonetheless claim to be the true libertarians. But is perhaps sadder that these deniers are cast as an example of “the pure libertarian critique” against the claims of “social justice” by the “bleeding heart libertarians.” I’m not sure which is the more egregious violation: our conservative calling the bleeding heart libertarians “left-statists” or the bleeding heart libertarians citing this blogger as an example of the hard-core libertarian argument. Coherence is not the valued currency of argument here.
For the record, and I repeat, the argument against the Bleeding Heart libertarians, the state-sanctioning variety, is demonstrated through their own violations of the liberal method. It is perfectly legitimate to use the liberal method to normatively argue political obligation to a Social Justice Regime. However, use of the liberal method obligates one to a consideration of the termination of political obligation. Specifically, when the regime exhibits the characteristics of a police State, including the Executive Branch’s resurrection of the pre-liberal concept of outlaw, the political obligation fails the rational test. The Bleeding Heart Libertarians cover up their liberal incoherence with endless syllogistic hypotheticals of market violations. Red Herrings. For a liberal, the pre-eminent consideration should be the reform or correction to restore the rational basis for political obligation.
“True Libertarianism” does not reside at the midpoint of a debate between methodologically incoherent conservatives and methodologically incoherent liberals. Of course, there is no such thing as “true libertarianism” to begin with. What is within our grasp is coherent libertarianism to deconstruct the incoherent bullshit….
1 The conservative bloggers blog byline “Gay “marriage”: a tyranny of a minuscule minority” actually demonstrates the tyranny of the “traditionalist ought.” It was the violent protectionist attacks by the State on the counterculture gay social rules regime that prompted the movement to try to incorporate itself into the “regime of republican virtues.”
Slavoj Zizek and David Horowitz were the guests for the second episode of Assange’s “The World Tomorrow.” The episode is particularly revealing because Horowitz is essentially maneuvered by Assange to argue his left/right blather in a broader liberty vs authoritarian paradigm. Stripped of the DoubleThink facade, Horowitz’s argument for American Exceptionalism reveals a truly evil underpinning. When Assange points out the perverse US Military propagandistic expropriation of Jefferson’s “Eternal Vigiliance is the Price of Liberty”1–the US Military interprets eternal vigilance to mean a total surveillance State–Horowitz responds with brutal honesty. The human experience is characterized by a condition of total war. Peace can only be achieved by intimidation via a strong State. Would you rather this “strong State” be the US or “our enemies.” Unfortunately, due to subversive efforts of an “international left,” which has undermined the ability of the US to wage total war against its enemies(read: thwarted the military hegemony doctrine promoted by the Neoconservative Project for a New American Century), we now have to live with the necessary consequences of a total surveillance State. When Assange rhetorically asked Horowitz what then limits this type of State, Horowitz essentially shrugs his shoulders and responds with, “nothing.” Assange, the radical libertarian, then interjects that a free market in government is what can limit the State.
If American Exceptionalism continues to be the ruling ideology, the “world tomorrow” will be a scary place.
1 Of course, this phrase is usually erroneously attributed to Jefferson. The more historically accurate attribution would be to credit Wendell Phillips.
Allow me to address a typical canard given sympathetic treatment by Arnold Kling. Namely, the conservative clap trap that utopianism is the “ideological and doctrinal foundation” for statism. This is a popular nonsense perpetuated by knucklehead conservative shock jocks who enrich themselves by selling “conservatism” as an antidote to secular, godless “liberalism” supposedly predicated on perfecting human nature. It’s bullshit.
The foundation of modern statism, in the historical liberal context, is monopoly enforcement of moral ends. This is why even the hypothetical “Lockean State” inevitably becomes totalitarian. In the enlightenment context, liberalism is an ends of property with liberty as means. But it is entirely rational to bypass “the means of liberty” to secure property as ends. This is the classic liberal flaw. The libertarian condition of class conflict is when you have the protective state(the constitutional agency) protecting property acquired via political means.
Statism, in the liberal political philosophic context, means the State becomes the total source of government. Unfortunately, it is rational for this to occur. It has nothing to do with “utopianism.” Conservatism, which is utterly predicated on the need to enforce moral ends, is nothing more than a transcendent legitimization of such political means.
Frankly, I find little practical philosophic difference between conservatism and progressivism. Both view the human impulse as a thing requiring Statist correction. They only differ, in the modern context, in terms of communitarian recognition. This is the basis of the American cultural war.
Libertarianism is often portrayed as “ideological” and “utopian.” I would readily concede that the libertarian critique of the State is ideological. This is the “class critique.” But the ideological critique is hardly utopian. Indeed, I can root it entirely in a positivist model of political competition. Libertarianism, however, as an alternative social theory, is not ideological. Socially, I only define a libertarian constraint, the “lockean proviso,” on a social order. This does mean that I place some degree of faith in the human impulse, or more formally, civil society. You could call this “utopian,” but I would respond that it’s probably a necessary hope conditioned by a current reality that demonstrates that people like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin get rich preaching a moral legitimacy of a total state–as means to prevent a total state.
So my social theory may be utopian, but, rest assured, it it not the foundation of the totalitarian state. That the totalitarian state is not predicated on a utopian foundation is the reason for my pessimism. To paraphrase a Robert Frost poem, for destruction, any ole ideological framework that legitimizes it is “also great, and will suffice.”
The Free Keene Website,
which is part of the New Hampshire “Free State Project” movement, addresses the issue that there is an apparent correlation between libertarianism and conservatism, at least in terms of voting patterns, in New Hampshire.
One of my pet projects is to debunk any relation between libertarianism and conservatism. There is no relation; they are diametrically opposed. Things that are actually diametrically opposed but are nonetheless presented as being in relative harmony are a problem. This problem serves as the foundation for “expropriation,” which is the most efficient method to permanently kill off a movement–for good.
In this previous post, I demonstrated that conservatism and libertarianism share no bridge regarding the “Free Market.” Despite the lip service, conservatism nonetheless places protectionism as the necessary foundation for a “free Market.” This position, of course, destroys the actual meaning of a “free market,” and ends up ensuring that the totality of debate revolves around the strawman of legitimizing protectionism.
If the distinction over the “free market” seems subtle, perhaps introducing the “wedge issue” of “American Exceptionalism” may clarify things. The libertarian critique against the State, in large part, reduces to the institutional problem of an enforcement entity that largely exempts itself from the thing(s) it is supposedly enforcing. Libertarianism rejects any claim of exceptionalism by the State in this regard. Conservatism, however, religiously endorses “American Exceptionalism,” which, of course, is an endorsement that the American State is exempt from this enforcement problem. But as is typical, claims of exemption are always undergirded by the necessity of protectionism to enforce the exemption. This, of course, leads to the moral foundation of plunder. As Bastiat put it:
“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
It simply never ceases to amaze me the extent “libertarians” refuse to give up the “conservative ghost.” The lead essay for this month’s Cato Unbound, “Liberty and Science,” by Michael Shermer, for example, essentially adopts the conservative position that moral foundations are an evolutionary dynamic between conservative “constrained” vs. liberal “unconstrained.” This leads Shermer to declare that libertarian politics is the evolutionary midpoint between the two, and that libertarianism is the long run evolutionary equilibrium of the (liberal) State.
Shermer’s position suffers from an obvious empirical problem. How does Shermer square the emergence of a secret police from the so-called “realistic vision” evolutionary framework? We understand why a secret police emerges from a “blank slate, unconstrained” moral intuition foundation; but this secret police also appears to be an evolutionary emergent product of the “realistic vision,” the one that supposedly imposes “libertarian constraints.” What exactly are the important constraints, here? This leads to the more general observation that there doesn’t appear to be much of any constraint on the growth of the State.
Shermer’s empirical problem may be rooted in a conceptual problem regarding moral foundations. For example, the research of Jonathan Haidt provides a much different model of moral foundations than Shermer’s (conservative constraint) vs (liberal constraint) dualism. Haidt identifies five moral foundations:
“Conservatives” recognized all five foundations as a part of the moral intuition while while liberals only recognized the first two. Haidt’s study was originally only intended to study the conservative vs duality until it accidently discovered a third variety, one that essentially was a mutation of the liberal foundations. This one only recognized the first two foundations as well but strictly subjugated the first to the second. Essentially, it was a “morals by contract” foundation. Haidt identified this as the “libertarian foundation.”
So, in the Haidt model, libertarianism clearly is not an evolutionary midpoint of conservative vs liberal moral foundations. It is, instead, a liberal mutation.