Gene Callahan and Libertarian Obligations

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…


Reposting A Dismissal of Brad Spangler’s Dismissal of Georgism

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.

Continue reading “Reposting A Dismissal of Brad Spangler’s Dismissal of Georgism”

Every Civil Liberty is Reduced to the Second Amendment

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.”

Libertarian Talk on Fox

By now, I’m sure is aware of the “libertarian slant” that has emerged at the Fox Network, particularly on the Fox Business Channel, which now features two so-called libertarian shows, “Stossel” and “Freedom Watch.” After exactly one broadcast episode, a so-called Tea Summit featuring Bush Statists glossing over their differences with Ron Paul, the likes of Lew Rockwell proclaimed “Freedom Watch” the greatest libertarian show in the history of American Broadcast media. I’m sure Lew was all giddy in noting the irony of Bush statists appearing on show to subject themselves to a Ron Paul litmus test, when, just a couple of years ago, Paul was the ultimate GOP scapegoat when he refused to submit to a Bush litmus test in his famous exchange with Giuliani. But if we are actually going to discuss broadcast achievement, and not Ron Paul worship, then the mantle actually belongs to Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!, which has been on Showtime since 2003, is Showtime’s longest running series ever, has become one of the longest running premium cable series ever, while achieving worldwide acclaim… all the while featuring guests across the libertarian spectrum.

Penn & Teller should do a show on Tea Party Bullshit. Trust me, you won’t see Rand Paul or Sarah Palin appearing as guests on that show…

The Keg Party

In the past, (some) libertarians have often complained about the word “liberal” being expropriated(and soiled) by modern liberalism(which, btw, I don’t think is really true), and, now, I suppose, libertarians can gripe about conservative expropriation of the term “tea party.” So, now libertarians, to differentiate themselves from conservative statists when holding grassroots protests, will have to come up with a new term. I would suggest the term “Keg Party,” which sounds much more fun, and, frankly, is a term much more germane to today’s context given the explosion of the homebrewing movement. So, invite the homebrewers and throw a party where you can actually drink the symbol of your protest rather than tossing it; invite live bands and have a real party. Live out the motto of this new libertarian keg party movement, “smashing the State for fun and profit.” We will never have to worry about Republican blue hairs crashing this party, and the likes of Chris Matthews will have to be content with producing shows like “The Rise of the New Hippies,” wherein he is reduced to pontificating about the growing National Security threat these parties, that refuse to card for Ids, pose to the peoples institutions of the Presidency and the Department of Homeland Security.

Smell the Liberty

Overheard at the with regards to the likely Obama Administration challenge to the newly passed Arizona Immigration law:

Most illegals are taking advantage of the American people in one form or the other, and I say they need to either be deported immediately, or shot on site when crossing our border illegally.

how many mexicans or other illegals parents or grandparents fought and bled in our wars?
Our liberty was purchased with a price. Our liberty is for Americans in this country. Let the illegals and other people fight for Liberty in their own countries. OR MIGRATE TO THE US THE LEGAL WAY..

Please do not tell us what and who a true libertarian is. What you are decribing is an anarchist. Therefore it you who is at the wrong website.

Anarchists are traitors…and will be dealt with accordingly.

Now, of course, I realize that it can be unfair to cast a few comments as being representative of a given movement as a whole. This type of argumentation method is prone to committing the logical fallacy of the “biased sample.” However, in this case, I’m not sure I would be guilty of committing any fallacy of hasty generalization in assuming these sentiments are accurate reflections of the movement as a whole. Let’s look at their gallery of “liberty candidates.”

David Fitzgerald

We are a Nation of Laws and The Bill of Rights and the Constitution is the Highest law in the land and those Laws Must Be enforced starting at our borders! I say Absolutely no Benefits to anyone here illegally….Period. All immigrants must enter the US legally, follow our laws, assimilate and learn our language. English is our official language and the State shouldn’t have to bear the cost.

We shouldn’t allow sanctuary cities and we all should support our law enforcement officers who only uphold the rule of law. Many who break our laws to be here, also put a huge burden on our economy by eliminating jobs from Arizona citizens. These burden’s also put economic strain on our health care system, schools, prisons and the tax payer who has to absorb the burden.

I’ll work hard protecting our AZ boarders and will not waiver from Oath to uphold the AZ & US Constitutions.

Fitzgerald calls himself a “constitutional conservative,” which is some invented fiction with no basis in any historical reality, and is merely a code word for Big Government enforcement of a cultural normality in line with his own cultural interests. What “constitutional era,” what “old order” are these conservatives seeking to return to? The original adoption of the constitution that excluded about 90% of the population from representation and enforced an order of “slave labor” for some? The passage of the alien and sedition acts or the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act?” The Native American genocide and the trail of tears? The Civil War, which, ended any legality of the right of secession? The “Progressive regulatory State” that would eventually arise in the aftermath of the industrial revolution? The early 20th century “Progressive Baptists and Bootleggers” assaults on the liberty of owning your own body? The New Deal Corporate State of FDR? The permanent War Military State that arose in the aftermath of the WWII?

Murray Rothbard, in “For a New Liberty,” deconstructed the history of American “conservatism:”

Indeed, conservatism began, in the early nineteenth century, as a conscious attempt to undo and destroy the hated work of the new classical liberal spirit — of the American, French, and Industrial revolutions. Led by two reactionary French thinkers, de Ronald and de Maistre, conservatism yearned to replace equal rights and equality before the law by the structured and hierarchical rule of privileged elites; individual liberty and minimal government by absolute rule and Big Government; religious freedom by the theocratic rule of a State church; peace and free trade by militarism, mercantilist restrictions, and war for the advantage of the nation-state; and industry and manufacturing by the old feudal and agrarian order. And they wanted to replace the new world of mass consumption and rising standards of living for all by the Old Order of bare subsistence for the masses and luxury consumption for the ruling elite.

Rothbard, once again, provides us with this deconstructive gem,regarding William F. Buckley, the patron saint of modern conservatism:

For Buckley favors: “the extensive and productive tax laws that are needed to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy,” and by implication supports ECA aid and 50-billion dollar “defense” budgets. He declares that the “thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union imminently threatens U.S. security,” and that therefore “we have got to accept Big Government for the duration–for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged…except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.” Therefore, he concludes, we must all support “large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington–even with Truman at the reins of it all.”

The likes of Fitzgerald self-righteously extol the so-called “Rule of Law,” but the documented reality is that everyone everyday is guilty of committing multiple violations, multiple federal felonies. Fitzgerald is a criminal, just as all of us are criminals. Perfect enforcement of the this “so-called rule of law” would collapse this ‘constitutional government.”

Let’s look at Mike Lee, another Ron Paul endorsed candidate.

A core constitutional function of the federal government is to “insure domestic tranquility” by protecting our country. We maintain peace and freedom when our national defense is strong. We must continue to develop sophisticated, cutting-edge tools and weaponry to defend our citizens from threats of terrorism. We must have clear objectives when we place our brave men and women of the Armed Forces in harm’s way. Once engaged, we cannot tie the hands of our military with unnecessary rules of engagement. When our objectives are achieved, we must bring our troops home.

Lee, on immigration and the need promote the use of E-Verify, the federal government’s identification system for workers gaining permission to work for companies under federal contracts. In other words, a national ID card.

Investing in the technology, personnel, and physical infrastructure necessary to secure the southern border

Enforcing existing immigration laws

Improving and promoting the use of E-Verify—a nationwide immigration-status verification system designed to enable employers to ascertain quickly and accurately whether would-be employees are authorized to work in the United States;

Mandating and enforcing the denial of federal and state welfare benefits to illegal immigrants;

Clarify the original intent of the citizenship clause through legislation specifying that children born to illegal-alien parents in the United States are not entitled to automatic citizenship; and

Making clear that illegal aliens will not receive amnesty in any form, and must return to their own countries before applying for a visa; illegal aliens should receive no benefit from having entered the United States illegally, and should not be granted guest-worker visas or the opportunity to “purchase” lawful immigration status.

Or how about Tea party candidate extraordinaire, Sharron Angle, who recently waxed poetic about alcohol prohibition and enthusiastically suggested that every county in America needed a Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I could go on and on documenting the views of these so-called “liberty candidates.” The only one that seems superficially tolerable from a libertarian perspective is Jake Towne; but, of course, he is the only one running as an independent.

Of course, it bears pointing out that using broad designatory terms like “illegals” is a favorite tool of fascism and fascist governments. Such a simple designation immediately abrogates any clear language associated with negative liberty. Habeas corpus and the Geneva conventions? Sorry, doesn’t apply to “illegal” combatants.” Free Speech? Sorry, doesn’t apply to “illegal demonstrations” or “illegal protesters.” In the end, under the so-called rule of law, we are all criminals, we are all “illegals,” if someone or some group wants to designate you thusly. I suppose it hasn’t occurred to these disphits that there are groups out there would designate them as “illegals” and guilty of sedition, and that their own language can be turned against them to support these groups’ claims. In a previous post, commenting on the Democratic Establishment, I noted that if these guys were the least great hope for liberty, it was time to run for the hills. Well, if Tea Party Conservatives are the the remedy to the Dem Establishment, I would suggest boning up on your long-term survivalist skills. Your are not going to be coming down anytime soon…

Restricted Immigration is not a Libertarian Position

Note: this essay was originally posted at

To me, libertarianism has always been associated with “open borders” as a matter of principal. A belief in freedom of movement is an essential part of being a Libertarian. Freedom of movement is a basic right, essential to any free society; it’s not a “privilege” granted by the State, particularly a privilege tied to cumbersome duties. Any government that bids out artificial rents to restrict this basic freedom violates the terms that bind it to being an institutional instrument of a liberal order.

While “open borders” is still a majority opinion among libertarians, it is no longer a universally held one. I attribute this development primarily to three libertarian figures, Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and Milton Friedman. Rothbard, who originally held an “open borders” position, switched his thinking during the “paleo phase” of his later years. Rothbard’s opposition was more or less rooted in a cultural argument. Hoppe’s position is rooted in a private property rights argument for restricted immigration. Friedman’s position was rooted in open immigration as an ideal not compatible with the welfare State.

Continue reading “Restricted Immigration is not a Libertarian Position”