Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for even existing.”     Ronald Reagan

December 9, 2008

No Philosophy?

by Chris

Several times over the past few years, well respected and well known people, have written that the reason liberty oriented people fail in the political arena, or achieve limited results that they cannot follow up on or capitalize on; is because there is no coherent philosophy behind the notion of liberty.

In fact, the common notion is that liberty is antithetical to philosophy; a notion reinforced by many peoples conception of Ayn Rands book “Philosophy, who needs it”; which is in fact a philosophical tract (as are all her books).

The thing is though, it isn’t true. There IS a philosophy of liberty. It’s internally consistent, complete, and comprehensive.

It’s also so simple, that many people ignore it, pass it over, or don’t recognize it as a philosophy. So it irks me that otherwise quite intelligent folks write that there is no philosophy, when I KNOW that people have been talking about it in front of them, or even with them, for years.

It’s called the non-initiation, or non-aggression principle, and it is the only philosophical framework and ethical system that doesn’t require either an appeal to divine authority, or appeal to collectivism… (actually perhaps it should best be stated as simply not requiring an appeal to authority at all), to be internally justified and consistent.

It is the core of libertarian thought and philosophy; and it’s completely simple:

  1. You own your entire self (body, mind, and soul).
  2. You have the absolute right to:
    • self determination
    • freedom of conscience
    • your own property legitimately acquired (which includes your entire self) and the employment thereof
    • the efforts, products, and outputs of all the above
  3. You have the absolute right to defend those things, and the product or output of them; up to and including lethal force.
  4. There are no other rights. All other privileges, powers, and immunities, are less than rights; and are either derived from, or in opposition to them.
  5. You cannot initiate force or fraud against any other to abrogate their rights; or for any reason other than the defense of those rights; but including defending those rights for others who either cannot defend themselves, or those who delegate that defense to you.
  6. None may initiate force or fraud against you to abrogate those rights, or for any reason other than the defense of those rights; including defending others rights from you.
  7. There are no rights, privileges, powers, or immunities which are not derived from the rights of the individual. A collective cannot arrogate rights on itself which are not delegated to it by individuals; therefore no collective may exercise more or different rights than any individual, nor may it exercise those rights which have not been explicitly delegated to it.
  8. You have absolute responsibility for all of the above. All consequences are yours, good or bad.

It’s very simple really; though as with so many simple things, it isn’t necessarily easy.

Unfortunately different people/groups have slightly different definitions of force or aggression, and slightly different definitions of initiation.

For example: is pre-emptive self defense ethical? If so, how do you separate that from the initiation of unjustified aggression etc… etc…

So, the various liberty oriented subgroups spend all their time arguing about angels and pinheads.

I have said many times in the past that I am not what I have called “a non-aggressionist”; which to an extent is true; however I do subscribe to the philosophy above.

I state in my post “The Politics of Liberty”:

“My beliefs on government are rooted in three core tenets.

  • The coercive restraint of human liberty is inherently evil. Control of ones person, property, and behavior should be the exclusive province of the sovereign man.
  • The only legitimate limitation of liberty is that which prevents transgression on the liberty of others, or which compensates those transgressed upon.
  • Without a disinterested arbiter, maintaining a monopoly of legitimate force with which it resolves disputes and enforces compacts between men, the liberty of the weak will be abrogated by the will of the strong”

And this is where my conflict with the non-aggressionists begins.

I subscribe to the philosophy of liberty, but exclude myself from the “non-aggressionist” description, because my definitions of “initiate” and “force” or “aggression”, are considerably different from those who consider themselves strict non-aggressionists.

For example, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to kill someone who is planning to kill you, before they ever pick up a gun. To a strict non-aggressionist, this is unethical and morally wrong.

I also believe that you are responsible not just to yourself, but to your wife and children for example; and that they are responsible to you. I also believe that it is perfectly acceptable for you to make choices for your kids to protect them, until they are able to do so on their own.

Again, the non-aggressionists think that is wrong.

In fact, they would strongly object to the way I wrote points 5 and 6 above; because they would consider defending someone elses rights an unjustified initiation of force, unless that individual specifically and explicitly delegates that right to you.

I believe that without governments, at least as voluntary collectives; the strong will inevitably violate the rights of the weak; until the strong are too powerful to be resisted, at which point they will enforce tyranny.

Non aggressionists believe that because no government can be perfect, according to their interpretation of the philosophical system of liberty; all government is therefore illegitimate and cannot be allowed to exist.

Personally, I believe that strict non-aggressionism is a voluntary mental illness.

(Oh and on a strictly personal basis, I’m a catholic… and I see no contradiction between Catholicism, and the philosophy of liberty. I’m also a veteran, and I see no conflict between voluntary military service, and the politics of liberty. Those two make most of their heads just explode.)

So, there must be some pragmatism involved; as there must be with any system of philosophy, morality, and ethics.

The problem with this philosophy of course is that it is SO simple, that it isn’t sexy or saleable. There is no hidden advantage. There is no tribal secret. There is no group to identify with.

Of course, that is the point.

It’s about individualism. Individual rights, individual responsibilities, individual rewards, and individual consequences. This is why I call myself a muscular minarchist individualist, and not a non-aggressionist; or even a libertarian.

Amazingly to me, at least on an emotional visceral level (I understand it to be true intellectually, and some of the reasoning behind it, I just think it’s absurd, or even obscene); is that this whole idea is uncomfortable, or frightening, or simply preposterous to many people.

I write, quite a lot, and I play games, and I instruct; and there’s something I’ve found common to all those activities:

Most people, when given a broad base of possibilities with limited restrictions, have difficulty in orienting themselves, and deciding what to do.

Being put into such a situation makes them uncomfortable, or even fearful.

This is the problem the philosophy of liberty presents.

Those people inevitably do better, the more strictures and structures are put up around them. It helps them orient themselves, and constrains their analysis. It gives them something to hold on to. They lose their fear in the reassuring embrace of “the system”. They get reassurance from “the system” that they are not at risk, and that they are doing “the right thing”.

The ultimate examples of this of course are Fascism and Communism; both philosophies based on totalitarian control; and both are very attractive to those who feel lost or frightened or paralyzed without such limitations.

It is my belief that there are essentially two types of individual: Those who do not wish to be controlled, and those who do.

The problem, is that those who wish to be controlled, almost universally have a desire to control others; or at the least to force all others to be controlled. The rest of us just want to be left alone; but by nature, the former philosophies grow stronger the more adherents they get, until they, inevitably, impose tyranny.

I also believe that those who wish to be controlled FAR outnumber those who do not; perhaps as much as 20 to 1.

They construct philosophies and ethical systems which conform to their own personal desires; and then justify their coercive actions against others within the framework of those philosophies; so that it becomes legitimate to use coercive power against those who do not subscribe to that philosophy…

…and so the beast is born.

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14 Comments

  1. “I believe that without governments, at least as voluntary collectives; the strong will inevitably violate the rights of the weak; until the strong are too powerful to be resisted, at which point they will enforce tyranny.”

    Same thing happens WITH governments.

    Comment by ed42 — December 9, 2008 @ 1:42 pm
  2. ed42,

    Exactly. You have no recourse with either. I’ll take the stateless society and keep the other half of my income. I can use it to buy actual security/policing services.

    Comment by thomasblair — December 9, 2008 @ 3:10 pm
  3. Chris, I think you mischaracterize the opposition free market anarchists have to preemptive force.

    If you are certain some guy wants to kill you, killing him first is fine. The question is what do you base your certainty on? If the guy is shooting at you, then you can preemptively kill him despite the fact he hasn’t killed you yet since it’s pretty obvious that his intentions are to kill you or seriously injure you.

    If, on the other hand, your daughter comes home and tells you that she heard from Marsha, who heard from Cindy, who heard from Ferris, who hear from Carlos, who heard from Juanita that some guy who looks like your neighbor was talking about capping someone named Chistopher, then blowing away your neighbor is clearly wrong.

    Simmilarly, if my neighbor looks like she is being raped, there is nothing wrong with me leaping to her defence – providing of course that my intervention is appropriate for the scenario playing out – it might be that she’s merely having rough consensual sex with a new boyfriend.

    When it comes to nation states, though, we non-interventionists are opposed to coerced intervention. For example, if you decide that you want to join the Abraham Lincoln brigades fighting int he Spanish civil war, that is one thing. If you want to force me to pay for your bullets whether I want to or not, then you have crossed the line.

    If you want to break the Russian arms blockade encircling Chechnya, it’s none of my business. If you want to involve me in a conflict I know nothing about, even make me a target for Russian retaliation, that is another.

    The sad fact is that the incentives for people in the government to use the power of the state to satisfy personal desires are quite strong. Inevitably, some politician will involve his government in supporting some group despite the fact that some portion of the populace have no interest in getting involved in the conflict.

    Comment by tarran — December 9, 2008 @ 4:08 pm
  4. Apropos video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muHg86Mys7I

    Comment by Jeff Molby — December 9, 2008 @ 7:34 pm
  5. If it has a philosophy, it’s too Lockean in nature. It emphasizes radical individualism and eschews reasons that societies naturally stick together, like religion and the idea of roles in relation to family. That will obviously sound like bullshit to you, but I know that in 20 years the libertarians will still be scratching their heads as to why their philosophy is lost in a sea of a society already practicing a sort of state-pop-cultural radical individualism.

    Comment by Xerox — December 10, 2008 @ 2:38 am
  6. No xerox, societies are usually built upon the notion of protecting individuals from harsh environments or predator pressure.

    Read Franz de Waal’s Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. He surveys the great apes and primates and observes that in the absence of hostile environments and predation monkeys become solitary. The species that form socials groups, especially the ones that form groups that are recognizably analogous to the hunter gatherer tribes of humans are ones facing predator pressure.

    Nor is libertarianism radically individualist, other than emphasizing that people should be free to take on obligations voluntarily. I have never heard a consistent libertarian denounce the notion of people joining a kibbutz, for example. We have no problem with people helping each other out. It is the notion that it is acceptable for A to point a gun at B in order to get help for C that angers us, not the idea of A or B helping C.

    As to libertarianism being lost in the sea of pop culture, I would expect no different. Most people don’t care about philosophy and never will.

    Comment by tarran — December 10, 2008 @ 5:49 am
  7. [...] read more | digg story [...]

    Pingback by No Philosophy? Here are the basics. at Morality101.net — December 10, 2008 @ 10:38 am
  8. The individual MUST be maintain the right to protect itself first – in all things – or liberty is lost.
    Give all you want to charity. There is no law against it. But to force me to participate in a system that removes half of what I earn with my own hands is theft. By ballot or the point of a gun, it is theft and immoral by MY philosophy.
    The insecure NEED stricture and structure, that is why governments work. It is easy to bully around a society that is so neurotic it can’t see straight or realize the benefit of being an individual.

    Comment by lster921 — December 10, 2008 @ 10:43 am
  9. Great article.

    FTA: “The coercive restraint of human liberty is inherently evil. Control of ones person, property, and behavior should be the exclusive province of the sovereign man.”

    FTA: “The only legitimate limitation of liberty is that which prevents transgression on the liberty of others, or which compensates those transgressed upon.”

    Compensation for transgression is good, but it does not justify transgression.

    FTA: “Without a disinterested arbiter, maintaining a monopoly of legitimate force with which it resolves disputes and enforces compacts between men, the liberty of the weak will be abrogated by the will of the strong””

    In a matter of speaking, yes. You have to settle for what the market can provide, even in justice, which is far superior to monopolized justice which is highly arbitrary and violent.

    FTA: “For example, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to kill someone who is planning to kill you, before they ever pick up a gun. To a strict non-aggressionist, this is unethical and morally wrong.”

    This is the challenge. It helps that one be able to prove motive if their situation is considered before some voluntary dispute resolution service.

    FTA:”I also believe that you are responsible not just to yourself, but to your wife and children for example; and that they are responsible to you. I also believe that it is perfectly acceptable for you to make choices for your kids to protect them, until they are able to do so on their own.

    Again, the non-aggressionists think that is wrong.”

    It’s wrong if you state it as an ideologically valid position. I think that’s an individual’s choice, and your choice is that there is some shared responsibility in your family.

    You must have faith in the marketplace to be understanding. It usually is, but if you choose security over liberty, you will not have the opportunity to live in a voluntary society. Most people will understand if you act in behalf of your child.

    FTA: “I believe that without governments, at least as voluntary collectives; the strong will inevitably violate the rights of the weak; until the strong are too powerful to be resisted, at which point they will enforce tyranny.”

    At least your ideology allows for striking first at those who would desire to suppress you. However most people don’t think assassinating tyrants is worthwhile.

    FTA: “Non aggressionists believe that because no government can be perfect, according to their interpretation of the philosophical system of liberty; all government is therefore illegitimate and cannot be allowed to exist.

    Personally, I believe that strict non-aggressionism is a voluntary mental illness.”

    Minarchy is not an ideal. Yet there is no perfect situation. ‘Vigilance towards liberty in perpetuity’ is consistent and functions for individuals even when they live in police states. All government is illegitimate if it does not obtain consent of the governed. In practical terms, I distinguish a difference between government (systemic control schemes) and governance (individual-based growth of accountability/responsibility).

    FTA: “Amazingly to me, at least on an emotional visceral level (I understand it to be true intellectually, and some of the reasoning behind it, I just think it’s absurd, or even obscene); is that this whole idea is uncomfortable, or frightening, or simply preposterous to many people.”

    Exactly. Good ideology does not try to define the nature of the world in one breath while advocating a specific scheme of government in the other. This applies particularly to ideologies such as socialism, or the green party which argues the ‘balance’ of ‘nature’ is out of whack, therefore ‘impose our system/choices on everyone else’. That is a sickness.

    Comment by Peppermint Pig — December 10, 2008 @ 12:39 pm
  10. Meh, keep telling yourself that. I was correct the first time. And like I said, in 20 years when you’re wondering why you’re solvent socio-politico ideals havent attracted, it’s because people have and will go for the already more legitimate and state-pop-easy form of nihilism. You guys want to be truly political so bad, but your philosophy commands that you hate yourselves in the end. It’s tragic, you think I’m full of shit, but what does it matter.

    Comment by Xerox — December 10, 2008 @ 3:24 pm
  11. I could tell you to read a million things, but you’re already dead to me.

    Comment by Xerox — December 10, 2008 @ 3:26 pm
  12. You had me at “Meh”. Quite the cogent argument.

    Comment by Akston — December 10, 2008 @ 5:07 pm
  13. Akston,

    Xerox has got our number, we are so full of self-loathing. ;)

    I am continually amazed by the number of people on the Internet that can type a coherent sentence yet are self evidently batshit-insane.

    Comment by tarran — December 10, 2008 @ 6:59 pm
  14. Xerox, if it doesn’t matter, why bother?

    The non aggression principle is no less sound because the majority does not consciously recognize and adhere to it. We are, after all, learning creatures… animals even.

    I don’t believe anyone is claiming the cause of liberty to be easy, or common in human history, though with some contextual appreciation, we might be able to recognize the difference between governmental schemes throughout the ages when it matters, rather than when it’s convenient for proving some arbitrary point which suggests liberty doesn’t matter.

    In other words, what’s eating you?

    “You guys want to be truly political so bad, but your philosophy commands that you hate yourselves in the end. It’s tragic, you think I’m full of shit, but what does it matter.”

    What a joke. First off, that’s a generalization. Second, it’s a collectivist generalization. Third, the ideology itself is foremost a personal one, and not a political one. Without internalizing the principles of liberty, how can one manage to apply it toward others via government? That’s a trick question: You cannot assert liberty through government. The lack thereof, of course!

    You seem to be projecting some kind of hatred. Maybe you’re frustrated?

    Comment by Peppermint Pig — December 10, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

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