No Philosophy?by Chris Byrne
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:
- You own your entire self (body, mind, and soul).
- 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
- You have the absolute right to defend those things, and the product or output of them; up to and including lethal force.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.