Category Archives: Freedom

History, Moral Philosophy, and Libertarianism

I’ve written fairly extensively about the philosophy behind my particularly type of libertarianism… and how there are a LOT of different schools of libertarian thought… and a lot of pointless, anal, wonky, yet often completely epically vicious… argument and disagreement between them.

A selective overview of these pieces can be found here: A Refresher on Philosophy

Being a libertarian, I do love to argue philosophy… and I do so on several other blogs, and libertarian subforums of various other web sites not dedicated to politics or libertarianism (most actual libertarian forums are… impossible to tolerate… unless you ENJOY drinking bilious idiocy from a firehose ).

In a “neverending thread that will not die”™  about the oxymoronic concept of “libertarian socialism” (in actuality a deliberate socialist linguistic distortion to further a fraudulent concept), a commenter asserted:

Libertarianism is the belief in the non-aggression principle. That’s it. Everything else follows from that. 
–IgnorantCommenter

Now, I disagree entirely with such a blanket statement… It’s simply untrue, and in fact ignorant.

I mean that literally by the way, not as a characterizing statement. Someone who believes such a thing must be ignorant of the much larger sphere of libertarian history and philosophy.

My response:

Actually the non-agression principle is only one school (actually several related schools) of libertarianism. There are others that are not based on non-agression/non-initiation. 
–AnarchAngel

Our correspondent countered with:

If there were a form of libertarianism not based on the non-aggression principle, wouldn’t you have been able to name it? 
In fact, since the founding of the Libertarian Party in the 1970s–which was the start of the modern libertarian movement– until recently they required all members to sign a pledge promising to uphold the non-aggression principle. 
In my experience, those who say they are libertarians but don’t support the NAP, are usually not libertarians at all, and are simply trying to coopt the word… but hey, please feel free to show me some examples of genuine libertarians who don’t support the NAP. 
–IgnorantCommenter

Well now…

Again, I have to say that this viewpoint, while not uncommon, is incorrect; and in some very significant ways, ignorant of history and philosophy.

While the Libertarian Party was founded as a non-aggressionist organization; non-aggression is neither necessary, nor sufficient, for a libertarian philosophy.

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; it’s not… in fact it’s generally a very good idea. But the concept that libertarian philosophies MUST, ALL, ALWAYS, be predicated on non-aggression; and that anything which isn’t, is not actually libertarian…

…That’s just plain wrong.

…As for that matter, is the suggestion that the Libertarian Party is the authority, or even a reasonable exemplar, of what libertarianism is.

The LP is simply a collective of theoretically libertarian individuals who have been able to agree sufficiently on goals and process to form an organization (sometimes… barely… ).

Again, I don’t think the libertarian party is a bad idea, or that they aren’t actually libertarian; just that they are not an organization encompassing all libertarian philosophy, or systematology.

…or that there even COULD be such an organization…

Now…

The reason I didn’t name specifics in my initial response to our correspondent, was because to do so would require a HUGE, long, detailed, and wonky explanation of the history and moral philosophy of libertarianism, and the nature of rights.

Several thousand words worth, and several hours writing, at a minimum

I wasn’t going to bother… and then I decided that if I didn’t the pointless tangenital arguments and arguing around each other would just go on and on…

Basically, it would become more irritating to me, than actually writing this damn piece.

So I wrote the damn piece… all… 3000 or so words I guess?

note: I’ve expanded and clarified somewhat here from the reply I posted in the other thread

Let’s start with the historical question

since the founding of the Libertarian Party in the 1970s–which was the start of the modern libertarian movement– until recently they required all members to sign a pledge promising to uphold the non-aggression principle. 
–IgnorantCommenter

Libertarianism, *including the modern libertarian movement*, has been around a lot longer than either the libertarian party (1971), or the formal codification of the non-aggression/non-initiation principle as a foundational libertarian principle by Murray Rothbard (1963).

There is no clear date for the modern libertarian movements “founding”, but it was clearly in existence by the time of Nock’s “Our Enemy, the State” (1935), Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” (1943), Von Mises “Omnipotent Government” (1944) and “Human Action” (1949), etc…

Hayek and Von Mises were clearly libertarian in their philosophy, though primarily (but not entirely) of the consequentialist/utilitarian school (as is typical of economic philosophers).

Then there’s the objectivists, both pre and post Randian; including both those that self identify as libertarian objectivists, and those who claim to be opposed to libertarianism (but who mostly are opposed to Rothbardianism, and strict non-aggressionism; as reducing maximum utility).

There was a pre-Rand objectivist/utilitiarian movement, primarily based in the rule utilitiarianism school, proceeding from John Stuart Mills book “Utilitarianism” (1861), Henry Sidgwicks “The Methods of Ethics” (1876), and the various works of David Hume (published 1734-1779). This movement was well established in moral philosophy by the interwar period.

Randian objectivism (which you may or may not call libertarian) has existed in an organized way since the late 1950s.

There was a reasonably coherent self identified libertarian movement by the time of Rothbard, Tullock, Block et al (the late ’50s and early ’60s)

Clearly, the “Modern Libertarian Movement” is neither bounded, nor defined, by the Libertarian Party.

Now, the question of moral and political philosophy

Libertarianism is the believe in the non-aggression principle. That’s it. Everything else follows from that. 
…snip… 
In my experience, those who say they are libertarians but don’t support the NAP, are usually not libertarians at all, and are simply trying to coopt the word… but hey, please feel free to show me some examples of genuine libertarians who don’t support the NAP. 
–IgnorantCommenter

This comes down to the question, what exactly IS libertarianism?

That is, what would be a single, entirely inclusive definition of all things which may be reasonably and properly considered libertarianism?

Frankly, I don’t believe that there IS such a single definition; nor CAN there be.

There are schools of libertarian thought that have conflicting… in fact mutually exclusive… core principles, which cannot be reconciled philosophically (though they may be reconcilable practically or pragmatically; focusing on outcome not rationale for example).

Using the non-aggression principle as a sole determinator… Libertarianism’s John 3:16, or Shibboleth as it were…

… It’s simply insufficient.

The non-aggression principle is neither necessary, nor sufficient, for libertarianism.

Libertarianism is a set of moral, political, and ethical philosophies intended to preserve, promote, and expand, human liberty (under whatever rationale). The non-aggression principle is a moral concept that is generally associated with those philosophies.

In fact, simply declaring it as the “non-aggression” principle is incorrect. There are five closely related principles, which serve the same essential function but which are different in detail (which differences can have important consequences):

  • Non-Aggression
  • Non-Initiation
  • Non-Intervention
  • Non-Interference
  • Anti-Coercion

Going into the differences between those principles can (and has) take its own book(s), never mind a (comparatively) short piece here. Even within the specifics of each term, there are disagreements as to their definition and meaning (both semantic and philosophical).

For convenience and a (nearly futile) attempt at clarity, I will refer to these various principles as “non-agression” for the remainder of this piece

Normally I don’t like using wikipedia as an authoritative source, but I don’t happen to have a copy of the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” handy, and wikipedia cites it directly:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines libertarianism as the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things. 
–Wikipedia

That isn’t actually an inclusive definition of libertarian philosophies, because it  describes the root of propertarian principles; and there are schools of liberty which do not include the propertarian principle as a first principle (for example, “endowed rights” based philosophies).

That said, in general, much of the wikpedia page on libertarianism is decent. For example, it includes discussion of propertarian vs. non-propertarian, and consequentialism vs. natural rights.

These are all fundamental or primary principles on which a libertarian philosophy may be based.

So, “the” fundamental principle of libertarianism is NOT non-aggression.

The non-aggression principle IS fundamental to many schools of libertarianism; but not to all of them.

What our correspondent is declaring to be the only “true” libertarian philosophy (arguing from both a “no true scotsman” fallacy, and an “appeal to authority” fallacy in the process) is essentially Rothbardian libertarianism.

Rothbard and Block argue textually, that non-aggression/non-initiation/non-coercion is an irreducible first principle; but contextually (even in their own writings) it is clearly a derived principle (it is reducible). Essentially, they declare it irreducible as a fundamental moral precept a priori. Therefore it should be taken as a primary principle (for those schools of libertarianism which subscribe to it), but not a first principle (which are irreducible).

I am not a Rothbardian, but I am very definitely a libertarian.

I am a propertarian, natural rights, minarchist, libertarian (and to an extent non-aggressionist, but not strictly so… depending on definitions).

This is a combination of moral and ethical philosophies, and a school of government (though not a specific system of government).

Rothbardian libertarianism is itself a propertarian, natural rights (depending on your definitions), essentially minarchist (depending on your definitions), non-aggressionist, libertarian school; and in part a specific system of government…

..It’s just a slightly different one from that which I subscribe to.

Minarchism is a pragmatic, utilititarian, and consequentialist school of government (NOT a political or moral philosophy) with a few basic principles (all of which are derived principles, proceeding both from political and moral philosophy, AND from the practical and pragmatic reality of human society):

  • The only legitimate purpose and function of government, is to provide for organized collective action to maximize human liberty; by resolving disputes between individuals as a disinterested arbiter, and by protecting the rights, liberties, and physical persons and property, of a polity
  • Government, by its nature, must have a monopoly of initiation of legitimate collective coercive force. All else is tyranny or anarchy.
  • Therefore all government must engage in the coercive restraint of human liberty as part of its function.
  • Therefore, all government is an evil (greater or lesser)
  • Anarchy however is not a stable order respecting of liberty. All anarchy will eventually result in the tyranny of the strong over the weak, and the many over the few.
  • Therefore, although all government is an evil; government is necessary to protect the rights of the few and the weak against the will of the many and the strong, and must exist
  • Given that government must exist, but is an evil; human liberty must be protected from that evil to the greatest extent that is practical
  • Given that liberty must be protected from the inherent evil of government; the optimal government, is the smallest, least intrusive, least pervasive, most limited government; that is practical, functional, effective’ and can protect the rights, principles, and physical persons and property, of a polity.

In propertarian/natural rights libertarianism, the first principles are that of private property and of natural rights (both of which are irreducible); the synthesis of which is the principle of self ownership.

The natural rights principle is that sentient beings have certain rights, which are not contingent on any other individual or collective (except where they are limited by conflict with the natural rights of others); and which are those principles or components of the state of being, which cannot be limited or abrogated but by force, fraud, or willing consent (exact lists and definitions thereof vary and conflict widely)

The propertarian principle is that the right to private property exists, and that you have the rights of exclusion, protection, determination, and product; for your own legitimately held private property.

The intersection of these principles is the principle of Self Ownership. You own yourself, in the entirety, including all rights of property.

Essentially, the first principle of this moral philosophy, is that the right of private property is the ultimate fundamental right, from which all other rights are derived; and beginning with the ownership of self.

This is also called the principle of “the sovereign man” (though technically, there are multiple interpretations of what that means as well).

In this interpretation of moral and ethical philosophy, non-aggression isn’t even a first principle; it is one of a set of derived principles, which are internally justified and consistent (without endowment, appeal to authority, or a priori assertion of second order principle).

This set of principles can be described thusly:

  • You own your entire self (body, mind, and soul).
  • Because you own yourself in the entire, you have the absolute right to:
  1.  Self determination
  2.  Freedom of conscience
  3.  Your own property legitimately acquired and held (which includes your entire self)
  4.  The efforts, products, outputs, and rights inherent to or proceeding from 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 (except where limited by conflict with the rights of others).
  • 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 may not 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, privileges, powers, or immunities on itself which are not delegated to it by individuals; therefore no collective may exercise more or different rights, privileges, powers, or immunities than any individual, nor may it exercise those things which have not been explicitly delegated to it.
  • You have absolute responsibility for all of the above. All consequences are yours, good or bad.

Only ONE of those core principles (expressed as two entries in this list, describing the principle and its reciprocal) is non-aggression.

There are many other schools of libertarian moral and political philosophy, some of which don’t include the non-aggression principle at all (or do so in a significantly different, or  nearly unrecognizable form).

I make no judgement here as to what the “best” form of libertarian moral, ethical, or political philosophy, or school of government, might be.

I have a system which is internally consistent, and works for me. You may disagree with it; in fact, your beliefs may directly conflict with or contradict mine. They may even be mutually exclusive.

So long as I don’t attempt to use coercive force on you to make you believe in or follow my system, and you don’t attempt use coercive force on me likewise; we may both be “true” libertarians (or maybe not, depending on what else we may believe).

On first glance, you might say “well, that’s just the non-aggression principle again”… but if you think about it for a minute you should realize that it isnt.

The statement is not exclusionary or deterministic. In either of our belief systems, there may be circumstances under which the initiation of coercive force on another is acceptable, or even required. Or, both of our belief systems may allow for a disinterested arbiter to resolve disputes (mine certainly does).

So… Non-aggression is a generally good principle… but it isn’t absolute, it isn’t deterministic, and it isn’t universal.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

I, Pencil: The Movie

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is working on a film series based on Leonard E. Read’s 1958 essay entitled: I, Pencil in which the author makes the claim “[N]ot a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me [a pencil].” The video below is their animated adaptation of the essay (I, Pencil: The Movie). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the essay, its one of the best explanations of how spontaneous order works IMO. For those who have read the essay, I think you will enjoy this video as well.

Atlas Shrugged Part II in Theaters This Weekend

Atlas Shrugged Part II is opening this weekend. Want to check it out? Follow this link to find a theater near you.

And now, the official Atlas Shrugged Part II trailer:

Comment of the Day

The following “Comment of the Day” from Rebecca was in response other comments responding to Brad’s satirical* post entitled: ‘Wendy’ Condemns Chick-fil-A President Remarks On Gay Marriage.

1. Attn: Bible-thumpers: If you haven’t read your Holy Book in the original un-pointed Hebrew and Aramaic, you have no idea what the Bible actually says. Also, if you haven’t read the Talmudic commentaries, or those of other respected Biblical scholars, you’re missing a lot of data that you kind of *need* to speak about what the Bible means with any authority.

2. “Traditional Marriage” is in the eye of the beholder, given that there are huge numbers of *freaky* “marriages” in the Bible, and given that historically marriage was a property, inheritance, procreative, or political arrangement for hundreds or even thousands of years before anyone came up with the notion of “romantic love” having anything to do with it. Moreover, traditionally, it was arranged for the children by the parents. Choosing your own spouse is an extremely modern twist on marriage.

3. Real and measuarable harm is done to LGBT individuals whose partnerships are not recognized by the state. No harm is done to your church if they marry, or if my church chooses to marry them. No harm befalls your family if theirs is united before God, or a judge. No one is going to make gay marriage mandatory.

4. Living your values is Freedom. Forcing others to live your values is Tyranny.

Comment by Rebecca — August 4, 2012 @ 10:25 am

Though I agree on all of Rebecca’s points, I believe that point 4 is the most important in terms of living in a free society.

» Read more

Doug Stanhope – Liberty (Re) Defined

Brad has posted a version of this comedy routine by Doug Stanhope before. This version has been edited to include images and video by Fr33 Agent Beau Davis with a more honest than the traditional “pledge of allegiance” at the close.

I thought that since today happens to be Flag Day, this video would be an important reminder about the true meaning of liberty albeit with an (at times) crude, comedic delivery. True liberty has nothing to do with a flag*, much less worship for the government for which it stands.

WARNING: some of the material in the video will be offensive as hell to some of you. Enjoy!

Related: The Un-American Pledge of Allegiance

*Of course the flag can mean different things to different people. I think it’s one thing to show appreciation for the flag with its original intended meaning by the founders and quite another to “pledge allegiance” to its government regardless of how hostile to freedom the government becomes. I seriously doubt that Thomas Jefferson (who advocated separating political bonds with any government that becomes hostile to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence BTW) or other founders would have ever pledged allegiance to the flag of the federal government.

1 3 4 5 6 7 25