Category Archives: Politics

Misunderstanding Law, Government, and Society

GovernmentIsForceMost people… At least most people in modern western democracies… Seem to have a fundamental and unconscious assumption about the nature of law and government, that goes something like this:




Law and government, are or should be, the expression of the will of the majority, for the purpose of making collective decisions, taking collective actions, fixing problems and righting wrongs.

If I gave that definition to most people as what government “should” be, or even what it is, I’d guess they would agree.

But that’s not what law and government are at all. In fact, that notion of the nature of law and government, is not only wrong, it is extremely harmful.

What are law and government?

Government, is the instrument of collective delegation of the legitimate initiation and use of force against others.

Law, is the body of rules by which that force is administered and applied.

The only legitimate purpose for which, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals governed by them.

So, what’s the other thing, and why is this a problem?

The other definition, is more properly that of society (as distinct from culture).

Government is NOT Society, and Society, is NOT Government

This conflation of government, and society, is a very serious social and political problem because those who hold it… and I firmly believe it’s a large majority… believe that law and government, should be used for “doing what’s good, and stopping what’s bad”.

They naturally wish to see government do what they think is right, or best, and stop that which they think is wrong, harmful, or wasteful… And not just in areas where force should be applied.

They conflate “legal” with “good” and “illegal” with “bad”, and try to make laws against things which they think are bad, or mandating things which they think are good.

They often even conflate “legal” or “attempting to make legal” with “approving and supporting”, and “dissapproving and opposing” with “illegal” or “attempting to make illegal”.

This is incredibly harmful

We have allowed… even encouraged people… to deeply hold the fundamental notion, that they get to vote on other peoples opinions, choices, and behavior; and if their “side” wins the vote, that it is legitimate to make those things legal or illegal.

It also means that these people automatically and reflexively try to solve personal, moral, social, or societal problems, with government and law, when it is entirely inappropriate, even harmful, to attempt to do so. Most of those problems cannot be solved by the use of force;, or at best can only be solved inefficiently, ineffectively, and while violating the rights of others.

In encouraging this misapprehension, we have in fact made the personal, the political, and the political, the personal.

How do we stop the harm?

We must correct this critical error in peoples fundamental apprehension of law and government.

People need to understand, at the most fundamental level, that government is force, and that law is how that force is directed and administered. No more, no less.

If we don’t correct this misapprehension, then we will continue to simply seesaw back and forth between majoritarian tyrannies, as social changes dictate.

Rights will continue to be violated and abrogated as the opinions of society fluctuate.

The favored, will continue to be privileged over the disfavored at the expense of the disfavored’s rights, until the pendulum swings again and the roles are reversed.

Yes, I realize, that is largely how it has always been… But never has law and government had such a depth and breath, had so great a reach into our personal lives, as it does today, and this unfortunately shows no sign of receding.

The absurdity of this reach… and overreach… is finally becoming apparent to many people, on all ideological “sides”; be it the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, privacy and surveillance, or gay marriage and wedding cakes.

So, we have to take action, now

Use this growing awareness of the overreach, to help people understand.

We have to show people these aren’t just outlying excesses. That they result from the way we think of, look at, and attempt to use, government.

We have to get people to understand, that if they can say “there ought to be a law”, and then get a law made banning something that they don’t like; then their worst enemy, can get a law made banning something they love.

We have to return to the notion that fundamental rights matter, and that the only legitimate purpose of law, and government, is to protect those fundamental rights.

Everything else?

That’s up to individuals, and to society as a whole, NOT GOVERNMENT.

Voluntary collective action. If it’s really what people want, then they’ll work for it, without the threat of force. If it’s not really what they want, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to do it.

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

Rand Paul Is Not a Perfect Libertarian, But He Comes Closer Than the Rest


In a post over at Reason’s Hit & Run, Jacob Sullum is asking “Can Rand Paul’s Positions on Abortion and Gay Marriage Be Defended on Libertarian Grounds?” Sullum concludes that yes, they can be, “but you have to try pretty hard.”

The correct answer as to both is no.

First, with respect to abortion, Rand Paul believes that from the point of conception, human life is entitled to state protection. Sullum concludes that this position “can be defended on libertarian grounds” once one “accept[s] the premise that a fetus is a person with a right to life.”

Rand Paul is correct (and Sullum is right to implicitly recognize) that abortion is not self-evidently beyond the purview of government. To the contrary, conflicts between rights-bearing individuals are quintessentially within that purview.

Government is the repository of collective force, the monopolistic holder of the privilege to enforce conformance to the collective will. According to most libertarians, that power is legitimately wielded to protect individual liberty, such as through the punishment and prevention of crimes like assault, battery, murder, rape, robbery, etc.

As an aside, from what I understand, even most anarchists endorse some sort of protocol for dealing with violence. One of my disagreements with anarchists is that I have never found anything semantically useful about calling those protocols anything other than “government.”

In any case, Paul and Sullum are therefore further correct that, if one accepts the unborn have rights, abortion is an issue that falls well within the purview of the state—because it involves a conflict between individual rights most of us readily acknowledge (the right to control one’s body versus the right to continue living).

As far as I know, however, nothing in libertarian doctrine answers the underlying, fundamental question of whether and when the unborn become rights-bearing. Only philosophy can tell us what attributes entitle a living entity to rights, and only medical science can tell us when the unborn develop those attributes.

I therefore disagree with Sullum in this very narrow respect: It would be better to say there is nothing inherently unlibertarian about Paul’s position on abortion than to say that libertarianism provides a basis for defending that position. Perhaps I am being pedantic. Perhaps it is an issue purely of semantics.

But it is one that matters to libertarians and non-libertarians alike.

Paul has some treacherous political terrain to navigate if he hopes to win both the GOP primary and a general election. If he wants the libertarian base to cross that terrain with him, he will probably need to articulate his positions with that level of finesse.

As a final note on the abortion issue, since non-libertarians often ask how we come down on this, I will go ahead and state my own position for the record. My own personal criteria for recognizing a living being’s entitlement to rights include some combination of the following: the ability to prefer existence over non-existence, the potential for high level sentience and the capacity to experience pain. I do not support interfering with a woman’s bodily autonomy from the moment of conception. I agree with Rand Paul, however, that fetuses become rights-bearing before the end of pregnancy and even before the end of the first trimester.

Second, on the issue of gay marriage, Sullum quotes Paul as lamenting that:

Ultimately, we could have fixed this a long time ago if we just allowed contracts between adults. We didn’t have to call it marriage, which offends myself and a lot of people…

From a libertarian perspective, there is no “we” here. There is no group properly endowed with the power to decide for everyone else what relationships get to be called “marriages.” It is for individuals to decide whether their relationship constitutes a “marriage,” and it is for other individuals to decide whether they agree with that characterization.

The issue is increasingly a litmus test precisely because it is so revealing of a candidate’s feelings about the relationship between individuals and government. It will be hard to sell a message of small government and liberty while simultaneously insisting that government should be so deeply involved in our lives as to define relationships and dictate how words are to be used.

In the past, Paul has indicated that he supports leaving it to the states to decide whether to recognize gay marriage. That position might solve Paul’s political problems as a federal candidate. But it is not inherently libertarian. Libertarians are, generally speaking, concerned with defining and limiting the exercise of force. That concern is not limited to federal government exercises of force.

Without more, Paul’s reliance on federalism requires libertarians to accept the following compromise: that while Paul believes state governments can interfere with private marriage, since he is not running for state office, we ought not worry overmuch about it. The argument is not without its merits. But it is also not libertarian.

On the other hand, Paul’s comments last year that “I don’t really think the government needs to be too involved with” marriage were decidedly libertarian in nature. Perhaps that is even his true position, and his more recent remarks have been more about rallying another wing of the GOP base. Whether he can get past the primary without clarifying remains to be seen.

As a final note, sophisticated social conservatives will argue that state maintenance of traditional marriage does not constitute an exercise of force, but merely an expression of what relationships the majority choose to recognize as “married” within the meaning of the law. The distinction is worthy of recognition and merits debate. However, states use force to collect taxpayer money to run their marriage licensing programs, and most libertarians intuitively support some version of “equal protection” doctrine.

In summary, to answer Sullum’s question, Paul’s position on when life becomes entitled to state protection is neither supported by nor contradicted by libertarian doctrine. If he thinks state legislatures can define marriage for individuals, however, Paul is far afield from basic libertarian tenets.

Does that mean I won’t vote for him?

No. I fully intend to vote for Rand Paul in the GOP primary. If he actually gets the nomination—and I hope he does—I may vote for him in the general as well. For one thing, I suspect that his true position on gay marriage is largely libertarian. Even if I am wrong about that, Rand Paul is still leagues more libertarian than any candidate the two major parties has run in my adult life.

I have never been lucky enough to be offered a candidate who both satisfies my politics and has a chance of winning. His imperfections notwithstanding, it would be nice if Rand Paul could change that.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Quote of the Day: Jason Pye on the Smarter Sentencing Act


Jason Pye, former contributor to The Liberty Papers and current Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks posted an article yesterday for Rare Liberty about some promising political developments in the area of criminal justice reform. Perhaps one of the most promising of these developments at the federal level is a bill being considered is S.502 – The Smarter Sentencing Act.

Jason explains why he believes this reform is a step in the right direction:

With federal prison spending booming, an unlikely bipartisan alliance has emerged to bring many of these successful state-level reforms to the federal justice system. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have joined with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to reform federal mandatory minimums – a one-size-fits-all, congressionally mandated approach to sentencing.


The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand the federal “safety valve” – an exception to federal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history – and cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. This more rational approach to sentencing will reduce costs on already overburdened taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a net $3 billion cost-savings over a decade. The Justice Department believes the bill will save an eye-popping $24 billion over 20 years.

The benefits of the Smarter Sentencing Act may not end with the fiscal savings. It could also reverse the damage done by federal mandatory minimum sentences in certain communities, which, as Lee recently explained, “have paid a high cost for the stiff sentences that mandatory minimums require.”

5 Memes that Need to Die

Internet memes – what would social networks look like without them? We all “like” some, share, and laugh at the most clever ones (others…not so much). Memes are a simple way to communicate to your social network your opinion on various issues from issues as serious as war and peace to more innocuous issues like which way is the proper way to install a roll of toilet paper (I’m an anarchist on that question). Not everyone has the time to write lengthy blog posts about these issues but almost everyone has enough time to click “share.” Like blog posts do, sometimes, these memes open up great discussions or debates (but often devolve into childish nonsense…sadly).

There are a few memes that are so incredibly inane that you will wish there was a “dislike” or “this is so stupid” button option when it crosses your news feed. The following are 5 memes which deserve to die by way of a logical response. These are numbered but not intended to be in any particular order as they all just need to die.

1. Those Dastardly Koch Brothers

For some reason, people on the Left have a huge hate on for the Koch brothers. If we are to believe the above meme, the Koch brothers are so rich and powerful that they could single-handedly fire 17 or more congressmen. Apparently, its only a few wealthy individuals and/or multinational corporations which advocate Right-wing ideas who lobby in Washington or contribute to campaigns and form super PACs.

According to, Koch Industries ranked #14 in the 2014 election cycle and #50 all time. To put the remaining contributors into perspective in the 2014 election cycle, 29 of the top 50 corporations donated most or all their money to Democrat/liberal campaigns while 9 donated most or all their money to Republican/conservative campaigns (the remaining 12 donated more or less evenly to both though some certainly leaned more one way or the other).

Of course, dividing these campaigns into “liberal” and “conservative” is itself, problematic. David Koch is more of a libertarian (small “L” to be sure) than a conservative. He supports many of the same causes that progressives do such as cutting military spending, being anti-war, supporting gay rights, and ending the war on (some) drugs. Apparently being socially liberal isn’t good enough; being fiscally conservatives make the Koch brothers the spawn of Satan.

The underlying complaint here is that there is too much money in politics. I have a very simple and practical solution: if you don’t like money in politics, get politics out of money. If those in congress only did what they were constitutionally permitted to do there would be little or no reason to lobby at all.

2. Drug Test Everyone on Welfare
drug test
I have to admit that I was a little more sympathetic to the notion of drug testing people receiving welfare when I first heard it being proposed. After all, when you take money from taxpayers who are earning and paying for your basic necessities of life, do you not at least have the obligation to prove you aren’t blowing the money getting high instead of looking for work?

While this is a great idea as a principle, it turns out its a terrible idea in the real world. If the idea of drug testing is to save money, then the problem is – it doesn’t. Florida had this law (before it was struck down by a federal judge) and the results were quite interesting. Of 4,086 people who were tested for drugs, a whopping 108 tested positive. The costs of requiring the welfare recipients to take the drug tests cost more that what it saved from rejecting the 2.6% who failed. Other states which have tried this experiment had similar results.

I think its very important for those of us who dislike the welfare state remember that its not just the poor who receive it. There are parasites whose entire existence is made possible only through wealth redistribution but there is more than one class of parasite. If the true reason behind drug testing is to humiliate those receiving a government check (because we now understand that it isn’t to save money) then we should ask the board members and CEOs of all the major corporations receiving corporate welfare and bailouts to stand in line to fill the cup up to the line as well.
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Recovered From the Memory Hole: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Prophesies of Doom


Benjamin Netanyahu is an incredibly gifted speaker – no question about that. Never can I recall any particular speech being met with so much anticipation, trepidation, and controversy as the speech that he delivered to a joint session of congress just days ago. What is it about this man – Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel that causes emotions to run so high?

Among conservatives, evangelical conservatives in-particular, to be the slight bit critical of Netanyahu or his policies is akin to hating the Jewish people. We are told we must “stand with” or “support” Israel (whatever standing with or supporting entails) no matter what.

At the risk of being met with these criticisms and others, my position is that Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician who has a geopolitical agenda. Israel is another nation which has a government that has its flaws as all governments do. I do not intend these statements to be pejorative but to bring both the PM and his government back into the realm of the real world.

Let me call what Netanyahu’s speech what it was: a political speech. Political speeches, by their nature, are designed to promote a point-of-view. Stretching the truth to its absolute limits, hyperbole, and minimizing opposing opinion is part and parcel of political speeches. In this particular speech, we are to believe that the current negotiations will only “pave the way” for Iran to getting the bomb. Iran is years or even months away from getting the bomb.

The thing is, Iran has been years or months away from getting nuclear weapons for 20 or so years now according to Netanyahu. As Murtaza Hussain writing for The Intercept points out:

“The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.

Despite this, he continues to be treated by lawmakers and media figures as a credible voice on this issue.”

Jon Stewart makes many of the same observations (below). Both Iraq and Iran were supposedly getting close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Obviously, nothing of the kind was ever found in Iraq following Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Obviously, I am no fan of the despotic theocratic regime in Iran. The idea of such a regime acquiring nuclear weapons is quite frightening. And while the concept of mutually assured destruction may or may not be an effective strategy, I see no harm in diplomacy and regular unannounced inspections of Iran’s nuclear programs.

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