Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

Self-Ownership, Voluntaryism , and the Non-Aggression Principle as Explained in 2 Videos

In the course of an election year, its very easy to get caught up in the minutia of the various campaigns and election year issues. This is not to say that these issues are trivial; there were very many issues this election cycle which deserved the attention they received.

That said, I tend to think that immediately after an election is a perfect time for reflection. What is it we believe and why? What are our first principles and are we communicating these principles effectively?

I’ve read from various places that we are coming close to a “libertarian moment” or perhaps one is already underway. I do not know one way or the other to what extent this is true but I find that because outlets like Salon, Slate, and Alternet of the Left and a few anti-libertarian outlets on the Right are spending so much energy trying to convince their readers that such a moment isn’t happening quite encouraging. If libertarian ideas were not gaining at least some momentum these outlets would ignore us as in years past.

Of course these outlets do not make any effort to portray our ideas accurately. Its almost as if they go down the list of logical fallacies and hope their readers won’t do any independent research.

So what are the first principles of libertarianism then? This is a very big question, one which libertarians will often disagree. My view is that the first principles are self-ownership, voluntaryism, and the non-aggression principle (fellow TLP contributor Chris Byrne has a slightly different take worthy of consideration).

The videos embedded in this post do an excellent job illustrating these principles, especially for people who are not very familiar with them. The first video, which I have shared on various other occasions, is called “The Philosophy of Liberty.”

Pretty simple right? Share that video with your friends who get their information from Salon. They may still disagree and say that individuals should be looted taxed to promote social justice and egalitarianism but at least they will be exposed to these ideas.

This second video by Stefan Molyneux called “Voluntaryism: The Non-aggression Principle (NAP)” is slightly more advanced taking NAP to its idealistic conclusion (Molyneux is an outright anarchist and makes no bones about it on his podcasts).

Is this all Utopian pie in the sky? Perhaps. Humanity has a long way to go before we can begin to think about beating swords into plowshares. But this does not mean that we can’t each do our part to move in this direction. Upon closer examination, what it really boils down to is following the Golden Rule, only resorting to violence defensively and as a last resort. This principle remains true whether the issue is foreign policy, local policing, or your own home.

Why Legislating Morality Is A Good Thing

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One of the phrases that irritates me about politics is when the phrase “we shouldn’t legislate morality” is uttered. Usually, that person does mean well (ie. supporting a separation of church and state), but it doesn’t diminish the fact that the phrase itself is ignorant. I would argue that a free liberal society must legislate morality if it is remain both a liberal society and a free society. All laws are is the morality of a society that is written down, therefore you cannot make laws if you’re not legislating morality.

I’m a classical liberal, which means I believe that the only moral purpose of government is to defend life, liberty, and property. I also believe in things such as pluralism, tolerance, the advancement of science and technology, realism, and reason. I want the morality of society to recognize these things in the laws that are made by the government that is supposed to represent us all. In fact, I would go even further to argue that moral relativism and liberty cannot coexist.

What I don’t advocate

When many people read this title and the first paragraph they’re probably thinking, “Kevin is about to argue for some sort of a theocracy.” Well, once you’ve read the second paragraph you probably realize that I’m no theocrat. Yes, I am a Christian, but I don’t need to law of Ceasar to guide my walk with Jesus Christ. While it is unreasonable to ask people check their religious and cultural beliefs at the door when discussing politics, in a pluralistic society such as the United States there is no place for legislating based on religion. 

The morality of a free, liberal society

The government must legislate based upon the morality of a liberal society. Since we classical liberals believe that the only moral purpose of government is to defend life, liberty, and property; we must keep government restrained except for those core functions. We know that as government grows, freedom contracts.

To promote a pluralistic society, we adopt an approach of “live and let live.” As long as your actions do not harm others lives, cause physical injury, or threaten their property; the government should not ban it. However, those who violate the life, physically harm others, and threaten property are punished severly. Government should stay out of bedrooms, computers, wallets, and everything else that is private.

Nor should government force people to love one another. All that a person has the right to ask from the government is to protect their life, liberty, and property; not to protect their feelings from being hurt. Trying to eliminate prejudice and bigotry through social engineering is a fool’s errand. Tolerance on the other hand must be practiced by the state and the state must treat all equally regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Equal justice under the law is a hallmark of a liberal society.

This does not mean we have to agree on everything

As a classical liberal, I do not require you to agree with me on everything in order to believe in and promote liberty. For example, I can see pro-liberty arguments for opposition to legalized abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. I can also see both sides of the issue on the death penalty. I can also see an argument for some sort of social safety net in order to protect property rights from looters. There are also many other issues where good, liberty minded people can hold both sides.

As for the culture, persuasion not force

As my friend and fellow Louisiana blogger Scott McKay always likes to say, “politics flows downstream from the culture.” What he means is that politics and laws are a reflection upon the culture. We as classical liberals need to start paying attention to changing the culture. 

We need to build a culture that respects life, believes in individual freedom and responsibility (ie. liberty), believes in pluralism and “live and let live”, believes in the advancement of science and technology and rejects quacks like Food Babe, looks at the world as it is and not the way we want to see it, and strives for knowledge and make ourselves better than what we are. We need a culture that is truly diverse, not just in appearance but also in thought as well.

We do this by promoting these values in our writings and activism. We do this by promoting these values in how we live our lives, contribute to our communities, and educate our children. Finally, we do this buy how we spend our money and our resources.

Ultimately, all laws are simply the reflection of the values and morality of a society. The sooner we’re honest with ourselves on that, the sooner we can focus on the things that really matter.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Take A Stand! Don’t Vote At All!

Today, my illustrious co-contributors have been making the case to you to vote. Sarah wants you to vote Libertarian, Matthew wants you to vote Republican, and Kevin doesn’t want you to vote Democrat, but drew the short straw and we made him argue it anyway.

Now I’m going to tell you why none of their arguments should make you vote for their parties.
Don't Vote!
First and foremost, the Democrats. Some might argue that if you vote Republican, you get big government AND social conservatism, but if you vote Democrat, you get big government and social liberalism. Frankly, it’s a lie. Democrats talk a good game about civil liberties, about ending the drug war, about being pro-choice, reining in the military-industrial complex, and ending foreign adventurism. Yet they change their tune as soon as they’re in power. Remember all those Bush-era domestic spying programs that Obama put a stop to? No, me neither. Remember when Obama closed Gitmo? No, me neither. Remember when Obama forced Congress to give him a declaration of War before bombing people? No, me neither. And it’s been his fellow Democrats defending his [in-]actions. Voting Democrat will never be beneficial to liberty.

As for the Republicans, one can make a very similar argument. Because if you vote Republican, you really do get big government and social conservatism. They talk a good game about small government and fiscal responsibility, but remember who was in office when TARP happened? Hint — it wasn’t Obama. Medicare Part D? No Child Left Behind? Yeah, not small government. Some might say the Republicans are the lesser of two evils, and that libertarians are more naturally allied with Republicans with Democrats, so you might as well pick them as your poison. There’s just one problem with allies when it comes to government: the alliance is forgotten the day after the election. Fusionism between libertarians and Republicans just isn’t going to work.

No, the reason not to vote Democrat or Republican is it truly has gotten very difficult to determine which of them is the lesser evil. And in our system of direct representation, does it really make sense to vote for someone who doesn’t represent you?

That leaves the argument that we should vote our conscience, and vote Libertarian. I’ll admit, of all three arguments, this is the one I’m most sympathetic to. After all, I would actually want to see Libertarians elected. I would trust a Libertarian candidate to represent my beliefs in Washington. And there’s one more argument for voting Libertarian, which Sarah overlooked: Since Libertarians never win, we don’t have to worry about being hypocrites when they then go to Washington and violate their campaign promises!

So why should you stay home? Why not “vote your conscience” and pull the lever for the Libertarian?

Because any vote, even one for the Libertarian, is an affirmation of the system.

But let’s face it. The system doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work is that the system is rigged. The direct representation system with first-past-the-post voting is only stable with two parties. The two parties then exist to move as close to the center as possible and ensure that they don’t alienate voters. Parties don’t exist to cater to minority views.

But we’re libertarians. We’re not centrists. We are a minority view. Some suggest that we’re 15% of the electorate. But the other side of that 15% is 85%. We can NEVER expect the mainstream parties to represent our interests, no matter who we vote for, because the money is in the center, not at the edges.

The alternative is a parliamentary-style proportional representation system. If we truly are 15% of the electorate, we would be able to gain a sizable chunk of the legislative body and we would force the Republicans and Democrats to work with us to govern. In today’s system, they only work with us until the campaign ends.

No, you shouldn’t vote. Validating the system of direct representation with your vote is a losing strategy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active. I’m not saying you can’t make an impact. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be blogging. What I’m saying is that if you want to make a difference, focus everywhere except the ballot box. You actually have some likelihood of doing good that way.

Why Capitalism? Why Not Capitalism?

Reason has an interview in their November issue,  with Jason Brennan, professor of philosophy at Georgetown, and author of the recent book “Why Not Capitalism”, published here in the piece “Why Capitalism?”.

From the blurb:

Most economists believe capitalism is a compromise with selfish human nature. As Adam Smith put it, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Capitalism works better than socialism, according to this thinking, only because we are not kind and generous enough to make socialism work. If we were saints, we would be socialists.

In Why Not Capitalism?, Jason Brennan attacks this widely held belief, arguing that capitalism would remain the best system even if we were morally perfect. Even in an ideal world, private property and free markets would be the best way to promote mutual cooperation, social justice, harmony, and prosperity. Socialists seek to capture the moral high ground by showing that ideal socialism is morally superior to realistic capitalism. But, Brennan responds, ideal capitalism is superior to ideal socialism, and so capitalism beats socialism at every level.

Clearly, engagingly, and at times provocatively written, Why Not Capitalism? will cause readers of all political persuasions to re-evaluate where they stand vis-à-vis economic priorities and systems—as they exist now and as they might be improved in the future.

I am in the midst of reading the book now, and if I think it’s warranted, I’ll post a review of it later this week. However, the thesis of the piece is that capitalism works, because it is in concordance with human nature. All other economic systems are dependent on humans denying or modifying their nature.

While I agree that the basic thesis is correct; my personal belief is that it’s even more basic than that.

Why Capitalism?

Because capitalism is not a system which has to be promulgated, enacted, imposed, or enforced.

Capitalism doesn’t depend on any government,  group, or single individual, deliberately controlling or changing anything. It’s the natural result of voluntary and rational response to economic incentive and feedback. If things are left alone to work out as people will, the result is capitalism.

What capitalism ISN’T, is the gross parody promulgated by socialists and other leftists. In real world terms, this misconception of capitalism is closest to 18th-19th century imperialist mercantilism… Which isn’t surprising, given that mercantilism was in fact the dominant economic system when Marx and Engels were writing.

Capitalism is simply the end result of spontaneous self organization of autonomous rational actors, and their response to changing conditions, intelligence, incentive, and feedback; including market conditions, and pricing.

We had capitalism, tens of thousands of years before we even had governments, never mind the invention of the term.

Capitalism is the default mode of economic interaction.

It’s basically gravity.

The video interview of Professor Brennan:

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

Outside Looking In

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In 2003, on the occasion of the loss of space shuttle Columbia, I wrote an essay titled “Outside Looking In”. As it happens, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, and possibly the most important.

Yesterday, we lost Virgin Galactic’s spaceship two (and at least one of its two crew. The other is in critical condition). Within minutes, the cries to end all manned space travel had resurfaced in full force. People are already gnashing teeth and rending garments, and wailing, that space isn’t worth dying for. 

Given this, I thought it would be appropriate to post the original essay here.

Nothing has changed substantially since I wrote it, except that even the desperately backward and hindering shuttle program has ended… and that now, it’s actually more than 42 years since we last set foot on the moon.

I should be clear… I’m not upset the shuttle is gone…

I’m angry that the shuttle is gone, and there’s no replacement.

I’m angry that we’re dependent on another country to lift our astronauts into space.

I’m ANGRY that the shuttle was over 30 years old, and we poured resources and energy into the shuttle program for 40 years, with basically no real development of an alternate solution.

Except that’s not PRECISELY true.

There has been LOTS of development on alternate solutions, none of which have been allowed to succeed (and only two have even been allowed to proceed to where NASA was in 1960).

We’ve spent tens of billions on alternate solutions, both public sector and private. Unfortunately, NASA has spent the entire time actively suppressing, delaying, or killing anything that would compete with or replace the shuttle; all as part of the bureaucratic funding fight.

I know this first hand, having been involved in several of the SSTO projects in the 90s (I was free labor, as an engineering student and intern. I’m a pilot, an aviation and space nut, my primary degree is in Aerospace engineering, and I’ve been a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics since I was 18).

Now, people, and I’m sure organizations and interest groups, are already trying to use this crash to attempt to ban private manned space travel.

… which really means that most of them are trying to end all manned space travel period; since it’s not like the public sector has done much to advance the state of human space travel since 1972.

It has been 45 years since we first landed on the moon, and 42 since Eugene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon) stepped back into his landing module, and we left it.

I’m angry, because we have willingly, even eagerly, become a frigate navy nation.

it’s 2014… We should have spacelines. We should have private spacecraft available for purchase to anyone. We should be living on the moon, living on mars… we should be out in the stars.

Instead, we’re still countering the nattering of cowards and fools, who only want to look inward.

I’m angry… I’m more than angry, I’m disgusted.

 

Outside Looking In — Chris Byrne, 2003

We have spent the last 30 years collectively contemplating our belly buttons.

Let me explain what I mean by that (this is gonna take a while so get comfortable).

Throughout most of history, humanity as a race has been outward looking. We strode out through the world around us to learn, to achieve, and to conquer.

From the earliest days of humanity we have looked outside ourselves for meaning.

First we had medicine men and shamans who looked to the spirits.

Then we had priests who looked to the gods.

Then we had philosophers who looked to the nature of the universe, and sought to find mans place within it.

Finally there came that extraordinary breed of men to whom Isaac Newton belonged to. They called themselves the natural philosophers, we now call them scientists.

Each of these groups of people sought to divine meaning, reason, purpose, from that which surrounded us.

We were on the inside looking out in wonder, and eventually, with some small degree of understanding.

This point of view was reflected in our societies as well.

We explored, and built, and grew. We strove for bigger, more, faster, better.

The expression of this has often been called “pioneer spirit”.
It’s the challenge to go forth and do that which has not been done.
It’s the desire to climb the mountain “because it’s there”.

This spirit quickly had us wee humans spread across this globe, living in almost every corner, no matter how hostile it seemed to our rather thin and frail skins.

This is the spirit that Americans inherited from the British, the Spanish, and the Portuguese; who it seems, have managed somehow to lose it over the past two hundred and fifty years.

This is the spirit that pushed us from sea to sea, the spirit that flung us up into the sky, the spirit that exploded us out into space.

This is the spirit best voiced by John F. Kennedy when he said “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

Over the past 100 or so years this spirit became focused primarily on science and technology.

We stopped exploring, not because we ran out of places to explore, but because we did not have the technology to explore them. So we built it, and we built it fast.

It took only us 44 years to make the headlong rush from the Wright brothers, to sustained supersonic flight.

It was only another ten years before we managed to stick something far enough up there that it wouldn’t come right back down again.

Three and a half years later we finally opened up the door and left the home of our birth; when on April 12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to see the earth, from the outside looking in.

Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t make the line famous for another 16 years, but Yuri Alekseyevich truly had, boldly gone where no man has gone before. One of us had finally made it off the rock.

Then, at 10:56 pm EDT , July 20, 1969 we managed the short hop to the next rock. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, had made it to the moon.

We only went back five more times over the next three years. 12 men spent a total of 170 hours on the moon, and left behind, not much really. A few scientific instruments, a few spacecraft bits and pieces, the worlds most expensive dune buggy, an American flag, and a plaque that reads:

“Here Man completed his first exploration of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.”

And with these words, spoken by cmdr. Eugene Cernan on December 11th 1972:

“America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow”

…we turned out the lights and went home.

Unfortunately there has been no tomorrow.

As I was saying, we have spent the last 30 years contemplating our belly buttons.

After World War II most of the world stopped looking forward, and started looking inward. There were too many social problems. There was too much poverty and hunger and disease. There was far too much pain screaming out at us from the horrors of the preceding 10 years.

The spirit of exploration that had pervaded humanity since it’s earliest days was completely gone from Europe by the 1960’s. It had never really existed in east Asia, where culture and philosophy had been directed inward for thousands of years.
It had not existed in the middle east since the days before the ottoman empire.

The only explorers left by the 60’s were America, and Russia, and Russia was only really doing it to compete with America.

People all over the world started questioning the values that had formed previous generations’ assumptions.

The generation born between the end of the depression, and just after the war, KNEW that there were more important things than exploration.

They KNEW that this desire for exploration was just another form of conquest and exploitation and imperialism just like the ones that had brought about the worst conflict in human history.

They KNEW that exploring space was waste of time and money that could be better spent on ending hunger, or disease, or racism.

And so we began to turn inward.

With books like “the catcher in the rye”, “On the Road”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest”, we started looking more at ourselves, and our neighbors, and less at the outside world, and the outside universe.

It took until 1972, but with the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon and Watergate, price controls, inflation, the CIA and FBI, the Israeli situation, the Irish situation, and every other god damned miserable thing going on in this god damned miserable world…

they KNEW that they weren’t going to spend another dime going to the moon ‘til we had fixed things down here on earth.

In the broader culture things started changing even more.

We encouraged people to take a good long look at themselves.

To find themselves.

To say I’m Ok You’re Ok.

To be fair, a hell of a lot of good came out of this.

For the first time we started seriously exploring the WHY behind a lot of mental and emotional problems.

We started leaving bad marriages behind, and we started trying to be happier.

We started doing something about racism, sexism and pollution.

…But as usual, we went too far.

We started confusing confidence with arrogance.

We decided that power was bad.

We made aggression and competition synonymous with evil.

We started subverting science to ideology, and we decided that ideology was after all, a science.

In our most extreme moments, we decided that boys were bad and girls were good.

That white was bad and black was good.

That both old and new were bad, and only NOW, ME, and US, was good.

We stopped moving forward.

We stopped looking outward.

Instead, we are spending all of our time looking sideways, up, down, in, and increasingly backward.

Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad if we weren’t so bad at it.

It would be a good thing, if we were able to do so without damaging ourselves, and without halting progress.

…But so far, we aren’t.

We haven’t been out of high orbit since 1972.

It only took us 66 years to go from being earthbound, to setting foot on another planet.

In the past 30 years we have have gone no farther, no faster, no higher.

We have stopped going where no man has gone before.

Charles Krauthammer wrote in the weekly standard that “we have put ourselves into a low earth orbit holding pattern”.

Putting it a little more directly, we’re circling the parking lot looking for a space, instead of getting out of the damned shopping mall, and actually going some place and doing something.

The most significant technologies of the last thirty years have been global telecommunications; exemplified in the internet, and biotechnology.

Both of these are essentially focused inward.

The internet has the potential to be the single greatest advance in mass communication since the printing press.

It allows for true interactive communication on a global scale, but it is essentially inward facing.

Why?

Because it exists to exchange information we already have.

The internet spreads knowledge around better than anything we’ve ever come up with and that’s great.

It’s the greatest enabler of science history has ever known because it allows the freer and easier exchange of ideas, but the net in and of itself does little to advance the state of human knowledge.

The internet is not like the microscope or the telescope or the space craft. Completely new things are not discovered or created by the internet, though they have without doubt been enabled by it.

BioTechnology is by very definition focused inward.

At it’s deepest level BioTech is the study of what makes us what we are. It promises to unlock near limitless potential for our biological beings.

It opens the door to the possibility of ending old age, disease, hunger, even death itself. It offers potential dangers equal to it’spotential wonders.

BioTech is probably the second most important field of technology ever devised, but exploration is still by far the most important.

As no nation can be great without looking beyond its borders, no race can be great without looking beyond its planet.

Whether there are other races out there, or we are alone; if as a race we are ever to progress beyond our current state of semi civilized savagery, to progress beyond a planet full of petty squabbles between nations, that just might incidentally kill us all; we need to venture off this planet in the largest scale possible.

We need to live on, not just visit other planets.

This is a concrete lesson of history.

We started out as individuals.

We fought and died as individuals until we formed villages, clans, and tribes

With villages we had a larger purpose and organization, and the fighting between individuals lessened.

For thousands of years villages, clans, and tribes killed each other until we formed city-states. Then the fighting between tribes lessened.

We began to form principalities and petty kingdoms, and they repeated the pattern, lessening the conflicts between cities.

Finally we formed nations, and eventually ended most organized conflict between smaller groups.

But we created the nation about 10,000 years ago, and we haven’t really come very far since. Half of Europe was STILL in the city state or principality phase 250 years ago.

Germany is now by far the largest and most important nation in Europe (no matter what France and England may say), but it only became a true nation in 1872.

The United Nations is, at best, an ineffective organization with more politics than solutions.

At worst, it is an organization used to spread the ugliest prejudices of humans, while decrying the actions needed to stop them, and masking it all under cynical self righteousness.

It is clear that until we become an extraplanetary race, we will never achieve anything resembling a free society of all human beings.

It is similarly clear that once we do become truly extraplanetary, such a society is, if not inevitable, at least more likely.

Many would say that we need to solve our problems here on earth first.

They believe that we can’t afford space exploration while people starve, and die of disease, and are denied basic human rights.

They say that it costs too much, that it’s dangerous, that it has little benefit to the vast majority of humanity that has barely enough to eat.

They are right in many ways…

…but if as a people we don’t get the hell off this rock…

…what will it matter?

It will be a case of belly button contemplating on a racial scale.

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

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