Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Friday, May 02, 2014

TGIF: Libertarianism Rightly Conceived

The debate on thick and thin libertarianism continues, and that’s a good thing. Libertarians can only gain by the discussion. Often one comes to appreciate one’s own philosophy more fully in the crucible of intellectual argument.
So I, for one, welcome the debate — so long as it is a real debate and not merely a series of unsupported denials of the proposition on the table.
Read the article here.

14 comments:

DissidentRight said...

What follows is meant in good faith.

So I, for one, welcome the debate — so long as it is a real debate and not merely a series of unsupported denials of the proposition on the table.

What proposition? You write:

Charles W. Johnson spells this [additional libertarian commitments] out in some detail in “Libertarianism through Thick and Thin.”

In fact he does nothing of the sort. Johnson clarifies at the end of his article: I should make it clear, if it is not yet clear, that I have not attempted to provide a detailed justification for the specific claims I have made on behalf of “thick” commitments. Just which social and cultural projects libertarians, as libertarians, should incorporate into theory and practice remains to be hashed out in a detailed debate.

He merely posits some possible arenas where thick libertarianism might exist. My comments re: Johnson follow.

===

Johnson: First, there might be some commitments that a libertarian can reject without formally contradicting the nonaggression principle, but which she cannot reject without in fact interfering with its proper application.

Commitments like what?

Johnson: If feminists are right about the way in which sexist political theories protect or excuse systematic violence against women, there is an important sense in which libertarians, because they are libertarians, should also be feminists.

If mathematicians are right about the way that 1+1 = 2, then there is an important sense in which libertarians, because they are libertarians, should also be mathematicians.

It is axiomatic that something being true is reason enough that people should believe/support it. Libertarians are no more or less bound than anyone else to honor/reject independently true/false views.

Johnson: Thus there may be cases in which certain beliefs or commitments could be rejected without contradicting the nonaggression principle per se, but could not be rejected without logically undermining the deeper reasons that justify the nonaggression principle.

Like?

Johnson: But while there’s nothing logically inconsistent about a libertarian envisioning—or even championing—this sort of social order, it would certainly be weird. Noncoercive authoritarianism may be consistent with libertarian principles, but it is hard to reasonably reconcile the two.

Weird? The faintness of this example is damning. And weird to whom? The original libertarians didn't think belief in an Ultimate Authority was particularly weird. We might reasonably suggest the opposite--that they (and many modern people) believe that moral legitimacy only comes from God. No one doubts that atheists find it hard to reconcile the two. But they also don't try very hard. Others will have to take up the slack.

So we have one case, and it just begs the question.

Johnson: Third, there also may be cases in which certain ideas, practices, or projects are entailed by neither the nonaggression principle nor the best reasons for it, and are not logically necessary for its correct application, either, but are preconditions for implementing the nonaggression principle in the real world.

I doubt it.

Johnson: Now, to the extent that persistent, severe poverty, and large-scale inequalities of wealth are almost always the result of government intervention, it’s unlikely that totally free societies would face such dire situations. Over time, many if not most of these problems would likely sort themselves out spontaneously through free-market processes, even without conscious anti-poverty activism.

Indeed. What was the point of bringing it up?

Continued...

DissidentRight said...

Johnson: Since libertarians aim to abolish those interventions, it may well make good strategic sense for them to support voluntary, nongovernmental efforts that work to undermine or bypass consolidated political-economic power. Otherwise we will find ourselves trying to fight with slingshots while freedom’s enemies fire back with bazookas.

Yes, it may well make. But this hardly rises to the level of a "precondition". The question remains: are there logistical preconditions to implementing libertarianism? Answer: maybe. "Thick" libertarianism continues to thin out.

Johnson: Finally, there may be social practices or outcomes that libertarians should (in some sense) be committed to opposing, even though they are not themselves coercive, because 1) government coercion is a precondition for them and 2) there are independent reasons for regarding them as social evils. If aggression is morally illegitimate, then libertarians are entitled not only to condemn it, but also to condemn the destructive results that flow from it—even if those results are, in some important sense, external to the actual coercion.

Well of course. Libertarians should be committed to affirming that 1+1 = 2, since we have very good reasons for thinking that bad math is a social evil. How this different from the first point?

Johnson: Throughout the twentieth century most libertarians rushed to the defense of such [exploitative business] practices on the grounds that they result from market processes and are often the best economic options for extremely poor people in developing countries. […] The problem with trying to use free market economic principles in the defense of such labor practices is that those practices arose in markets that are far from being free.

Indisputable. Nevertheless, if you are building the first factory in a hundred mile radius, it's equally indisputable that the people you will be hiring are going to be dirt poor…until all your tycoon friends decide they want a cut and start building their own factories to bid up the cheap labor. We all know how this works, right? The fact that the people will accept sweatshop wages is precisely the thing which attracts capital in the first place.

Johnson: Thus to the extent that sweatshop conditions and starvation wages are sustained, and alternative arrangements like workers’ co-ops suppressed, through dramatic restrictions on property rights throughout the developing world—restrictions exploited by opportunistic corporations that often collaborate with authoritarian governments—libertarians, as libertarians, have good reasons to condemn the social evils that arise from these labor practices.

Of course we should always decry aggression, because that's what this is: aggression. Saying that libertarianism entails rejecting aggression is a truism. Nevertheless, there is an important dimension that needs to be considered. Do "perpetual" "sweatshop conditions" really mean that something nefarious is afoot? Perhaps. Yet perpetual sweatshops only exist in places where the population has a much lower mean IQ and a much higher crime rate than average (and therefore is less productive and more risky to employ than average). We have very strong reasons to believe that places like Africa, South America, and South Asia will always sustain significantly lower standards of living than places like Japan, Germany, and Sweden--regardless of the State. So the claim that "excessive" poverty implies oppression is highly questionable. At the very least, the premise that intelligence and criminality are 100% nurture and 0% nature needs to be substantiated. Nevertheless, it is equally true (and for the same reasons) that these people are uniquely susceptible to exploitation--so that should be considered too. Because, again, libertarians are obviously committed to condemning aggression.

Continued (2)...

DissidentRight said...

The example of China is notable: even with obscene communist overlords crushing the economy, the wealth of the average Chinese citizen (or at least the wealth of the State) only continues to rise. High IQ is difficult to repress. Low IQ represses itself.

===

I also read "What Social Animals Owe to Each Other". Where are the propositions? Okay, so we need to respect people's humanity, or something. What does that mean?

As you yourself said, different libertarians have different ways of justifying the NAP. We Christian libertarians have an answer we think is obvious, visceral, and decisive. Atheist libertarians, as far as I can tell, can't quite agree on what reason their reason is--but it's sure as hell not the Christian one.

We are willing to agree to disagree on the reason. Because fortunately, most people are happy to accept the NAP as axiomatic when you explain it to them. Maybe they shouldn't, but they do. Thick libertarians, it seems, want everyone to be on the same page with the same explanation. Well, of course that would be nice. But is there any chance of that happening? Realistically, no.

Conclusion: recall Johnson: "I have not attempted to provide a detailed justification for the specific claims I have made on behalf of “thick” commitments. Just which social and cultural projects libertarians, as libertarians, should incorporate into theory and practice remains to be hashed out in a detailed debate."

What proposition, exactly, is Block (et al.) dismissing without support? Other than the (barely supported) proposition that libertarianism might entail other commitments (cf. Johnson) or the (unsupported) proposition that libertarianism does entail other commitments (cf. you).

martin said...

If mathematicians are right about the way that 1+1 = 2, then there is an important sense in which libertarians, because they are libertarians, should also be mathematicians.

It is axiomatic that something being true is reason enough that people should believe/support it. Libertarians are no more or less bound than anyone else to honor/reject independently true/false views.


Yes, so Johnson's point applies to non-libertarians as well. Is there a problem with that?

DissidentRight said...

Of course there's no problem with it.

The problem is when Johnson use it as an example of a "commitment that a libertarian can reject without formally contradicting the nonaggression principle, but which she cannot reject without in fact interfering with its proper application" and then says, "If feminists are right […] there is an important sense in which libertarians, because they are libertarians, should also be feminists."

If feminists are right, then every person, insofar as they care about the truth, should be a feminist. To imply that the "commitment to truth" is somehow unique to libertarianism in any way (meaningful or not) is absurd.

There's more to unpack here, but my response was already running really long so I cut a lot of stuff out.

Christian libertarians generally accept that feminists are right about some things but horribly wrong about others. Therefore it is absurd to suggest that because a particular feminist viewpoint is true, a person (any person) "should" be a feminist, since that would entail affirming the bad in addition to the good.

Or, if you disagree, consider white supremacism. If white supremacists are right about the substantively inherited nature of intelligence and about the substantive differences in the intelligence distribution between certain demographics, then there is an important sense in which libertarians, because they are libertarians, should also be white supremacists.

It is easy to see why not, because of course white supremacists hold other views that most of us consider to be horribly wrong. (Of course that doesn't mean one can dismiss their views on the inherited/racially distributed nature of intelligence, if in fact the social science backs them up.)

Grung_e_Gene said...

I seriously want to know how "Non-Aggression" is going to work when your water table is rendered undrinkable and untouchable by the Koch Brothers polluting Lake Michigan and the Calumet River or Duke Energy polluting every waterway in North Carolina or Fracking rendering well water inflammable?

Who will you turn to? Where will you go? How will you fight back?

DissidentRight said...

The pollution problem has been discussed ad nauseam, and it only becomes a problem when 1) businessmen are prevented from using the "pollution" as an input to some other industrial process and 2) when there's un-owned property upon which to dump it.

Solution: 1) deregulate markets (people always find novel uses for industrial leftovers) and 2) assign ownership to everything.

Pollution, as usual, is a problem that cannot exist without the State.

Grung_e_Gene said...

Ah, that's the disingenious Libertarian response I'm used to: Everything bad from "The State" everything goof from "the Market".

Anyone else have a realistic response to pollution other than deregulated markets will solve evrything?

DissidentRight said...

The obvious implication of "assign ownership to everything" is that there is no longer any "public property", which means that you are either dumping stuff on your own property (and you suffer the consequences) or you must pay someone else to let you dump it on their property. There aren't any public grounds where you can dump stuff for free.

What part of that do you not understand?

Second, what part of "people always find novel uses for industrial leftovers" escapes your understanding? Do you have any idea how the manufacturing industry works? All industrial processes produce waste products; i.e., leftovers: for example meat scraps, metal filings, and chemical sludge.

The vast majority of this waste is then used as an INPUT to some other industrial process, often by another firm that buys the waste. This process then produces its own waste, which is then used as input for some other process, and so on and so forth. In many cases, most of the waste can be fed right back in to the process that created it.

With me so far?

It should be obvious that there was a time when none of these secondary, tertiary, etc. processes existed. They were invented by businessmen and engineers as a way to make money off of otherwise useless waste. It is equally obvious that these people will continue to invent new ways to use waste, if given the opportunity.

Unfortunately, statists suffer from the hysterical delusion that there are some waste products that will never have any use, ever. For example, nuclear waste and other various toxic wastes. Thus, in their self-defeating hysteria, they issue regulations that force businessmen to dispose of certain classes of waste in a way that ensures no one will ever think up a process to use it in. They then call this waste "pollution" and pretend as if it is a problem that no one can ever solve.

Meanwhile they ignore the fact that if not for market actors constantly inventing new ways to turn pollution into an industrial input, there would be a hundred thousand times as much pollution as there is now. That's the world statists want to us to live in.

Grung_e_Gene said...

Dissident Right,

I invite you to fill your cup with mercury dumped from BP Whiting.

I decline but I'm sure you can find interesting ways to drink mercury, benzene, hydrocarbons and live a long healthy life.

Perhaps you'd also like to pay top dollar for the property abutting the Koch Industries Petcoke Piles in South Chicago? After all that petcoke leftover has "secondary and tertiary" uses and you could profit immensely by sucking some of into your lungs and observing what effects prolonged contact on the skin has!

DissidentRight said...

Why did you bother responding?

Grung_e_Gene said...

Dissident Right,

Did my refutation of your pollution is the state's fault because Hank Reardon is going to turn it into mystical metal hurt your feelings?

Like most Libertarians it seems you ascribe to the Great Man will solve everything, while ignoring the wake of destruction and damage that affects actual real people.

But, again like most Libertarians you probably believe poor people are poor because of their own fault and their reliance on the Big Bad State to provide for them.

DissidentRight said...

How, in your mind, does anything you wrote constitute a response to (let alone a "refutation" of) anything libertarians have written?

Er, let's step back. Could you explain how, in your mind, anything you wrote even constitutes an acknowledgment that you understand what libertarians have written?

Hm. No, that's not enough, is it? How, in your mind, does anything you wrote demonstrate that you even understand what "pollution" is?

You are a good example of why I don't seek out engagement with left-wing statists anymore. I want a conversation about leftism, not statist hysteria.

Grung_e_Gene said...

Dissident Right,

How, except in your own mind, does anything you wrote consist of an argument?

I mentioned two specific cases of polluting going on in the Chicagoland area, thousands of tons of uncovered petcoke dumped alongside the residences of the poor of the southside of chicago and BP Whiting Indiana plant consistently dumping known toxins and carcinogens into Lake Michigan.

Yet, YOU reply with off-handed insults, deflections and claims that I don't understand "pollution" and call me a left-wing statist in the grips of "hysteria".

YOU are example of why Libertarianism is NOT SERIOUS., who is more interested in proving your silly ideas with vague hypotheticals.