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A Critique of Russell Kirk’s “Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries” (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

A Critique of Russell Kirk’s “Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries” (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published June 28, 2009
as Part of Issue CXCVIII of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CXCVIII of The Rational Argumentator on June 28, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014
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Russell Kirk’s 1981 essay, “Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries,” is a shallow, unsophisticated ad hominem attack on the American libertarian movement. It contains an abundance of fallacies, mischaracterizations, false blanket generalizations, and outright lies about libertarians. Moreover, its intentions are hostile and destructive: Kirk wishes to prevent the possibility of what might have been productive intellectual and practical cooperation between libertarians and some of the more reasonable conservatives. Here, I will endeavor to thoroughly refute Kirk’s arguments and to show that libertarians are not the chaos-loving demons Kirk depicts them as being.

Kirk begins his essay with a manner of intellectual intimidation, claiming that conservatives form a “majority” of the American public, while libertarians constitute a “tiny though unproscribed minority” (345). During the time the essay was written, the latter may have well been true – although undoubtedly the number of libertarians has increased since then and especially since Kirk’s death in 1994. After all, Ron Paul gathered approximately 1.2 million votes in the 2008 Republican primaries – meaning that while libertarians are still a minority, they are not a tiny minority, but are rather somewhere on par with American Jews. The former claim – that conservatives constitute a majority of the American public – is unlikely to be true. But even if it were, what is the point of Kirk’s including it in a paper comparing the contents and the merits of the two ideologies? Surely, the truth of an idea is independent of the number of its adherents. Is it Kirk’s purpose to say to libertarians, “We are more numerous than you, and you exist at our mercy? How generous we are for not proscribing you!” Or is it to make the argument, “Most people agree with it, so it must be right!”? (I am sure that Kirk would disagree with the same statement when it came to popular music, clothing, or lifestyles.) Suffice it to say, the inclusion of this comparison is not a logically necessary part of Kirk’s argument and serves to simply poison the well against libertarians by appealing to the lower prejudice in some reason that might (i.e., numbers in elections) makes right.

Judging by the detestable behavior of the Religious Right and the so-called “conservatives” of the Bush administration in recent years, I am all too tempted to agree with Russell Kirk’s thesis that conservatives and libertarians have nothing fundamental in common, but this is far too hasty a judgment in my more thoroughly considered opinion. While many conservatives in the United States – especially many conservative opinion leaders – are proto-fascistic in their agendas, many others are decent, reasonable, and well-intentioned. While the former yearn for the Ancien Regime union of a militant church and an absolutist state, the latter at least claim to be espousing the principles of the American founding – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is for the sake of the latter kind of conservatives that I write this essay, urging them to reject Kirk’s insular and alienating claims and find some common ground – any common ground they can – with libertarians.

Kirk alleges that libertarians “carry to absurdity the doctrines of John Stuart Mill,” (345) thereby equating libertarianism with Mill’s utilitarianism. While Mill’s philosophy certainly has many elements that many libertarians would find praiseworthy, there are many other intellectual sources for libertarianism – many of whom would have serious disagreements with Mill and the other extremely famous utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham. The foundation for libertarianism that differs most from Mill’s thinking is the natural rights philosophy, whose varieties are espoused by John Locke, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and many others. Even if one does not follow the natural rights route, one does not have to embrace Mill’s and Bentham’s formula of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” One can be a libertarian for reasons that have nothing to do with individuals’ subjective emotional states. For instance, one can argue that in a libertarian society, individuals will be wealthier, more productive, more moral, less violent, more refined, more differentiated from one another, or longer-lived – and any of these can be seen as ends apart from happiness if one is inclined to so consider them. I myself am an advocate of natural rights on a consequentialist foundation; I believe that absolutely embracing the principle of natural rights will enable people to maximally pursue and extend the most important of all values – the life of each individual. My kind of libertarianism does not depend on how anybody feels, and for me the existence or non-existence of the individual is more important than his happiness or lack thereof – although happiness is nice, too. Moreover, unlike many utilitarians, I do not ascribe the same degree of “valuableness” to all individuals, although I do believe that all individuals are worthy of a baseline level of respect for their natural rights and a baseline level of common courtesy. There are about as many kinds of libertarianism as there are libertarians, and Kirk is simply wrong to reduce all libertarianism to the thought of one person – even a brilliant person such as Mill.

While Kirk is not far from the truth when he alleges that libertarians consider personal freedom “as the whole end of the civil social order,” (345) he is grievously mistaken when he claims that libertarians also consider it the whole end “of human existence” (345). To most libertarians, freedom in itself is a means, not an end. Freedom serves to enable the individual to pursue and attain other values – such as prosperity, self-improvement, intellectual endeavors, personal relationships, esthetic enjoyment, and entertainment – without needing to fear the coercive interventions of others. To paraphrase Rothbard, freedom may be the highest political end, but it not the highest of all ends. Rather, libertarians recognize that the political sphere is best suited for the attainment of freedom, but is miserably suited to the attainment of any other end, as numerous failed experiments presupposing the contrary have demonstrated.

While I, a libertarian, have serious disagreements with aspects of Mill’s utilitarianism, I also have a great respect for Mill and find it necessary to defend him against some of Kirk’s attacks. Kirk heaps invectives on Mill’s upbringing by a “sour,” “austere,” and “doctrinaire” father, who gave him a better education that Kirk or possibly anyone else ever had. This is not an insult to Kirk, as few can equal the genius of John Stuart Mill, but I do find it rather disconcerting that Kirk does not respect Mill’s colossal erudition. While Kirk acknowledges Mill’s breadth and depth of learning, he alleges that “his intellect was untouched by the higher imagination” and that “Mill became all head and no heart” and “turned into defecated intellect.” What base and shallow accusations – especially coming from a man whose lack of imagination led him to disdain all of the wonderful possibilities of modern technology – including automobiles, highways, television, and computers. Premodern conservatives often accuse libertarians of having no imagination, while at the same time disdaining the technology that has cured so many great human ills without even knowing much about that technology and the ways in which it might be used beneficially. Moreover, I do not consider it having “no heart” to believe that human lives and human societies could be fundamentally and qualitatively better than they currently are – a notion that conservatives of Kirk’s stripe, believers in a fixed, unchangeable human nature and human social dynamics – emphatically reject. Embracing premodern conservatism amounts to a resignation to the massive human death, disease, conflict, and misery that have pervade the world since before recorded history. Embracing libertarianism offers an eventual way to rid ourselves of many of the perils we presently face. You decide which position displays more “heart,” if by “heart” one means a compassion for human beings and a desire to eradicate the suffering they do not deserve.

Kirk compounds his vitriol by mentioning Mill’s attachment to another man’s wife – forgetting that Mill did not actually do anything to infringe upon her marriage until her husband’s death dissolved it. It is not a mark of vice to simply have a desire which lacks legitimacy or may pose complications if actualized; it is only a mark of vice to act on this desire – which Mill did not. Mill was indeed the paragon of personal virtue; he delayed his gratification until he could do so in a manner that would not be adulterous and would not harm any human being. The same could not be said of many popular conservative leaders today – hypocrites, adulterers, money launderers, petty and large tyrants, and militant advocates of destruction. While Kirk himself was a moral though oddly dogmatic character in his personal life, the worldview he demands had many far less admirable exponents.

The essence of Kirk’s criticism of Mill’s absolute principle that the sole purpose of government force is to prevent harm inflicted by some against others is that liberty is desirable in some cases, but not desirable in others. Yet, who is to decide in which cases liberty is desirable? Can we trust any human being, however virtuous, to make that decision – whose consequences can be grievous for others – and to implement it using the force of the state? While some people are clearly more rational and virtuous than others, no person is free of flaws. The purpose of libertarianism is to minimize the impact on others that any given person’s flaws might have. It is impossible to reliably prevent an individual’s follies damaging himself, but libertarianism endeavors to confine that damage solely to himself to as great an extent as possible. It is thus that each man may govern himself as he pleases, for good or for ill, but when it comes to governing others as a master and not an impartial referee, the potential for and magnitude of damage is far too great – as history repeatedly teaches us.

The fascistic strain in Kirk comes out when he writes, “It is consummate folly to tolerate every variety of opinion, on every topic, out of devotion to an abstract ‘liberty’; for opinion soon finds its expression in action, and the fanatics whom we tolerated will not tolerate us when they have power” (346). I do not see the problem here, for words and ideas are different from actions. One may hold fanatical or simply wrong ideas and express them using words, but this does nothing to change the state of society until the ideas are actually implemented. In a libertarian society, it is legitimate to use force to stop any implementation of coercion – so where is the problem? The moment the fanatics begin to use violence, they get punished; until then, they are merely stating their opinions. Since their ideas are false, they can be countered with true ideas; the battle at this stage should occur entirely on the level of voluntary persuasion, and force should only be used when force has been initiated. To claim that opinion necessarily finds its expression in action is absurd. If I believe that I ought to have a club sandwich, that does not mean that I will go out and get it; there may be obstacles in my way that I cannot overcome – such as poor weather or pressing work commitments. Moreover, what I mean by a club sandwich might not be what you think I mean by a club sandwich. Maybe I mean a sandwich that looks like a club, or a sandwich that is eaten in a social club or off of a golf club, so what you think I want may not be what I actually want. Whenever any two people use words, the definitions of those words may be so highly peculiar to each individual that it becomes impossible to predict in advance how any given person will be motivated by any given idea. Human actions, not human ideas, can be known with certitude – and there is no deterministic pathway by which a given idea becomes translated into any given action.

But, ironically enough, Kirk’s brand of conservative is precisely the kind of intolerant fanatic who would use overwhelming force if he were to achieve power – force that would be used to abolish numerous technological advances, mandate religious belief and observance, persecute non-coercive lifestyle choices such as premarital cohabitation, homosexuality, and marriage outside of mainstream churches, and require theological instruction for the masses. Anything that the center and far left are doing today to coerce the American people would pale in comparison to a premodern conservative theocracy in the United States. But suffice it to say, a person who is intolerant and advocates persecution of contrary opinions rarely does so on a whim; he typically believes the contrary opinions to be in some way dangerous if implemented. So Kirk’s position is no different in kind from the position of an Islamic fundamentalist theocrat — say, a Taliban cleric or an Iranian ayatollah, who also considers opinions contrary to his own to be very dangerous indeed, especially when it comes to the “higher things,” if they were put into practice. Kirk might impose different prohibitions from the Islamic fundamentalists, and to a different degree, but his mode of thinking is quite similar.

Kirk believes that the great danger of our time is “the lust for novelty; and that men will be no better than the flies of a summer, oblivious to the wisdom of their ancestors, and forming every opinion merely under the pressure of the fad, the foible, the passion of the hour” (347). But this is precisely what libertarianism helps protect us against! By having freedom from coercion, the individual is protected if he chooses to defy societal fads! If the past does indeed contain much wisdom (and I believe it does), then those who refer to it will live more successful lives – if they are not punished for doing so or forced to do otherwise. By establishing the state as an agency primarily working to prevent this kind of compulsion, libertarians ensure that every individual can become as erudite, sophisticated, long-term-oriented, and respectful of the great things that occurred in the past as possible. Most libertarians acknowledge an intellectual heritage that stretches back for millennia – with vestiges of libertarian thinking found in Socrates, Diagoras, Aristotle, Theodorus, Epicurus, Lucretius, Cicero, and many other thinkers of antiquity. Moreover, most libertarians eagerly embrace the technical accomplishments of our ancestors – the technology we enjoy today in all aspects of our lives – as well as their societal accomplishments, such as the elimination of absolute monarchy, the separation of church and state, the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, and the great diminishment of racial and ethnic discrimination.

Kirk then contradicts what he just wrote in the previous paragraph by lamenting that “The perennial libertarian, like Satan, can bear no authority temporal or spiritual. He desires to be different, in morals as in politics” (347). So what do you want, Dr. Kirk? You seem to dislike people blindly following fads, but then you also resent them being different! You need to pick one or the other, because the two possibilities are mutually exclusive and encompass the complete set of possible outcomes. One is either able to be different, or one is not. If one is able to be different, then one may decide not to follow a self-proclaimed authority in matters that do not involve coercing others. If one is not able to be different, then one may not be free to defy the cultural authorities that dictate the ever-changing fads that Kirk criticizes.

Kirk proceeds to make the stale and hackneyed equation of libertarianism with libertinism (347), an accusation that requires only a modicum of empirical observation and/or study of the abstract theory of libertarianism to debunk. Many libertarians – including, as we have seen, John Stuart Mill – were and are impeccably moral in their personal lives and acknowledge that their range of desirable behavior in society is limited by moral principles so as not to harm others. Many libertarians also care about their reputations and personal respectability and so will not act in complete disregard of the opinions and preferences of others. To the extent that they desire to get along with their friends, co-workers, and acquaintances, many libertarians voluntarily embrace certain kinds of conventions and modes of behavior – but they reserve the right to violate or modify those conventions if it makes rational sense to do so. I personally follow a great deal of societal conventions that are not legally mandated, but I do not believe that it is inherently wrong to defy some of these in certain circumstances. Where human values and conventions conflict, the conventions need to go; in most other cases, there can be a pleasant coexistence of the two.

The further Kirk delves into this essay, he states a blatant lie. He alleges that “the typical libertarian of our day delights in eccentricity – including, often, sexual eccentricity” (347). Doubtless, some libertarians exhibit sexual eccentricity, but the typical libertarian? Would Kirk, if he were alive today, dare to make this generalization of all, or even most, of the 1.2 million people who voted for Ron Paul in 2008 – a reasonable estimate of the number of libertarians in the United States? My observation has been quite different: most libertarians are more sexually modest than the general public in the United States. The reason for this may have less to do with libertarianism as a doctrine, but rather with the fact that libertarianism is an intellectual doctrine and requires a great deal of mental sophistication to grasp. More intellectual people are also typically more sexually modest – so libertarians, having a greater proportion of intellectuals among them than the general public, are typically more sexually modest. It can also be said that conservative and left-liberal intellectuals tend to be more sexually modest than the general public, although conservative and left-liberal politicians are far from being so. But Kirk does not say one word in criticism of the sexual eccentricities of conservative politicians…

Kirk also establishes an intellectual strawman. He writes, “The final emancipation from religion, convention, custom, and order is annihilation…” (347). But few, if any libertarians advocate complete emancipation from any of these; they simply want the freedom to choose how, when, and if to adhere to them. Some libertarians are religious, and some are not – but no libertarian wants to eliminate religion, especially through coercion. The same goes for adherence to non-coercive customs and conventions. After all, many libertarians celebrate traditional holidays and hold doors for people! Likewise, most libertarians subscribe to Friedrich Hayek’s understanding of a spontaneous order in society – an order that is not centrally or consciously planned but nonetheless emerges out of the interactions of millions of human beings. It is impossible to eliminate every kind of spontaneous order, although these orders do evolve and replace one another over time. But no libertarian wants to jettison all order. It is Kirk’s primitive equation of order with top-down planning – what Hayek calls taxis – and more particularly, with central planning at a society-wide level – that lies at the basis of his accusation.

Kirk, and G. K. Chesterton, to whose story “The Yellow Bird” Kirk refers (347-348), misconstrue the meaning of liberty as the freedom from all limitations. They argue, instead, that limitations are quite necessary even to the very survival of the human organism. This is not controversial, but it is beside the point. The question is, rather, should somebody else be able to dictate to an individual what his limitations ought to be and to punish that individual for having a different understanding and/or acting on it? Most of us – the ones who are still alive, at least – want some limitations in our lives, which we structure according to definite patterns that we do not like to see infringed on. The alternative we face is whether we get to plan our lives, or whether somebody else gets to do it for us. It may well be that some amount of government action is necessary to give every individual the maximum possible sphere in which he gets to make his own decisions. I certainly do not reject all government, and I am even a state employee, because I think that certain kinds of protections afforded by government can maximize individual liberty. Some libertarians, the anarcho-capitalists, will disagree with me here – but virtually all libertarians will agree that the purpose of political institutions, whether they be governmental or decentralized, competing, and private, is to protect every individual’s ability to choose the limits to which he will be subject, with the exception of the inviolable limitations of not harming others and not infringing on their ability to have a similar level of choice.

Moreover, there are always the limitations posed by the laws of nature – laws that cannot be violated, although they can be used creatively to achieve our purposes. To get anything of substance done in this world, one needs to have a thorough understanding of natural laws – the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, economics, ethics, and even to a certain extent esthetics. In the words of Francis Bacon, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” It does not work to simply wish away the limitations posed by the laws and phenomena of nature. Rather, we ought to work within those limitations to make a better existence for us all. Libertarianism does not see itself as opposed to the limitations of natural law. Quite the contrary, libertarians – even some of the utilitarians among them – consider their ideas derived from the laws of nature, with their inherent limitations. After all, if libertarians truly did not believe in limitations, they would say that socialism could work if people wanted it to work – since socialism not working despite people’s best intentions is surely a limitation to what is possible!

More than halfway through the essay, Kirk comes to his senses and acknowledges that there are some respectable libertarians out there “who through misapprehension put up the cash for the fantastics” (348). Kirk believes that these people are really “conservative[s] with imperfect understanding of the general terms of politics” (348). I would give these individuals, whom Kirk does seem to respect, a bit more credit than to think that they are simply duped by the more objectionable elements of the libertarian movement. If these gentlemen are so smart, they must know what they are doing and must have good reasons for doing so. Perhaps the other libertarians whom they support are not as bad as Kirk supposes, or perhaps the gentlemen do not as readily support the caricatured doctrinaire libertarians as Kirk asserts. Either case, or a combination of both, is entirely plausible. In every movement of any decent size, there will be fanatical, irrational, and dangerous people; I have met some of those among libertarians as well, and I do not support them or their agendas. On the other hand, there are many people whom Kirk considers “eccentrics” (this is a negative term for Kirk) who I believe are delightful, reasonable, and sane individuals. It is true that many libertarians spend too much time developing their abstract theory and not enough time attempting to implement it in the real world – but some libertarians have recognized this and are beginning to work – often quietly and indirectly – toward more tangible objectives than an ideal minarchist state or pure and functional market anarchy. But the lack of practicality among some libertarians should not be a condemnation of libertarianism itself; it may simply be a natural outcome of the politically marginalized status that most libertarians consider themselves to have. If they can only effectively think and write at this stage, then this is what they will devote their attentions to.

Following his disclaimer, Kirk makes his case for why an intellectual alliance between libertarians and conservatives is undesirable. He believes that libertarians are “mad” and exhibit “lunacy” and besides are so small a minority that they will have no impact on American politics, but one should not want to be associated with them and their “lunacy” (349). He also accuses libertarians of splitting into ever-smaller sects and rarely coalescing again. Libertarian sectarianism is, alas, all too prevalent a phenomenon for my liking – and Kirk’s criticism here has some justice as applied to contemporary libertarianism. However, libertarians are no longer a minority so insignificant as to be dismissed and have no impact. With such highly influential and wealthy libertarians as Richard Branson, Peter Thiel, T. J. Rodgers, and Charles Koch – multi-billionaires, all – on the international business scene, libertarianism can no longer be dismissed as a fringe movement. (An impressive list of libertarian celebrities has been published by Advocates for Self-Government.) The number of libertarians is growing – especially among the intellectual and economic elite – while the number of conservatives is constant or declining. I say this to refute Kirk’s allegation that libertarianism will always be insignificant and ineffectual. Moreover, the more successful libertarians – the people who have accomplishments outside the realm of developing libertarian theory – also tend to be less sectarian, so it is possible that a natural selection process will lead those libertarians to assume increasingly more influential positions in the movement.

As for the accusation of the madness of libertarians, it is an ad hominem attack and is simply unfair. I could easily say the same about Kirk’s belief that cars are “mechanical Jacobins” and his complete rejection of television and computers. I will not say that this belief is madness – just a difference of opinion. I say this because, while Kirk’s ideology seems thoroughly irrational and false to me, I do not believe that anyone can say, from his vantage point, that the vantage point of another constitutes madness. This aids neither intellectual progress nor mutual good will among people. Every person – irrespective of the content of his thoughts, has reasons for thinking the way he does. Rather than dismissing him as mad, it is more constructive to try to understand his position – for we must, after all, coexist in the same world, preferably without exerting brutal violence upon one another. This is the purpose of civil discussion – to establish a level plane of respect and consideration for all the participants and to evaluate ideas based on their content, not on name-calling. Ad hominem attacks, such as the accusation of madness, destroy the level plane of discussion in an attempt to relegate one of the participants to an automatically less respectable position. This leads to intellectual bullying and bravado by the party that performs the diminution, but it does not establish any truth, nor contribute to any mutual improvement.

Now I will refute, point by point, Kirk’s more specific arguments for why an alliance between libertarians and the more sensible conservatives is not possible.

1. Kirk writes, “The great line of division in modem politics – as Eric Voegelin reminds us – is not between totalitarians on the one hand and liberals (or libertarians) on the other; rather, it lies between all those who believe in some sort of transcendent moral order, on one side, and on the other side all those who take this ephemeral existence of ours for the be-all and end-all-to be devoted chiefly to producing and consuming” (349). I will not here address the controversy between the believers in the transcendent and those who consider this world to be sole and primary. However, I will note that politics concerns this world and the manner in which people interact in it. Thus, in the political sphere, any considerations of whether anything besides this world exists could and should be irrelevant. The purpose of politics is to establish an order here that fulfills certain desired characteristics. I fail to see why people of different metaphysical beliefs would necessarily never agree on what the desired state of affairs in this world ought to be. We all believe in this world, after all, and – despite the disingenuous protestations of some on the Religious Right – we all consider this world important.

2. Kirk writes, “In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract liberty. Conservatives, knowing that ‘liberty inheres in some sensible object,’ are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States. In exalting an absolute and indefinable ‘liberty’ at the expense of order, the libertarians imperil the very freedoms they praise” (349). Kirk believes that order has primacy over liberty – but any order? What about the order of the Aztec empire, with its hundreds of brutal human sacrifices per day. What about the caste system – the traditional order of India – accompanied by ritual widow burning, violence against families that paid insufficient dowries for their daughters, and inhuman treatment of “untouchables”? What about the order of some eras of traditional China, characterized by female foot binding and aversion to foreign contact? What about the order of a totalitarian dictatorship? Surely, not all kinds of order are desirable – and some are even less desirable than that big unattainable bugaboo of complete chaos. If Kirk is willing to admit (and he probably would be) that not every order is a good order, then it follows that an order is only good if it is good for something.

Then the question must be asked as to why we want order in societies in the first place. We need societal interaction in order for us to rise above the level of bare subsistence we could attain under autarky. By engaging in societal cooperation, we each want something that the others have. Thus, we require mechanisms by which we can engage in only interactions that benefit all of us and avoid, as much as possible, those interactions that harm some of us. Most of these mechanisms are private, consensual, and even informal. But some human interactions – the violent ones – are so powerful at overriding all the others that they must not be tolerated. Indeed, the society in which nobody uses violence against anybody else is the most desirable society. If we have a government, its legitimate purpose is precisely to make sure that as little violence as possible occurs by establishing a method of promptly detecting and punishing initiations thereof. Historically, most governments have fallen miserably short of this goal and have indeed initiated much active harm – but some governments fulfill the role of protector from violence better than others. And we can always hope for and work toward future improvements. Order is undoubtedly important, but it is vital to have the right kind of order for fulfilling the primary goal of a society, which is the mutual benefit of everybody in it. But who defines the mutual benefit of everybody? Each person who fits under the umbrella description of “everybody” defines his benefit for himself, to the best of his reasoning ability. But in order to be able to pursue his definition of his benefit, every individual must have liberty. Therefore, the purpose of a political order is to preserve for each individual this liberty, so that – by partaking in the larger societal order – the individual can gain other values as well. Order and liberty are not mutually contrary, but order without liberty is not worth having; it is the enslavement of some to others.

3. Kirk writes: “What binds society together? The libertarians reply that the cement of society (sofar as they will endure any binding at all) is self-interest, closely joined to the nexus of cash payment. But the conservatives declare that society is a community of souls, joining the dead, the living, and those yet unborn; and that it coheres through what Aristotle called friendship and Christians call love of neighbor” (349). Kirk is being far too simplistic here. Why cannot both friendship and self-interest be necessary and important components for a society to work? What makes these two concepts in any manner opposed or mutually exclusive? Why can one not look out for one’s own well-being but also care about the well-being of others whom one considers friends? Virtually everybody does this, and I do not know of a single libertarian or conservative who believes that there is either no friendship or no self-interest in any actual or desirable society. Moreover, I do not know of any libertarian who believes that no dead person is important. After all, many illustrious libertarian thinkers have lived many generations ago! Moreover, I do not know of any libertarian who espouses complete apathy for the yet unborn. Self-interest, as well as friendship and consideration for the past and future, are universal human attributes; they are not peculiar to conservatives or libertarians.

4. Kirk writes: “Libertarians (like anarchists and Marxists) generally believe that human nature is good, though damaged by certain social institutions” (350). This is far from the truth. Perhaps only Jean-Jacques Rousseau – clearly not a libertarian – and his intellectual disciples held this view of human nature. Most libertarians do not believe that any universal normative judgment can be applied to the natures of all humans. Humans are neither universally good nor universally bad; rather, they have certain fairly common motivations and are channeled by internal and external incentives toward good or bad acts. As for my own more particular view, I believe that the term “human nature” is tautological and not particularly helpful, as I explain in this article.

5. Kirk writes: “The libertarian takes the state for the great oppressor. But the conservative finds that the state is ordained of God” (350). Kirk is wrong again about the libertarian view. Libertarianism per se does not condemn the state, although anarcho-capitalism does. Most libertarians are minarchists – advocates of a government limited to protecting individuals against the initiation of force. The state, so long as it confines itself to this role, is not an oppressor. When, however, it initiates force or fraud, libertarians begin to have issues with it. The “conservative” view that the state is ordained of God is rather alarming; it is in no manner distinguishable from the divine right philosophy that justified 17th-century absolutist monarchies in Europe. Surely, sensible conservatives will shy away from this view, if only for its glaring potential to be used by tyrants as a blank check to do anything they please – since they were ordained by God, after all. The sensible conservative will believe that the state is a manmade institution, subject to the possibility that it will be imperfect, unjust, or even on balance harmful. The sensible religious conservative will believe that, if God really is that great, he would not operate through the imperfections of human government – and, moreover, that his faith is most secure by being distanced as far from the state as possible.

Kirk further writes: “Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individual, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This can be done only by a power out of themselves; and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In short, a primary function of government is restraint; and that is anathema to libertarians, though an article of faith to conservatives” (350). This passage is a further example of Kirk’s fascistic leanings – the desire to subject not just people’s actions ­– but their will and passions. Thoughtcrime, anyone? The moment that the state goes beyond restraining what people do and instead endeavors to control what goes on inside their minds, it becomes not merely authoritarian but outright Orwellian. An old-fashioned autocrat is preferable to a government that thwarts men’s inclinations, controls their will, and brings their passions into subjection – which leaves men as nothing more than chunks of meat with no direction of their own, controlled entirely by the great puppetmasters to whom Kirk ascribes the enormous ability of so managing other human beings!

6. For me, the most unwarranted of Kirk’s objections to libertarianism is the following: “The libertarian thinks that this world is chiefly a stage for the swaggering ego; the conservative finds himself instead a pilgrim in a realm of mystery and wonder, where duty, discipline, and sacrifice are required-and where the reward is that love which passeth all understanding. The conservative regards the libertarian as impious, in the sense of the old Roman pietas: that is, the libertarian does not venerate ancient beliefs and customs, or the natural world, or his country, or the immortal spark in his fellow men. The cosmos of the libertarian is an arid loveless realm, a ’round prison.’ ‘I am, and none else beside me,’ says the libertarian. ‘We are made for cooperation, like the hands, like the feet,”‘ replies the conservative, in the phrases of Marcus Aurelius” (350).

I do not know whether it takes a “swaggering ego” to make presumptions that another person’s experience of the world is that of an “arid loveless realm” – but these certainly are swaggering presumptions on Dr. Kirk’s part! One can appreciate the numerous wonders, beauties, and possibilities of this world without unquestioningly adhering to custom and tradition, being willing to lose one’s life for millions of people whom one does not know but who happen to be in the geographical entity rather arbitrarily defined as one’s “country,” or believing in a supernatural personified entity who made us, knows everything, and can do anything. It is sheer ignorance to say that libertarians do not venerate the natural world; many of them base their whole worldview on the idea of natural law – and a substantial portion of them like trees and animals and sunsets, too. As for “the immortal spark in one’s fellow men,” which Kirk certainly means in a religious sense, some libertarians agree with Kirk, while others prefer to pursue a more reliable physical immortality in this world. Still others believe that we do not need immortality in order for what finite lifespans we have to still be the highest values can that exist. There are substantial differences of opinion among libertarians on this issue – but clearly, the reality does not justify Kirk’s characterization of all libertarians as ignoring everything that makes the world worth appreciating. As for cooperation, no libertarian advocates autarky and many, including John Locke, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard, placed an explicit emphasis on the importance of societal cooperation to human flourishing. But this cooperation is among autonomous, independently conscious individuals – not “hands and feet” of a larger “body.”

Kirk further states, quite alarmingly, that an alliance with socialists is more preferable to conservatives like him than an alliance with libertarians: “The socialists at least declare the existence of some sort of moral order; the libertarians are quite bottomless” (351). The allegation that libertarians do not believe in a moral order is quite false and misleading. Most libertarians adhere to some explicit understanding of what is right and wrong for them and others to do – and all of then have an implicit understanding of this. One moral belief that is shared by all libertarians is that the initiation of force or fraud is wrong and should not be tolerated. Another common moral belief is that the life of each individual is a major – if not the major – moral value for its own sake, and not as the means to any other end. Another virtually ubiquitous libertarian moral value is that of honesty in one’s personal dealings – for no free-market economic system can thrive when people continually lie to and defraud one another. A wide variety of other moral values can be derived from the above in a myriad of ways.

Kirk continues to make false blanket characterizations of libertarians: “It was recently a plank in the platform of the Libertarian Party that expectant mothers should enjoy a right to abortion on demand; while to the reflecting conservative, the slaughter of innocents is the most despicable of evils” (351). While some libertarians do indeed support abortion rights, many others do not – myself included. Whether libertarians support the legality of abortion depends primarily on whether they consider the fetus to be a human person; if the fetus is a human person, then it has a natural right to life. If it is not a person, then it has no such right. Many libertarians are as strongly opposed to abortion as many conservatives, the Libertarian Party’s platform notwithstanding.

In the years since 1981, we have seen where the American conservative movement has gotten by refusing, in Kirk’s words, “to lie down, lamblike, with the libertarian hyenas” (351). (By the way, it seems rather strange for Kirk to first dismiss the libertarians as politically insignificant, but then to compare them to dangerous hyenas that would devour the conservative “lambs”!) By refusing to consider libertarian ideas, the American conservative movement has actively caused one of the greatest increases in illegitimate government activity in American history – including rampant deficit spending, the expansion of dangerous social programs, a disastrously-managed foreign war, torture, a surveillance state, restrictions on civil liberties, the precursors of hyperinflation, and enormous corporate bailouts. Russell Kirk’s intellectual influence may be felt in these developments by the discerning observer. If he were alive today, Kirk might protest that the depredations of the Bush administration were not what he wanted – but they are the logical outcome of the insular, intolerant, fascistic, and illiberal form of conservatism that Kirk promoted with considerable success. Conservatives have indeed had far more political power than libertarians in recent decades – and look where this brought us. Perhaps it is time to try something different.

Click here to read more articles in Issue CXCVIII of The Rational Argumentator.

Why I Do Not Adhere to Anarcho-Capitalism (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why I Do Not Adhere to Anarcho-Capitalism (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published August 9, 2009,
as Part of Issue CCII of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 2, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CII of The Rational Argumentator on August 9, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator. The arguments in it continue to be relevant to discussions regarding minarchism and anarcho-capitalism, and therefore it is fitting for this publication to provide these arguments a fresh presence.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 2, 2014
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As one of the many libertarians who loves individual freedom and free markets but nevertheless perceives an important role for government, I have been challenged numerous times on my stance. The best way to describe my position is that I am a minarchist in theory; I happen to agree with Thomas Jefferson that “that government is best which governs least,” and yet I recognize that an active government is necessary for combating force and fraud and for ensuring that the natural rights of individuals are not transgressed upon by other private parties. In practice, I am an incrementalist – a strong supporter of evolutionary change rather than revolutionary change of any sort. I believe that real-world political reform is a delicate process, and that the sequence of transitions matters just as much as the abstract desirability of any given transition. We want to implement the right changes, but we also need to implement them in the right order – just as a doctor who wishes to cure a patient using theoretically sound procedures cannot just apply the procedures in an arbitrary sequence and hope to succeed.

Following Murray Rothbard (who, unlike me, was a noted anarcho-capitalist), I believe that liberty is the most desirable political end, but it is not necessarily the most desirable end of all. The length, prosperity, and security of every individual’s life are to me much more important – and I see liberty as the surest means of attaining those ends to the greatest extent. However, it is possible for those ends to also be partially and tolerably well attained – at least in the short term – in an environment that lacks complete liberty. This is why I developed a rough system that “measures” degrees of government oppression using a mixture of cardinal and ordinal approaches. Irrespective of the particular criteria of comparison, any reasonable thinker will agree that some governments today are much more tolerable than others – and a few are quite innocuous and even outright beneficent, especially when we consider governments over smaller jurisdictions, such as states and localities, and particular agencies of those governments which do not employ coercion to any substantial extent. Metaphysically, I agree with Ayn Rand that there is an objective reality, where A = A – i.e., every particular thing is what it is and not what one’s mental model of it happens to be. Thus, I believe in judging every particular instance of government or governance not just as “government or governance in general” but rather as precisely what it is specifically – which means that a government is nothing more than the sum of the people who compose it and their actions, which need to be judged on their own merits or lack thereof. I am therefore open to the possibility that some governments may be able to solve some problems without infringing on natural rights at all. I am equally open, of course, to the possibility that those problems may be solved on the free market without government participation.

Here, I will present a basic outline of my objections to anarcho-capitalism as it is typically presented today. Anarcho-capitalism can be defined as the position that government is unnecessary altogether and that market-based services can provide all of the essential functions of government recognized by the minarchist as legitimate – including police protection, protection from foreign invaders, enforcement of contracts, and adjudication of disputes.

My Foremost Political Goal

I define a state of complete liberty as the absence of the initiation of violence or coercive dishonesty by any individual against any other individual. By “violence” I mean the physical disruption of either the integrity of an individual’s body or that of the material things which that individual owns. The term “coercive dishonesty” encompasses fraud, breach of contract, bad-faith dealings, and failure to fully disclose information that would affect the decision of a party in a business transaction. By “initiating” violence or coercive dishonesty I mean being the first party to inflict such acts on another, without having had such acts inflicted on oneself by that other and without defending some other innocent party against those acts inflicted by that other. I do not consider retaliatory force – provided that it is a proportional response to the initiated force and does not harm innocent parties – to be illegitimate or undesirable.

Thus, I believe that the state of the world which minimizes violence and coercive dishonesty as much as possible is the most desirable state. To be sure, both many governments and many private parties throughout history have engaged in these heinous acts – and I am not defending any entities that have. My position does not embrace governments as they currently are, but as they can be and ought to be. Anarcho-capitalists may object to my position by arguing that few, if any, governments in history have subscribed to minarchist principles and initiated no violence or coercive dishonesty. To this, I will reply by quoting John Lennon: “You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Few, if any, societies in history have been viably anarcho-capitalist, either. Neither my position nor the anarcho-capitalists’ has any existing real-world incarnation. The question before us, then, is which of these positions would result in less overall violence and coercive dishonesty if implemented in practice?

Objection 1: Lack of an Ultimate Arbiter

Anarcho-capitalists posit that dispute resolution – be it of the character of police action or judicial proceedings – can occur among entirely private entities on the free market without any government involvement at all. For sake of conciseness, I will call the entities that engage in this manner of dispute resolution DRAs – or dispute resolution agencies.

It is true that many forms of dispute resolution can occur without government participation and do occur in this manner today – within families and business arrangements subject to private arbitration. If a private dispute is resolved satisfactorily by the relevant private parties themselves, then there is no need for recourse to government. However, there also exist instances – all too many today, as evidenced by the overwhelmed American judicial system – where private parties cannot reconcile their differences solely through private means. Anarcho-capitalists’ typical response to this is that in a wholly free market (as they define it, that is, with no government altogether) ex ante arrangements would exist whereby, if DRA X and DRA Y – representing two different and opposing parties in a dispute – could not reach a mutually satisfactory decision, the power of decision would be delegated to a third DRA – Z. This is conceivable, but it is by no means guaranteed that such an arrangement would occur in all cases. Thus, under anarcho-capitalism, there is nothing theoretically preventing there being no ultimate resolution to a dispute – ever – from the standpoint of legitimacy, in which case there would be no recourse left but to the principle of “might makes right.” If a dispute cannot be resolved peacefully, then it will devolve into violence – which is the least desirable of all outcomes. Anarcho-capitalism lacks an ultimate arbiter that would step in irrespective of prior contractual arrangements or lack thereof in order to quell the initiation of violence if it were to occur.

It is conceivable that a government could leave most dispute resolution to the private market – unless the market has demonstrated its failure to achieve lasting, peaceable resolution. In that case, the government, as the ultimate arbiter, would need to intervene and offer a resolution, either through a decision of its courts or through the interposition of armed agents whose presence would prevent violence from erupting. It is important to remind my readers that my foremost objective is the prevention of violence breaking out. If two private DRAs were about to begin a miniature war – and they happened not to have contractual procedures in place for preventing it beforehand – then it is desirable for a third agency with greater powers than a mere private entity to decisively put an end to such coercive and damaging behavior.

Objection 2: Lack of Legitimate Enforcement against Violent Non-Parties to Contracts

The way an anarcho-capitalist society would work – according to most of its advocates – is that all members would bind themselves by contracts in their mutual interactions, and the contracts would stipulate consequences for non-compliance. This raises an interesting issue: What if a person within the society refused to bind himself by any contracts whatsoever and simply raided, stole, and murdered as he saw fit? If there is no law other than what individuals choose to bind themselves by, then what legitimate recourse do other non-coercive members of the society have against this initiator of violence? Moreover, if this person were to team up with a host of others who similarly chose not to bind themselves by any contracts that prohibit initiation of force, could not a formidable criminal gang form and terrorize – if not overwhelm – the peaceful portions of the anarcho-capitalist society? Of course, somebody in the anarcho-capitalist society could always simply kill or detain the aggressors in practice, without regard for whether the aggressors broke a contract or not. However, such an act would not be legitimate in an anarcho-capitalist society. Illegitimate acts can and do occur – both with and without governments – but what counts as an illegitimate act matters. Under a government, murder can and does happen, but murder is considered illegitimate. Under anarcho-capitalism, murder by non-parties to any contracts is not illegitimate, but punishing by force a person who commits such a murder is illegitimate. A system where legitimacy fails to apply to actions with obvious morality and desirability is a troubling system indeed.

Objection 3: The Oxymoron and the Danger of Markets in Force

A market arrangement is an arrangement based on voluntary participation of all parties – an arrangement where trading is substituted for compulsion. On a free market for a typical good or service – such as an item of food or a construction job, for instance – no individual is required to buy and no individual is required to sell, except on terms mutually favorable and explicitly agreed upon. However, the term “market” no longer applies in this sense when any element of compulsion is introduced. When a “market service” involves wielding weapons and enacting violence against individuals who do not wish to have this violence inflicted upon them, it ceases to be a “market service” and becomes something quite different. This does not necessarily make such a service illegitimate, of course – as the potential for retaliatory force is a necessary component in minimizing the initiation of force. However, this difference does invalidate the application of typical principles of analyzing markets to such “services.” There can be no market-based analysis of a service that does not entirely rely on voluntary consent from all parties involved.

One of the glaring dangers of a “market service” specializing in the use of force is that such a service could simply use the force it “produces” to extort or steal other people’s wealth instead of earning it in voluntary trades. Without an external authority to enforce a prohibition on this behavior, there is no guarantee that such behavior would not occur. A free-market DRA would not always do this, of course, but there are conceivable scenarios where every incentive would favor such behavior. Only when there are substantial disincentives to the use of force from other armed parties on a free market or when the DRA administrator is particularly humane, benevolent, and enlightened could a DRA be reasonably expected not to violate individual rights. There are two ways for such incentives to arise without reliance on anyone’s personal virtues. Either 1) there could exist a “balance of power” among the DRAs such that each of them is afraid of transgressing against clients of the other or 2) there could exist an authority external to the DRAs that would always protect the parties unjustly aggressed upon, irrespective of the power differential between the aggressors and the targets of aggression. I favor solution 2), because it is not as contingent on a particular balance of power being in place.

Moreover, many anarcho-capitalists claim that one of the problems with government is that it has a monopoly on the use of force and that, as a monopoly, it necessarily offers a lower quality and lower quantity of its product at higher prices. I urge the reader to recall, however, that we are not here discussing a monopoly on otherwise entirely voluntary transactions. It is useful to ask the question whether it is desirable to have force offered in “higher quality,” higher quantities, and a lower price. I, for one, would prefer it to be more expensive to kill a person rather than less – and for the methods of killing to be both of lower quality (i.e., less reliable at killing) and available in lower quantities. Perhaps a monopoly on force has the potential to minimize the use of force compared to “competition” in force. This, I believe, is an empirical question – but even the question itself challenges many anarcho-capitalists’ assertions that governments are necessarily bad because they are monopolies on the use of force.

Objection 4: Each Person a Judge in His Own Case

This objection to anarcho-capitalism comes from none other than one of history’s first libertarians – John Locke. Locke believed that a government is necessary to resolve disputes and decide on punishments, because no individual is qualified to be an impartial judge in his own case. Virtually all of us, when we feel wronged, have a tendency to exaggerate the magnitude of the injury we have suffered and to demand a punishment that is likely to be disproportionate to the offense. On the other hand, when a person has wronged somebody else, he has an incentive to maintain his innocence or to argue that his act was not as grievous as was truly the case. A third party, not itself a victim or a perpetrator of the wrongful act, is needed to ascertain both the facts of the case and the apportionment of guilt and punishment. Sometimes, such a third party could indeed be a private arbiter. However, it is entirely possible for two private DRAs to each be vested – either emotionally, financially, or both – in the interests of their particular clients in a manner that would detract from objectivity in reaching a decision. In that case, I believe that an indispensable role exists for government to provide the desirable impartial arbitration.

Objection 5: Over-Emphasis on Names, Under-Emphasis on Reality

My concern with anarcho-capitalism is it substitutes consideration of the names of political arrangements for the reality of those arrangements – i.e., the physical actions performed by physical people in the physical world. Whether a function is called a “market” function or a “government” function is not as important as the physical movements involved in carrying out that function. If the physical movements involved do not cause disruption of body or property (as in violence) and do not involve the formation of chemical reactions corresponding to false impressions of reality in the brains of parties to a transaction (as in coercive dishonesty), then the action is legitimate from the standpoint of natural law. On the other hand, if the physical movements of individuals correspond to acts of violence or coercive dishonesty, then these actions are illegitimate – irrespective of whether the individuals call themselves (or are called by others) government officials, free-market DRAs, or private gangsters.

Anarcho-capitalists might respond here by noting that, in the 20th century, governments have killed more people than possibly all private crime in human history. This is true – but it does not undermine the case for any government whatsoever. The killing was done by some governments – such as the governments of Nazi Germany, the USSR, and Maoist China – but not others, such as many of the governments of American cities, towns, and villages. Moreover, even in the governments that perpetrated the killings, only some of the officials were responsible for either ordering the killings, promoting them as desirable, or carrying them out. Millions of government employees have never committed a single coercive action (and yes, that even includes their mode of earning a living – as quite a few government positions are not tax-financed). It does not seem fair to lump a peaceful bureaucrat doing research or mediating consumer complaints at his desk with an NKVD officer massacring villagers in the Ukraine. Both are “government” functionaries, but they could not be farther apart in terms of what they do, and the atrocities of the latter do not de-legitimize the former. The anarcho-capitalist characterization of all government as violent, coercive, and unnecessary is a poor substitute for a thorough consideration of reality. Moreover, it is a violation of the principle of methodological individualism, which evaluates the actions of each person as an individual person, and not primarily as a member of a collective. Collectives do not act or think; only individual people do – although the incentives people face depend on the institutional structure to which those people are subject.

Objection 6: No Practical Application

To date, I have not found a single viable proposal for the attainment of anarcho-capitalism in the real world. Anarcho-capitalists have tended to spend most of their time on either 1) describing what an ideal anarcho-capitalist society would be like or 2) discussing why government, in its various manifestations, is undesirable. At the same time, some anarcho-capitalists have disdained and even actively discouraged participation in “the system” as it currently is, because that would grant “implicit recognition” to existing power structures. During the 2008 Republican Primaries, for instance, many anarcho-capitalists (though, of course, not all of them; I do not mean to offer a blanket characterization) endeavored to actively dissuade people from supporting the Ron Paul movement, arguing that attempting to reform the U.S. government from within would grant legitimacy to the structures of the U.S. government. These anarchists were preoccupied with formal structures over the substantive functions of the government – which could be better or worse than they are today. Moreover, these anti-Ron-Paul anarcho-capitalists undermined a movement that had the potential to eliminate many of the abuses of the U. S. federal government against its subjects’ liberties.

I happen to believe that political theory is more than a mind game; it has relevance to the real world, and it ought to have real-world implications for how we act in our own lives. It is not enough to simply state that one would like the world to be a certain way. Rather, a specific, technical, and quite involved series of steps is necessary to transition from the status quo to any state considered desirable. To simply contemplate the end outcome without any idea of how to attain it or even approach it is to divorce one’s political thinking from reality. We find ourselves today with a highly imperfect political system – one that involves numerous violations of individual liberties and also jeopardizes the economic prosperity and technological progress of the Western world. To solve today’s political problems, we cannot but participate in government in some way for the purposes of reforming it or at least protecting ourselves. To reject government altogether instead of endeavoring to improve it is to hide from the real, pressing problems of our time.

Perhaps the anarcho-capitalist ideal will be realizable in some distant future time, once human beings have progressed morally and technologically to such an extent that the initiation of force is no longer lucrative to anybody. I even suggested that this would happen in my short story, “The Fate of War.” In that enlightened time, violence would altogether not be within the realm of human consideration, and a viable anarcho-capitalism would be the natural corollary to that state of affairs.

Meanwhile, however, we are alive today – and if we do not have that which we consider good within our lifetimes, we shall not have it at all. If it is liberty we want – and the anarcho-capitalists have not come up with a viable way to have it without government – then we must have liberty with government. This endeavor will require working through government as well as through private channels; it will require not rejecting the existing system, but modifying it incrementally to move it toward more liberty and less violence. At the same time, a revolution against government is the least desirable course of action, because it would devastate our current levels of prosperity, health, and stability. Individuals who are wealthy, productive, and in control of their lives will come, over time, to civilly demand increasing amounts of independence from centralized control. On the other hand, individuals whose livelihoods have been ruined and whose prospects for upward mobility have been thwarted by an unstable macroeconomic and political climate – which inevitably accompanies revolutions – are easy prey for demagogues and would-be tyrants. Advocates of freedom must be patient, civil, and cautious. While challenging abuses of government authority as such abuses occur, freedom-loving people ought never to do anything that would undermine the standard of living or the safety and comfort of people in the Western world.

A Brief History of Western Liberalism – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

A Brief History of Western Liberalism – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

The New Renaissance Hat
Kyrel Zantonavitch
June 1, 2013
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This is a brief history of the philosophy and culture of liberalism. It describes a life-style and civilization which lifts human beings far above that of animals, chimpanzees, hominids, and even tribalist hunter-gatherers. Liberalism features man at his best. Liberals are clear-thinking and rational men: natural, sound, healthy, happy, uplifted, and heroic.

Liberalism is a fundamental category of philosophy and life-style – something broad and general. It constitutes a definitive concept – beyond which one cannot venture or improve – like life, happiness, greatness, transcendence, virtue, beauty, pleasure, thought, reality, existence, and the universe. Liberalism’s subsidiary concepts are also ultimate and final: rationality, egoism, and liberty.

In the story of mankind, first come bonobos, then semi-human Homo habilis, then primitive man Homo erectus, then highly advanced Neanderthals, then truly intelligent and impressive Cro-Magnons – who used their 100 IQs to exterminate their brutish competitors, invent sophisticated arrow technology, and make art such as those Venus statues and cave paintings.

By 9000 BC the last Ice Age ended, and humans immediately converted from hunter-gatherers to rancher-farmers. After domesticating multitudinous plants and animals, by 3300 BC human beings further cultivated them with irrigation on their new private property, backed by their revolutionary social institution called government. By 1700 BC men had well-established written laws, well-developed literature and art, easy personal transportation using horses, and elaborate international trade using sophisticated great ships.

All of this constituted impressive advances in humans’ quality of life; but none of it constituted philosophical or cultural liberalism.

Finally, by about 600 BC, the ancient Greeks created the indescribably magnificent phenomenon of Western liberalism. They invented rationality or “Greek reason” or syllogistic logic – or pure thought or epistemology. This is usually described as “the discovery of science and philosophy.”

But along with the stunning and wondrous epistemology of reason – naturally and inevitably and inherently – came the ethics of individualism, and the politics of freedom.

All of this can be fairly, accurately, and usefully denominated as the thought-system and life-style of Western liberalism – of liberal philosophy and culture, especially as exemplified by Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno the Stoic. These three theorists, ironically, were labelled by their intellectual opponents as “dogmatic.” This was not because these scientifically minded open debaters claimed to know everything based on faith, but because they claimed to know anything at all based on evidence and analysis.

By the 100s BC in Greece, the general ideology of liberalism was well-established in the middle and upper classes. Then the Romans conquered the Greeks and within a century made liberalism their own. They even advanced the noble ideas and ideals a bit, with such thinkers as Cicero, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, and Aurelius.

But skepticism of reason ascended rapidly by the 200s AD, and with it came the decline of the greatest country in human history. The new phenomenon of monotheism began to dominate in the 300s AD, especially Christianity or “Plato for the masses.” By the middle of the 400s, the philosophy and culture of liberalism were dead, and so was Rome. A long, terrible Dark Age ensued.

This irrational, illiberal nightmare of Western civilization lasted for a millennium. The wretched and depraved philosophy of Jesus ruined everything.

But a bit of reason and hope came back into the world in the 1100s of northwest Europe with the mini-Renaissance. High-quality Greek thinkers were gradually reintroduced. Then came the 1300s and the Italian Renaissance.

By the 1500s a whole Europe-wide Renaissance began with France’s conquest of northern Italy. The French brought their reborn art and philosophy to everyone in the West. The beautiful general philosophy of liberalism ascended still higher while the ghastly evils of fundamentalist skepticism, Platonism, monotheism, and Christianity declined. The classical liberal era was brought about by radical and heroic innovators like Francis Bacon, John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson.

The late 1700s Enlightenment and Age of Reason in Britain, France, Holland, and America featured liberalism at its height. But it was gradually and massively undermined by the irrational, nonsensical philosophers Bishop Berkeley, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Hegel.

During and after the 1790s the French Revolution went astray and embraced ideological dogmatism, and self-sacrifice to the cause. It also converted itself into an early version of modern communism; as well as the false, evil, and illiberal ideologies of right-wing conservatism and left-wing progressivism. In the art world this was manifested by the slightly but definitely irrational Romantic movement of 1800-1850. Paintings started to turn ugly again.

Socialism and communism fairly quickly went into high gear after Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto of 1848. Religion also somewhat revived in the late 1800s. These two monstrous ideologies backed the moral ideal of self-destruction, or the “Judeo-Christian ethic,” or, even better, the “religio-socialist ethic.” The fin de siècle of the 1890s was the giddy, despairing, hopeless, lost end of a noble era in the West – a dynamic, heroic, rational, liberal era.

A practical, real-world, irrational, illiberal dystopia was achieved in the mid-1900s with Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. Later in the 1900s there were Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomeini, and countless other despots. Illiberalism reached a hellish trough around 1985.

Then came Ronald Reagan in America, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia, and Deng Xiaoping in China. These four political semi-revolutionaries, in four leading nations, used their governments to change world culture in a liberal direction.

These liberal leaders emerged on the world scene because theory always precedes practice, and the theory of liberalism began to rise again – at least intellectually, and in certain recherché circles – around the early 1900s. It began anew with Austrian economic thinkers like Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and Friedrich Hayek. In addition to the dry, mechanical realm of economics, these three addressed the fields of politics and sociology – and even ethics and epistemology. They filled in many of the gaps, and corrected many of the weaknesses and failures, of Locke, Smith, and company.

The Austrians also attacked the communism, socialism, and progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, among others. And they taught the fiery intellectual novelist Ayn Rand.

Rand converted from fiction to philosophy from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. She was by far the most liberal thinker in the history of man. She created the philosophy of Objectivism. Ayn Rand advanced human knowledge about as much as Bacon, Locke, Voltaire, Smith, and Jefferson combined.

Sadly, however, Rand undercut her liberal ideology with a heavy atmosphere and subtext of cultism and religiosity in her propaganda movement. This was understandable, considering how revolutionary and hated her philosophy was, but hardly rational or legitimate.

However, Rand died in 1982, and a highly rational and non-religious organization, organized around her discoveries, emerged in 1989. This brought the world Objectivism as a thought-system, not a belief-system; and Objectivism as a rational, benevolent, effective philosophy – not an irrational, malicious, weird cult.

There are currently three separate but related avant-garde liberal ideological movements: Austrian economics, libertarian politics, and Objectivist philosophy. All three are tiny but, based on historical intellectual standards, seemingly growing solidly.

Pure liberalism – a pure, clean, complete comprehension that reason was 100% right in epistemology, individualism was 100% right in ethics, and freedom was 100% right in politics – began in the early 21st century. Randroid illiberalism began to die out. A New Enlightenment is about to begin.

Kyrel Zantonavitch is the founder of The Liberal Institute  (http://www.liberalinstitute.com/) and a writer for Rebirth of Reason (http://www.rebirthofreason.com). He can be contacted at zantonavitch@gmail.com.

The Vital Importance of Property in Land: Part 1 – Arguments for Land as Property – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Vital Importance of Property in Land: Part 1 – Arguments for Land as Property – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
October 14, 2012
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In this small series on land and private property, I hope to counter the claims of Henry George and his contemporary followers, who generally support a libertarian view with respect to all property except land – which they do not consider to be legitimate property. I, on the contrary, see the ability to own property in land (based on a true Lockean understanding of “mixing one’s labor” with rightfully owned land, or legitimately acquiring it from those who did) as indispensable to the existence of other property rights – as well as, more generally, to the expression of human individuality and the improvement of the human condition.

Why is property in land essential for the exercise of all other property rights? In this first installment, I provide six arguments.

Argument 1: Use of Personal Property: If there is no property in land, one cannot be guaranteed the ability to set one’s personal property in any location for its use and enjoyment. This means, ultimately, the use and enjoyment of one’s personal property is always at the discretion – and with the permission – of whichever governing authority or collective decision-making would supplant the right of private property in land. This is not liberty; the best that it can be is a kind of benign neglect from the persons or committees who have the power to dispose of the land and what is on it.

Argument 2: Complete Ownership: If there is no property in land, then there is never an ability – even in theory – to enjoy the use of land “free and clear” – without paying some sort of rent or “usage fee” to someone. Ignoring property taxes (whose absence is wholly conceivable and would be tremendously beneficial – even if other types of taxes are kept in place), it is possible today for people to pay off any mortgages and liens on their property and to enjoy it outright, without fear of losing the property if they do not pay a continuous stream of money to a third party.  The greatest value of private property comes about precisely when the ownership of that property is absolute – not contingent upon future services or payments rendered to other people.

Argument 3: Opportunity to Choose Leisure or Work: If there is no property in land, and one must continuously and inescapably pay a stream of money to a third party in order to avoid losing the property, then this means that one must continuously earn a sizable income to support that stream of payments. The ability to lead a life of leisure (after having made adequate provision for one’s other needs) is forever closed off to most people (unless they are beneficiaries of trust funds or a fortuitous investment strategy). Whatever the relative merits of work versus leisure might be in any particular situation, a libertarian would hold that the choice to pursue either (or any combination of each) should be up to the individual. Restrictive institutions should not permanently foreclose individuals (in multiple senses of that word) from pursuing one of these alternatives or the other. My own ambition, for instance, is to pay off the mortgage on my house while I am still relatively young. I would continue to engage in paid employment (and hopefully earn decent money) for many decades thereafter, but a lot of the economic pressure would be removed by getting rid of the largest recurring expense, and the same amount of earnings could achieve a much higher standard of living in other respects.

 Argument 4: Incentives for Improvement: If there is no property in land, then there is little incentive (other than sheer benevolence) for the occupant to improve the land by the addition of permanent fixtures, for someone else (or “the community at large”) would capture the values of the improvements, while the occupant would spend his personal resources on the improvements. This is the classic case of a “positive externality” not being realized – or, alternatively, a “tragedy of the commons” situation arising from the community laying claim to a resource that becomes over-exploited and insufficiently maintained. If one wishes for private residential lots to begin to resemble the public roads of a large city in appearance, then doing away with land ownership is an excellent means to that dubious goal.

Argument 5: Individuality: Only through the exercise of the right of private property can a person truly actualize his individual aspirations and distinctive esthetic. True private property enables an individual to act within his own realm as he pleases, as long as he does not infringe on the identical prerogatives of all others with their property. Only private property in land can give an individual the unfettered ability to paint a house with the colors and patterns of one’s choice, to determine the surrounding landscaping, to select the appliances and amenities therein, and to decorate it (which is a right that should not be undervalued, lest we lose it in the age of draconian busybody “homeowners’ associations”). An individual who owns land can truly turn the land and the improvements on it into reflections of himself, rather than just another barren, drab, or cookie-cutter plot (though any of those are within his prerogative as well, if he wishes to be unimaginative). True innovators are always in the minority and always unconventional. If they do not have a sphere where they can act unfettered, then many of their creations may never come to be.

Argument 6: Owned Land versus Land in the State of Nature: While I do not support arbitrary claims of ownership to undeveloped land, I do hold to the Lockean view that a person comes to own land by mixing his labor with it as the first occupant – and only to the extent that he does so. Locke himself argued that a person’s legitimate claim to land extends only to whatever land this person (or others acting on his behalf, through the voluntary exchange or offering of their services) was able to transform with his labor and put to use. Any other (undeveloped) land remains in the state of nature, free for others to claim. This is why Locke opposed arbitrary claims of the King of England to all of the prime forests of that country as the King’s “hunting grounds”. Likewise, one might question whether a Lockean view of property rights would allow national governments today to lay claim to vast undeveloped territories and to preclude development thereon (or sell “development rights” or “resource rights” to those territories). A fully libertarian system of property law would recognize the right of the first occupant and user of a property to be its owner, but only with respect to the land which is truly inextricably involved with such occupancy or use – i.e., land that has been improved and transformed. This is a consistent and universalizable standard for legitimate ownership, and it is a standard that follows directly from the desire to use and transform objects in nature for the improvement of human well-being. Such improvement and transformation are precisely what differentiates owned land from land in the state of nature. Owned land is much more usable and often dedicated to specific purposes, whereas land in the state of nature remains to be adapted to human needs. In practice, the two would look quite different and would enable natural demarcations of private land holdings.

Free Speech is Vital for Civilization – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Free Speech is Vital for Civilization – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov explains why recent riots in the Middle East and some Western countries should not be allowed to infringe upon the absolutely vital right of free speech – including tasteless and offensive speech – for any individuals. Only by allowing unbridled criticism of political and religious ideas can a society undergo true innovation and transformative changes that raise standards of living across the board.

Mr. Stolyarov also elaborates upon the absolute distinction between the expression of ideas and physical actions that have the potential to harm other people. He explains that an idea per se can be interpreted in many ways and is not a guarantee of any given behavior. Furthermore, he criticizes the “internationalist” school of law, which would subordinate the American First Amendment to a repressive global “consensus” which would limit certain forms of unpopular expression. The pursuit of truth, not consensus, ought to determine which ideas prevail and which are abandoned.

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