Archives for category: Quora

Episode 3 is up:

LocoFoco Netcast #3.

It is available on iTunes and Spotify as well as on SoundCloud:

Dennis Pratt himself provides a thorough guide to this episode on the Libertarian Writer’s Blog on Quora.

Where do human rights come from?

…as answered on Quora….

Rights are human instruments, in law and ethics.

Where do they come from?

Well, they come from human beings’ need to control themselves and others, and from our expressions, judgments, claims, counter-claims, etc. But that isn’t the whole of the story, for just “being an instrument” of purpose and need does not mean that the instrument in question cannot be abandoned, or that all rights are created equal.

There is something about the inherent concept of a right that disallows many common conceptions. Philosophers and jurists and politicians have been working on the ideas for centuries or longer, but I am going to skip most of that. Suffice it to say that the rightness of a right, so to speak, is not its instrumentality alone.

But let us not forget what a right is, sans its utility, goodness, or justification — let us remember what even an unacceptable right would be.

right is a claim to obligatory treatment. For every right there is at least one obligation — so understanding a right requires understanding obligation, or duty.

Rights are a way of articulating duties.

In law, the obligation marshaled by a right amounts to a legally enforceable — by coercion, compulsion — performance. Or, outside of law, but in ethics, legitimately required and sanctionable. If I have a right to liberty, you have a duty not to initiate force upon me. If you have a right to health care, then I must supply you medical aid. When someone fails or refuses to perform the specified duty, at law a case will be somehow made, in criminal or civil court, or merchant law, or the like, to compel the performance of the duty, with penalties.

Now, I wrote above that it is coercion or compulsion that is threatened in the articulation of the right. Well, the threat can be something less than force, but in political philosophy we are usually talking about force, so let’s restrict ourselves to that.

Oh, and I just wrote that word “threat.” A right is a specific kind of articulation of a threat. Human social systems are dominated by two types of interaction, threats and enticements. Rights are civilized threats. Since we do not like to be threatened, there is a reason that rights that are promoted universally, that all may have, are commonly favored, and, indeed, narrow the field and winnow out many forms of posited duties. Rights that only some may have at the obligation of all are suspect.

So, we can expand our definition somewhat: a right is the positive, beneficiary focus of the articulation of a threat that has as its targeted focus an obligation.

Now we have to make some distinctions. For there are dimensions to rights and obligations: who has the right? who is obligated? what is obligated? To be brief and hastily move through an ideascape that Jeremy Bentham should have covered but did not quite, we have specific rights when the number of rights-bearers are few and the numbers of the duty-bound are few, or singular (I have a right to $100 from a client; the phone company has a right to $200 from me) and we have rights that all have and to which all are obliged. We have several names for these kinds of rights:

  • natural rights
  • universal rights
  • basic rights
  • human rights

There is something to be said for and against each of these. If one were of a certain type of mind (as I am, on Tuesdays) we could treat each as a distinct term of art. But suffice it, here, to say that these very elementary and foundational rights are what we are most interested in political philosophy, and which deserve all of our attention.

I believe that because of the very construction of this tool, “a right,” most propounded universal rights fail to pass muster.

A human right should make sense in most human societies, and should be performable without causing social chaos and conflict rather than social stability. I have argued, and will argue again, that many of the “rights” some people most desire are mere imposition farded up with the lipstick of effrontery. A right to “healthcare” for example. Folks who talk about these types of rights demand too much of others, literally. For every obligation there is coercion, and it is not reasonable to promote universal servitude. The more rights you propound, the more coercion you thrust into our social reality.

Which is why the right to liberty strikes me as the best contender for a universal, basic, fundamental right: all of us having it at baseline personhood means that all of us have a very simple obligation set, a sort of “do no harm” duty: to not initiate force. This is an easy burden, as obligations go. It requires mainly defensive force for their maintenance in society. Not offensive. It is not imperialistic. It rests upon a tolerant, undemanding, liberal stance.

So you can see where the “imperativeness” comes from, what makes this right a right indeed: universalizability, and a reasonable enticement to all not to promote violence. To reduce the degree of threats in society.

A right to liberty works better than all other contenders because the threat element in the substance of the right is reduced to a minimum for the benefit of all.

Yes. There you have it. Rights are threats, sure, but they must also offer an enticement to reasonable, peaceful people.

I avoid a number of issues of extreme interest to me, but they are not really germane to the question at hand — though they are not utterly tangential, either. These include, especially, what is so “natural” about a “natural right”? and how do we “have” rights?

One of the odd things about our time is how virtuous some folks feel doing things they themselves would regard as evil were it done to them.

At base, in this madness, is in-group/out-group antagonism, which one can read about in an early analysis in The Inductions of Ethics by Herbert Spencer (Principles of Ethics, Part Two). But if you are looking for examples, you can almost pick one at random. Here is an answer on Quora that Quora itself directed me to this morning:

Read Siddharth Paratkar‘s answer to What disgusts you? on Quora

I suppose I may have heard the sad story of Ms. Ames before, but I had forgotten, so this Quora answer was new to me. But it is an all-too-familiar tale. And it is bitterly “ironic,” in that she was hounded out of what was, to her, civil society . . . by people who thought of themselves as defending sexual choice — those of gay and bi- men — for her own sexual choices.

Principles got lost in the tribalism. That often happens.

But tribalism is primary among humans, and inter-tribal antagonisms are built into our way of thinking. This has always been confusing to earnest people who seek consistency, as Spencer notes:

As the ethics of enmity and the ethics of amity, thus arising in each society in response to external and internal conditions respectively, have to be simultaneously entertained, there is formed an assemblage of utterly inconsistent sentiments and ideas. Its components can by no possibility be harmonized, and yet they have to be all accepted and acted upon. Every day exemplifies the resulting contradictions, and also exemplifies men’s contentment under them.
When, after prayers asking for divine guidance, nearly all the bishops approve an unwarranted invasion, like that of Afghanistan, the incident passes without any expression of surprise; while, conversely, when the Bishop of Durham takes the chair at a peace meeting, his act is commented upon as remarkable. When, at a Diocesan Conference, a peer (Lord Cranbook), opposing international arbitration, says he is “not quite sure that a state of peace might not be a more dangerous thing for a nation than war,” the assembled priests of the religion of love make no protest; nor does any general reprobation, clerical or lay, arise when a ruler in the Church, Dr. Moorhouse, advocating a physical and moral discipline fitting the English for war, expresses the wish “to make them so that they would, in fact, like the fox when fastened by the dogs, die biting,” and says that “these were moral qualities to be encouraged and increased among our people, and he believed that nothing could suffice for this but the grace of God operating in their hearts.” How completely in harmony with the popular feeling in a land covered with Christian churches and chapels, is this exhortation of the Bishop of Manchester, we see in such facts as that people eagerly read accounts of football matches in which there is an average of a death per week; that they rush in crowds to buy newspapers which give detailed reports of a brutal prizefight, but which pass over in a few lines the proceedings of a peace congress; and that they are lavish patrons of illustrated papers, half the woodcuts in which have for their subjects the destruction of life or the agencies for its destruction.

Herbert Spencer, Inductions of Ethics, first chapter: “Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

People who think of themselves as just and kind often find themselves behaving unjustly and cruelly. But they do not notice it, are often oblivious to their contradictory thoughts and behavior. This ability to flip a switch and cease acting within the amity paradigm to going all in for enmity? Breathtaking, in its way. But a commonplace.

Against this understanding, though, are the pieties of our moral traditions; for many folks, even admitting that there are two orientations (at least) in ethics offends against heir self-image and their understanding of what they call “their values”:

A silent protest has been made by many readers, and probably by most, while reading that section of the foregoing chapter which describes the ethics of enmity. Governed by feelings and ideas which date from their earliest lessons, and have been constantly impressed on them at home and in church, they have formed an almost indissoluble association between a doctrine of right and wrong in general, and those particular commands and interdicts included in the decalogue, which, contemplating the actions of men to one another in the same society, takes no note of their combined actions against men of alien societies. The conception of ethics has, in this way, come to be limited to that which I have distinguished as the ethics of amity; and to speak of the ethics of enmity seems absurd.
Yet, beyond question, men associate ideas of right and wrong with the carrying on of intertribal and international conflicts; and this or that conduct in battle is applauded or condemned no less strongly than this or that conduct in ordinary social life. Are we then to say that there is one kind of right and wrong recognized by ethics and another kind of right and wrong not recognized by ethics? If so, under what title is this second kind of right and wrong to be dealt with? Evidently men’s ideas about conduct are in so unorganized a state, that while one large class of actions has an overtly recognized sanction, another large class of actions has a sanction, equally strong or stronger, which is not overtly recognized.

Herbert Spencer, Inductions of Ethics, second chapter: “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

Spencer was writing at a time when Christianity was still earnestly and reflexively held to by the majority. And with that majority understanding he had to contend. Nowadays, we live in a post-Christian context where the dominant religion is statism whose priests are journalists and whose divines are academics. So there are some new wrinkles to the cognitive dissonances in ethical thought and practice.

I would be remiss in this discussion of the ethics of enmity vs. the ethics of amity to cite Spencer for the basic concepts but not, at the same time, cite his discussion of sexual conduct in the same volume. His chapter on this in The Inductions of Ethics is called “Chastity.” How quaint:

Conduciveness to welfare, individual or social or both, being the ultimate criterion of evolutionary ethics, the demand for chastity has to be sought in its effects under given conditions.
Among men, as among inferior creatures, the needs of the species determine the rightness or wrongness of these or those sexual relations; for sexual relations unfavorable to the rearing of offspring, in respect either of number or quality must tend towards degradation and extinction. 

Nowadays, responsibility for the maintenance of he young has been increasingly shifted from individual onus and domestic arrangements to a state system that Spencer only had nightmares about. Perhaps not coincidentally there has arisen an anti-progenitive ideology on personal and social levels. So sexuality is now largely conceived almost wholly as a consumption, not a production, activity, leading to bizarre and quite decadent sense of virtue. In the story cited at top, a woman who engaged in sexual activity as an entertainment activity was morally disallowed from having say in her partners, on grounds of safety. Not even that tiniest bit of chastity — the merest quantum of the virtue — was allowed her by the mob.

We are close to Sodom’s rape mobs, here.

But Spencer is remarkably open-minded for a chaste Victorian bachelor. “Bad as were the gods of the Greeks, the gods of the ancient Indians were worse,” he writes, astounded over what he found in ancient Sanskrit literature. “In the Puranas as well as in the Mahabharata there are stories about the ‘adulterous amours’ of Indra, Varuna, and other gods; at the same time that the ‘celestial nymphs are expressly declared to be courtesans,’ and are ‘sent by the gods from time to time to seduce austere sages.’ A society having a theology of such a kind, cannot well have been other than licentious.”

But in our society, the somewhat hysterical drive to defend women as an oppressed class has been abandoned for the defense of non-heterosexual people — and, most bizarrely, those who pretend to be, or seek “to become,” members of their opposite sex. So women are now, increasingly, expected to accept as women who dress up as (or merely declare themselves to be) women, to compete against them in women’s sports, suffer them in women’s restrooms, and the like. The issue is forced inclusion. We are not allowed to exclude others from our company, at least when it comes to sex, for reasons that doing so is said to be oppressive.

This ethic of forced inclusion is one way of transcending the amity/enmity split. The other, the outsider, the excluded, must be let in.

And since monogamy is no longer required for the nurturing of the young — state programs of redistribution have seen to that — polyandry is the norm, utter licentiousness is the norm, and the control is that one may “not discriminate” against people identified as of oppressed groups.

This arose out of the racial divide in the United States over the Jim Crow era’s handling of the descendants of slaves. Many of the laws in the South segregated public accommodations, government and private. This was a bad thing, so the discriminatory laws were not merely repealed, but anti-discrimination laws were put in place, not for private people (you could eject anyone from your home) but for “public accommodations,” businesses that regularly dealt with the public. Forced inclusion. That became the rule. Anyone, regardless of race, was to be included as customers and employees.

In the case of Ms. Ames, her business activity of engaging in sexual intercourse disallowed her from discrimination on the grounds of sexual partners’ previous sexual behavior, even prudentially, for her own safety. By not fucking bi-sexual men, she was the oppressor.

The new gospel of inclusion thus reached its absurdity point: forcing women to accept into their bodies cocks they don’t want.

The Twitter mob was, by my lights, quite vile, even evil. But behind it all loomed the eminence gris of the welfare state, which has robbed couples of their senses of responsibility. It had made them mad.

Spencer’s linking of militancy with promiscuity is not wholly convincing to me — or even to himself, as he admits. But the general tenor of his discussion seems about right: “It remains only to emphasize the truth, discernible amid all complexities and varieties, that without a prevailing chastity we do not find a good social state.” Here is his summary:

There are three ways in which chastity furthers a superior social state. The first is that indicated at the outset–conduciveness to the nurture of offspring. Nearly everywhere, but especially where the stress of competition makes the rearing of children difficult, lack of help from the father must leave the mother overtaxed, and entail inadequate nutrition of progeny. Unchastity, therefore, tends towards production of inferior individuals, and if it prevails widely must cause decay of the society.
The second cause is that, conflicting as it does with the establishment of normal monogamic relations, unchastity is adverse to those higher sentiments which prompt such relations. In societies characterized by inferior forms of marriage, or by irregular connections, there cannot develop to any great extent that powerful combination of feelings–affection, admiration, sympathy–which in so marvelous a manner has grown out of the sexual instinct. And in the absence of this complex passion, which manifestly presupposes a relation between one man and one woman, the supreme interest in life disappears, and leaves behind relatively subordinate interests. Evidently a prevalent unchastity severs the higher from the lower components of the sexual relation: the root may produce a few leaves, but no true flower.
Sundry of the keenest aesthetic pleasures must at the same time be undermined. It needs but to call to mind what a predominant part in fiction, the drama, poetry, and music, is played by the romantic element in love, to see that anything which militates against it tends to diminish, if not to destroy the chief gratifications which should fill the leisure part of life.

Romance, now, plays second fiddle — or distant rebec — to inclusionary mobs seeking to promote the last underdog group they can find. Next stops: pedophiles and necrophiliacs.


Do socialism and communism go hand to hand in relation?

as answered on Quora….

Defining political terms is itself a political act. So people are always redefining labels, to gain some advantage. This should not be hard to understand: a bootlicker prefers to be known as a Footwear Moisturizing Professional, but after the word “moist” has garnered an unpleasant connotation, another term will emerge — Fine Leather Sanforizer, perhaps.

This process has happened to these and related words. My favorite discussion of this can be found in Yves Guyot’s Socialistic Fallacies:

Socialists who range themselves under Karl Marx say: Plato, Campanella, More, Morelly, Owen, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet, Considérant, and Louis Blanc, forsooth! Why tell us of all these socialists, utopians, dreamers, and more or less enlightened makers of literature, all so far removed from all reality? Neither Owen nor Pierre Leroux were worthy to invent the word “socialism.” As for Proudhon, who said, “Every man is a socialist who concerns himself with social reform,” he proved that despite his pretension, he belonged to those socialists of the clubs, the salons, and the vestries who indulged in elegiac, declamatory, and sentimental socialism in and about 1848.

Proudhon was nothing but a “petit bourgeois,” as Karl Marx said. There is but one true socialism, the socialism of Germany, whose formula was propounded by Karl Marx and Engels in the Communistic Manifesto of 1848.

They chose “communism” because the word “socialism” had been too much discredited at the time, but they subsequently resumed it, for the logical conclusion of all socialism is communism. The word “collectivism,” says Paul Lafargue, was only invented in order to spare the susceptibilities of some of the more timorous. It is synonymous with the word “communism.” Every socialistic program, be it the program of St. Mandé, published in 1896 by Mr. Millerand, which lays down that “collectivism is the secretion of the capitalist régime,” or that of the Havre Congress, drawn up by Karl Marx, and carried on the motion of Jules Guesde, concludes with “the political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class and the return to collective ownership of all the means of production.

Guyot was writing at the end of the 19th century (in 1894’s The Tyranny of Socialism) and at the beginning of the 20th (1910’s Socialistic Fallacies and 1914’s Where and Why Public Ownership Has Failed), before the Bolsheviks failed with War Communism, Lenin struggled to reintroduce markets into socialism with the New Economic Policy, and before Stalin cooked up his Five Year Plans — and Oskar Lange invented the pathetic “market socialism.” All that the earlier French politician and economist had before him was a long history of utopian reactions against markets and private property and some ominous increases in government power at the behest of self-proclaimed socialists, communists, anarchists (!) and other confused reformers and revolutionaries.

Note the general tenor of the quoted passage: yes, the terms socialism, communism, and collectivism had been used as synonyms as well as refined terms of art and rhetoric during the early heyday of red* agitation; but it was also the case that Communism was generally used as the most extreme version of the doctrines — the complete eradication of the private ownership of the means of production — and most people saw the trend of all this thought as towards the extreme. “The logical conclusion of all socialism is communism.”

The reasons for this extremist trend line to total State ownership are several, but I think it can be seen in basic orientation: what distinguishes all these groups from other ideologies is their hatred for private property, free markets, capital and interest, and even money. For people who nurture this hatred, the answer just “has” to be in these institutions’ opposites: public property, controlled markets, and the abolition of money and finance.

But why would they be driven so far to the extreme? Most people who have a distaste for these ‘capitalistic’ institutions don’t spend all their time and attenton on eradication. They have lives, jobs to do, families to feed. But the intellectual classes, they tend to have easier jobs, even sinecures — if jobs at all — are less likely to have families, and pride themselves on their political opinions. So they can take the ideas furthest.

There is something else at work, of course: halfway measures and piecemeal interventions never work as advertised, ending up causing more problems. But people who have given themselves over to the anti-capitalist memeplex cannot concede that their ideas are bad. So they always blame failures on not going far enough. Whatever ill becomes of a mixed economy program, the market and freedom side of the mix must always be judged the culprit.

So, the general trend among those who oppose capitalism is all the way to totalitarian statism.

Thankfully, most people who lean away from liberal capitalism do have lives, so the inertia of everyday life presents a check. But students and professors, often unbounded from normal social reality, can easily become unhinged from everyday reality, and eagerly take on the role of chief drivers of revolution.

* “Left” and “right” were not terms of political art in those days. A color scheme was in vogue: Whites were for republican capitalism, Reds for socialism and communism and revolution, and the Black Flag was flown by anarchists. In the late 20th century, Tim Russert, a Democrat television commentator, confused everything by affixing Blue to the Democratic Party and Red to the Republican Party in America, presumably to wash out from collective memory the older association of Red with “the left” and Pink with the communist sympathizers in the Democratic Party. Nowadays, Democrats are associating themselves openly with socialism, and I think the Pink should be brought back into usage.

Of the “welfare/warfare state,” are libertarians more against welfare or warfare?

as answered on Quora….

One of the droll developments of 20th century statism was a mere name change: a decade before I was born, the “War Department” became the “Department of Defense.” Wikipedia marks the moment in its article on the subject:

The War Department existed from August 7, 1789 until September 18, 1947, when it split into the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force and joined the Department of the Navy as part of the new joint National Military Establishment (NME), renamed the United States Department of Defense in 1949.

What’s droll is from that time on, the U.S. military became less about defense and more about warfare — that is, after World War II, defense of the physical integrity and sovereignty of these United States ceased being the main occupation of the “Joint Military Establishment,” and became, instead, “defending” other nation-states’ borders and political integrity. This muddied up, conceptually, the whole idea of defense, and it gave birth to the bizarre but politic necessity of engaging in unwinnable wars.

Arguably, a “warfare state” is a state devoted to warfare but not defense.

Most libertarians I know despise this aspect of the modern nation-state (former federal union) of “America,” though quite a few “libertarian conservatives” are still onboard with the implausible-to-me rationales of U.S. world policeman status. I guess those folks, whom I consider chumps, think that defending “good guys” around the world would justify “The Department of Defense” moniker.

Now, “welfare” is a somewhat different matter. Whereas the problem with a warfare state is chiefly (in minarchist theory, anyway) in the continual under-application of Just War Theory, and the reckless disregard for human life in situations where intervention in squabbles abroad cannot conceivably lead to just conclusions, with “the welfare state” the most obvious problem is the funding of the emprise.

That is, giving things to people is not an obviously immoral act — it is often considered generous and charitable — while taking sides in conflicts in which no good outcome is likely, or where no side’s cause is uncompromisingly just, and in the process killing hundreds, thousands, even millions of innocent people, that is obviously very, very wrong.

So, on the grounds of the Obvious, most libertarians tend to judge the warfare state more evil and intolerable than the welfare state.

But libertarians are not committed to mere superficial analyses of the Obvious.

While it used to be my rap that, of all the subsidies given by the federal government, aid to the poor should be the last to be curtailed. Now, I suspect the opposite is true.

On a superficial transactional analysis, the chief problem of the “welfare state” is on the funding side — it is wrong to expropriate from the many or the few for the immediate benefit of the few or the many — looking deeper into social causation suggests to me that the moral horrors of state aid are at least on par with the moral horrors of war. For what “welfare” does is create greedy voting blocs who tend to become decreasingly fit to live productive lives, and, further, provide innocent shields for the busybody/authoritarian mentality. The very existence and persistence of “the poor” who “deserve to be helped” by conscript wealth is an eternal excuse to erode any dignity to productivity and any integrity to property rights.

“Welfare” creates serviles. And “welfare” creates excuses only for ever-more “welfare” — which means more taxes and more greed masquerading as generosity.

Sadly, the welfare state now creates an excuse for some people (most obviously in the Democratic Party) to outright expressions of hatred of the people who pay the bills. When I hear “the rich” or “the top 1 percent” what I understand is “Jew, Jew, Jew!” The ugliness of Nazi hatred in its anti-semitic expression is now a standard motif of one of the two major political parties. These people don’t even give honor to those who pay the bulk of the taxes in this country. They express only rage and envy.

I do not see any good outcome to these people gaining power in a big way.

So, for the good of the poor and the good of the socialists’ very souls, it may be that it is time to renew our intellectual and moral attacks upon the “welfare state.”

On our side we have an obvious point: “welfare” is not what state aid promotes. “Welfare” is propaganda. What is done is redistribution. It is taking from some and giving to others. And its practice encourages a Tragedy of the Commons, for it is not just the poor who try to get special benefits from the tax base — there is also “welfare for the rich” and “welfare for the ‘middle class.’” Once we allow some to be expropriated for the benefits of others, then everyone tries to horn in on the act. To gain some net advantage — or at least not get too far behind.

Do I oppose the welfare state more than the warfare state? Well, the killings of our governments are in foreign lands and I do not see them. Out of sight, out of mind. While that is its own kind of horror, what I do see, every day, is the corruption of the political process, the nurturing of a free-for-all attitude, a race to the pig trough, and the increasing dependence of many, many people who could lead productive lives, if state aid were even a little less easy to obtain.

So, these days, I suspect that the “welfare state” is at least as — if not more than — insidious as the “warfare state” is.

And I think they may be linked in an interesting way. We can see the linkage in the old Guns vs. Butter argument, which became a working strategy between Republican President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill: Reagan got his military spending increases while O’Neill got his welfare state spending increases — there were almost no real cuts, just a few nips of the rate of growth. And the two parties continue this dance. To this very day. And I get this idea that one reason the bulk of leftist and on-the-dole Americans is just fine with the country’s never-ending warfare is that, well, “other people pay” and “at least we are getting our goodies.” It is the basic deal of our polity.

It is corrupt.

Both prongs need simultaneous push-back. And not just for the good of brown people overseas (though it would be good for them) but also for all of the dependents at home, of all colors. To start with, the federal government — at the very least — should get out of the subsidy game, leaving that job to the several states (who, lacking a monetary/banking back-up, will have to pinch pennies much more, and thus be far more discriminating in distributing aid) while also getting out of the World Policeman role.

To do this, the problems with both activities — subsidy and worldwide security theater — must be aired, and in some detail.

Until people understand the harm that food stamps and Medicaid and all the rest actually do, as well as the more obvious horrors of fighting wars with no intention or even possibility of victory, we will be stuck with the sheer insanity of American governance as it has been for the last six or more decades.


Why did Karl Popper criticize the Marxist’s theory, not the Austrian Schools of Economics?

…as answered on Quora, January 31, 2019:

Probably because Marxists have “a theory of history” and are what Popper called “historicists.” Austrian economists were not.

Indeed, Austrian economists were major opponents of historicism.

Also, Austrian economists were generally liberal, in that they supported decentralized power structures (Wieser being a strange exception). Menger, Böhm-Bawerk, Mises, and Hayek were all proponents, in their different ways, of the “open society,” which Popper saw as the civilizational-level analog to the scientific method. Marxists, on the other hand, scorned such views. Remember how Marx pilloried “bourgeois freedom”? Marx also engaged in a rigid theory of ideology that saw it as a mere expressiom of economic class. That is a world apart from Popperianism and Austrianism.

Now, you may be wondering: but Misesian praxeology, following Menger’s “exact science” method, is not exactly a falsifiable procedure!

True to some degree. And one could mention that Hayek was not a praxeologist, and Hayek was the Austrian School economist that Popper knew best, and from whom Popper learned much. But consult Popper’s views on Darwinism. Evolution by “descent with modification” as directed by “natural selection” has also been attacked for its a priori character. Popper’s defense of this method might give us clues to how he would have thought about the rather a priori nature of the Menger-Mises position of the exact science of the discipline of human action.

Why is communism associated with atheism and right wing (capitalism) with theism?

…as answered on Quora…

This can seem puzzling, since some of the most socialist-minded people I know claim to be theists, and the modern libertarian movement, which advocates laissez-faire capitalism with the most reason and vigor, is majority atheist — or at least was, when I was involved (three decades ago) in polling its ranks.

But some of this is historical happenstance. Maybe. Communism/socialism/collectivism grew out of the ferment of the French Enlightenment and Revolution, and that was filled with thinkers who were atheists or at least “flirted” with atheism. Defenders and refiners of the emerging capitalist order, on the other hand, tended to arise out of the Scottish Enlightenment. These people included pious Christians and, more famously, cautious skeptics of theism — David Hume being the most famous, and his friend Adam Smith being even more circumspect than he.

Contrast these two versions of the Enlightenment. The French were more in-your-face, often challenging all establishments at once. The Scots and Englanders and Americans, on the other hand, appealed to the Christian majority, trying to get them to move towards liberalism rather than continue to defend the ancien régime. And there existed Christian dissenters, after all, who got along fine with the more secular liberals, perhaps because they were both trying to peel back the authoritarian state. The French, on the other hand, demonstrated less of a gift for compromise. Indeed, when the Revolutionaries gained power, not only did they disestablish the Church, they stole, er, confiscated, its property and set up a land-backed bond paper issuance that became a fiat currency that then hyperinflated which in turn drove the French people crazy, ushering in the Terror. The British liberals — the Whigs, chiefly — were more interested in a rule of law, in peaceful and mutually beneficial relations, and were reform-minded, not revolutionaries by temperament. Even the American Revolution was more a secession movement than civil revolt, one that relied as much on a nuanced interpretation of tradition than a complete overthrowal of established powers. The founding generation of Americans defended an ordered liberty, not a manic passion to remake the world over, anew, through massive State action.

This divorce in temperament between the two movements has something to do with the split that we see today. Hume was basically an atheist, but carefully hid his beliefs while he lived. Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedists, on the other hand, did not hide their atheism, now, did they?

This carried on into the 19th century. Herbert Spencer, Britain’s most principled liberal and proponent of free markets, was basically an atheist. But he hated the term. He deliberately wrote into his metaphysics a rather mystical component, an appreciation for the Unknowable force that lies underneath all reality, and he insisted that this doctrine disqualified him from the dread label atheist. But, in France, the rising radicalism for “anarchy” and for socialism sported that great misotheist, Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Meanwhile, also in France, the French Liberal School of economists carried on a sort of pious Deism, which can be seen in the works of both Frédéric Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari (who, though Belgian, worked in France, when allowed by its government, and edited Guillaumin’s Journal des Économistes).

By the time you get to Karl Marx, it is apparent that “the revolutionary” just seems to fit better with atheism than theism.

And by this, I mean, memetically, by the mere association of ideas. Not as a matter of truth. (It might be helpful to repeat Scott Adams’s mantra: in some important sense “the facts don’t matter.”)

Whether or not there is a God, or many gods, or none, does not have a logical relationship with the State or any of its policies.

And it gets especially weird when you go back in history and realize that most rulers identified themselves all-too-literally as deities. All this seems ridiculous to us now. But it did not then.

And this is also at play: those who reject any kind of a deity, and, moreover, hate the very idea of a God, tend to compensate with advocacy of some form of statism, seeking to aggrandize the institution of secular power, doubling down on the prestige of government. Politics becomes their religion, the State their Messiah.

I find this absurd. I really feel no commonality with extreme statists — socialists and communists and the like — and would rather that, if people must believe weird things to get by in this weird world, let it be by some fanciful, fantasied deity that allows them to resist the temptation to deify that “coldest of all cold monsters,” the State.

In other words, let us steer clear of the great and manifest evils of communism, state socialism, and all political forms of collectivism. If not “by any means necessary,” then at least by mostly harmless made-up theology.


Photo: Ralf, Flickr, some rights reserved

The temerity of the Left! One of today’s leftists’ characteristic charges is that capitalism and slavery are a package deal, somehow, and that American capitalism depended upon the institution of chattel slavery for its success, and that the wealth Americans now revel in is tainted by the institution of slavery that was abolished over a century and a half ago.

An astounding assertion, and utterly without merit. But some of the scholars associated with Project 1619 are adamantine in their linkage.

Their arguments make much of not clarifying between capitalism, capitalism, and capitalism, as it were. That is, what we advocates of free markets are for is laissez faire, which is a policy quite distinct from that of mercantilism — and against which laissez faire was first advanced — and that it is mercantilist capitalism which is quite compatible with chattel slavery.

Now, later forms of anti-laissez faire practice, such as neo-mercantilism, progressivism, fascism, social democracy and other forms of statism, are not usually associated with chattel slavery, for the point of statism is to turn the masses into wards of the State, and to encourage a kind of servility all around. Laissez Faire Liberalism opposes all statism as well as mercantilism and institutions of chattel slavery. Ideological projects, like those that flying under the banner of 1619, muddy up this — trying to tar private property and free labor with slavery! — and must be argued against, and perhaps ridiculed out of existence. These people are generally socialists, and for that reason have no grounds to criticize we who oppose all forms of slavery, socialist as well as chattel.

Most bizarre is the notion that a good way to redress past harms caused by slavery is to oppose freedom generally.

What leftists cannot confront is that it is their policies that are “reactionary,” atavistic, retrogressive. Slavery is bad. Yes. Evil. Yes. It must be stamped out. But it is bad in both chattel and political/collectivist forms. Socialism is bad.. Yes. Evil. Yes. It must be opposed in all forms.

Socialism is slavery for all.

A few years ago I answered a question on Quora that touched on this issue. Here it is:

Why is capitalism not the root cause of slavery?

Because, perhaps, the root cause of slavery is the opposite of the root cause of capitalism?

Slavery is a very old institution. It appears that it was often a result of warfare: the conquered, instead of being slaughtered, were enslaved. There are many accounts in ancient literature like this. And it has been argued that slavery is moral because of this, because “at least we are not killing them all.”

At least!

Interestingly, the account of the salvation of the Manchurians after being conquered by the Mongol Horde is not very dissimilar. Temujin demanded that the Manchurians be slaughtered en masse. One of his generals suggested that letting them live, and taxing them, instead, would be more profitable. Temujin assented. And so the Manchurian Chinese became tax-slaves.

And it is no shock: taxation often proves itself the easiest form of slavery to manage. Indeed, if one limits one’s slavery over others to just such a simple tribute, the “slaves” will manage themselves. It is all so very efficient.

Capitalism is a rather different set of institutions. It features widespread private property, including land holdings, but especially in raw materials and the results of productive processes. These institutions go hand in hand with low rates of expropriation (criminal theft as well as government confiscatory practices, including taxation), a division of labor with free entry and exit from wage and service contracts, and markets in productive goods. Prominent features of capitalism thus include money, banking, and a stock market.

So, note the obvious: Slavery is not free labor.

Slavery is, instead, a political/micro-political limitation on exit from master-worker relations. It requires heavy degrees of coercion (force and threat of force) to maintain.

Capitalism, to the contrary, is marked by low levels of coercion to maintain. A rule of law, however provided, is capitalism’s foundation. Slavery, on the other hand, has existed where no real rule of law exists, proving more than merely compatible with the rule of the strongman’s threat. Slavery is the natural coexistent with tyranny.

Historically, there is a strong association between capitalism and the policy of laissez faire. It is generally agreed-upon that the more laissez faire the government, the more capitalist the society — so long as there is also widespread respect for private property and freedom of contract. A weak government without at least customary private property will not be capitalistic, but (most likely) merely pastoral.

And it is worth noting that the laissez-faire economists (Adam Smith, J.-B. Say, Destutt de Tracy, Frederic Bastiat) were, on the whole, among the most persistent voices against slavery as an institution. Laissez faire was never really about weak or no government. It was a policy of defense of basic rights under a rule of law, and not much more. After such basics were maintained, the idea is then to let business and labor and the people in general interact freely. It was “hands-off” or “let-alone” only after the basic set of standards have been established and maintained.

And those standards were anti-slavery in principle. They were thought of as the laws of a free people.

The conflict between those new and liberal standards with the ancient institution of slavery was widely recognized in the heyday of liberalism, c. 1776–1860. It was the liberals who opposed slavery, by and large (though the word “liberal” was not much used in America, probably for obvious reasons). Thomas Carlyle, for example, hated “political economy” because it was associated with breaking down the old order, the pre-capitalist ancien régime:

Carlyle labeled the science “dismal” when writing about slavery in the West Indies. White plantation owners, he said, ought to force black plantation workers to be their servants. Economics, somewhat inconveniently for Carlyle, didn’t offer a hearty defense of slavery. Instead, the rules of supply and demand argued for “letting men alone” rather than thrashing them with whips for not being servile. Carlyle bashed political economy as “a dreary, desolate, and indeed quite abject and distressing [science]; what we might call . . . the dismal science.

Carlyle, as summarizes the writer for The Atlantic just quoted, “couldn’t find a justification for slavery in political economic thought, and he considered this fact to be ‘dismal.’”

And then there is the apologist for slavery, George Fitzhugh. Contemplate his arguments in Sociology for the South (1854) and Cannibals All! (1857). He identified slavery with socialism and free labor (which he pilloried as “wage slavery”) with liberal capitalism, arguing that only a few people were fit to run their own lives. Liberalism was a curse upon society, because free markets allowed the masses to be enslaved at low rates, not benevolently under class socialism of slave-owning South. These are quite amazing books. Even if some elements of his arguments can only be regarded as preposterous, he is utterly convincing in showing that laissez-faire liberalism and its support of capitalism had nothing to do with the spirit of slave-holding. He was very forthright about this, and he, also, like Carlyle, had contempt for the social science that wasn’t named “sociology,” as economist Pierre Lemieux explains in his introduction to a recent ebook reprint of Fitzhugh’s 1854 work:

Fitzhugh disliked “political economy” (as economics was then called), which he saw as “the science of free society,” as opposed to socialism, which is “the science of slavery.” He was totally ignorant of economics and had almost certainly not read Adam Smith or any of the other economists he attacks, such as David Ricardo and Jean-Baptiste Say. Fitzhugh denied that an increase in the money supply normally leads to a higher price level. He was hopelessly confused between money and wealth. He did not understand comparative advantage. And so forth.

But however much genius there is in Fitzhugh to recognize an important identity — between socialism and slavery, a point often made by advocates for laissez faire in the century-and-a-half since — his own defense of slavery and against freedom are incoherent. “Fitzhugh had no idea how free markets work,” Lemieux, again, explains. “He believed that competition reduces individuals to economic cannibals, making the weak freeman no better off than slaves, and in reality worse off because the freeman lacks the protection of a master. . . .” But there is a lesson in his mishmash:

Fitzhugh’s writings brew a strange mixture of socialism and conservatism. “Extremes meet,” he notes. This saw is not the deepest aphorism in the history of mankind, but it is at Fitzhugh’s level. A better way to express his idea would be to say that authoritarian power is the common denominator of socialism and conservatism.

Capitalism rests upon principles of individual sovereignty; slavery rests on the repudiation of such principles, at least for some (the slaves). There are many kinds of capitalism, of course, many degrees of freedom, so to speak. Just as there are many kinds of slavery: chattel and political, to name just two. And it is certainly possible to combine the two principles, the two institutional forms. It is what our modern conservatives and progressives do.

We call the current mixture “the mixed economy.”

There are reasons some of us prefer laissez faire rather pure: because we want our capitalism without the taint and evil of exploitation and slavery.

While it is true that capitalism grew out of previous institutional arrangements, which included slavery, it is not true — and can in no way be demonstrated — that capitalism gave birth to slavery. The history is clear: with the rise of capitalism, then and only then was it possible to array the political forces necessary to abolish slavery worldwide. The claims we often hear to the contrary are by ignorant and desperate propagandists, people who want to parlay your instinctive love of freedom as an excuse to enslave you in some way you are not expecting.

The usual method is to fixate on chattel slavery and ignore other forms.

So I suggest we be really scrupulous about those other forms. Like the huge burdens promoted by today’s socialists to increase levels of taxation and regulation, as well as add on evermore new mandates to do specific things.


N.B. The image of Marx, at top of page, should not be construed to imply that the old commie was stupid enough to believe current leftist b.s. about slavery. He may have been evil and wrong about most things, but he did not fall for that.

For libertarian economics, what do property rights include?

as answered on Quora:

I hate to pick at nits, but I do not think there is such a thing as “libertarian economics.” But I assume that the questioner really means “economic policy,” and is right to think that libertarians have a distinct policy. But any such policy is also a matter of law (libertarians, even of a hard-core private law variety hold to a rule of law) so the question becomes, What property rights are included under libertarian legal and economic policy?

Well, this turns out to be a big subject.

There are some differences of opinion, in part because the libertarian camp is a bit broader than usually let on by its most insistent advocates. But what defines libertarians is the way they themselves define liberty: as the freedom that all can share by being seen in the negative: a freedom from initiated coercion, or force. (Freedoms-to, in Isaiah Berlin’s formulation, are not the focus of libertarian principles.)

And for libertarians, liberty starts with the individual. Though it can be defined politically, as selfgovernment, it is often, perhaps usually (following Locke and the Levellers) defined in property terms. Liberty entails selfownership. To own one’s self means to own one’s own body. And like all property this entails excludability. In other words, self-defense.

So, already, at this most fundamental level, chattel slavery is prohibited. One cannot own others against their will, unless that other has committed some crime and his enslavement is repayment. Slavery is commonly thought to be not an acceptable kind of ownership, and slaves not legitimate property. Though Libertarians argue about the legitimacy of selling themselves into slavery.

Certainly, the chattel slavery that was the basis of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century American economy is not legitimate property according to libertarianism. Libertarians were almost all abolitionists, in the mid-19th century, before the Civil War.

The basic conception of justice that libertarians hold has been called the entitlement, or proprietary theory of justice. As formulated by Robert Nozick, a property holding is just if it was justly acquired and justly transferred. To be justly acquired, it cannot be wrested from another. Hence the idea of self-ownership, and the idea of a first-come/finders-keepers ethic of property acquisition. This is the fairly logical outcome of the attempt to find a basic rule that would minimize conflict. Only scarce resources can be owned. So free goods (in the economic sense, as defined by economist Carl Menger and other early marginalists) are not subject to ownership.

This leads to problems of some common resources, such as air (non-economic on the surface of the planet, outside our nose and lungs) and oceans (lots of water there). Libertarians tend to evade or disagree or remain puzzled by these resources, and how property rights could possibly be applied in these resource pools. (Nevertheless, much work has been done, and should be looked up.)

But not to problems of land. I know of few libertarians who go the Georgist route, thinking that land may not be owned — but there used to be many of these, including the young Herbert Spencer and the individualist Joseph Hiam Levy, an able fin-de siècle economist (see his debates with Auberon Herbert and Benjamin R. Tucker.)

Intellectual property rights attorney Stephan Kinsella argues that intellectual property is a misnomer. He extends the analysis of Murray Rothbard, who thought that laws against “libel and slander” were unsupportable because one cannot own one’s reputation. Kinsella makes the point that patent and copyright law are both monopolistic “protections” (intrusions, interventions) of the State, and could not possibly arise in a society that takes the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP — really just a formalization of the principle of universalizble negative freedom) seriously, consistently.


a. property in one’s own person, by which we mean “body”;

b. property in land and other scarce resources that no one else has owned, and which you have appropriated by some widespread or locally apt convention; and

c. property in scarce resources that one has purchased, by contract and without duress.

Libertarians these days almost univocally reject the Lockean idea that possible-to-own resources that have not been appropriated are “owned in common.” This notion is at best a fiction. At worst an imposition. Non-privatized property is seen as UN-OWNED. And property rights theorists are beginning to understand the importance of “ceasing-to-own” as a category. That is, not only must property rights require justice in acquisition and transferance, but also in maintenance. Just as one may lose property, in a physical sense, one can abandon it, in a normative sense. This puts the property into the category of un-owned. If you leave your car on the side of the road, and never return, it is abandoned. The road owner usually appropriates it, but since, today, all automobile titles are tightly regulated by the states, and most roads are State-owned, the states tend to assume ownership. This would not be the case in a libertarian society. Law and custom would look very different. And would have to include rules about disowned property, inadvertent or deliberate, and regard it as un-owned, allowing for a new appropriation.

Other cases of property abandonment? Littering, pollution, and (in the realm of self-ownership) body abandonment upon inadvertent death as well as intended death (suicide). (Would a consequence of this perspective be that suicide is often a form of littering, and, unless measures were made in advance by the would-be suicide, many acts of suicide would be rightly preventable, by coercion, as defense of the property the corpse is intentionally being abandoned upon?)

According to Murray Rothbard, there can be no “public property.” All property must be private. F. A. Hayek demurred from this, arguing that what we are really talking about is “several property,” which would include ownership by groups, in some corporate or even informal capacity. (Randy Barnett explains the seemingly archaic term in this way: “The term ‘several property’ makes it clearer that jurisdiction to use resources is dispersed among the ‘several’ — meaning ‘diverse, many numerous, distinct, particular or separate’ persons and associations that comprise a society, rather than being rooted in a monolithic centralized institution.”) The rule of law defends several property, which would allow for any forms of property now considered “public.”

Philosopher Roderick Long has discussed a public property element in a free society as configured around by the NAP. This subject is still under debate among libertarians.

All property comes down to the right to exclude and the right to control. Several property is private chiefly in the sense of de-priving others of its use. Where you cannot forcibly exclude others (understood as self defense), there is no property. Where you cannot control the thing ostensibly owned (without initiating force), it is not property. I believe Kinsella’s arguments against intellectual property flow directly from these considerations.

No wonder, then, that one proposed alternative to the term “libertarianism” is “propertarianism” — no other school of thought takes property rights as seriously libertarians do, or see them as so fundamental.

Note: There is a whole school of economics devoted to property rights discussion. Many of these economists are libertarians or near-libertarians. Richard Stroup, for example, has proffered a basic rubric for property rights: “For markets to work . . . rights to each important resource must be clearly defined, easily defended against invasion, and divestible (transferable) by owners on terms agreeable to buyer and seller. Well-functioning markets, in short, require ‘3-D’ property rights.” Again, the 3-D property rights require

  1. Definability — clarity in boundaries;
  2. Defense — ability to be maintained;
  3. Divestibility — capacity for ownership cessation by the property holder.

This latter includes divestment by gift, divestment by exchange (giving on condition of receiving something), and inadvertent abandonment (loss by inattention) and purposive abandonment (essentially, gift to the unowned state, gift to “whoever will appropriate from an unowned state” or assault upon others, if the property abandoned is specifically disutile or inutile to all).

Libertarian economic policy rests on conceptions of property rights, centered on individual self-ownership and extending outwards to natural resources and produced goods. Many kinds of several property are allowed, but the society would not be de facto libertarian if there were extensive black markets in stolen goods of whatever kind, or if the state (or similar institutions) appropriated by decree all sorts of un-owned and dis-owned property, or engaged in mass expropriation (taxes) or piecemeal expropriation outside the court system, or in contravention of the NAP.

Which is the more complicated: for a right-wing person to understand a left-wing person or for a left-wing person to understand a right-wing person?

as answered on Quora:

It should be easier for a left-winger to understand right-wingers, rather than vice versa — based on a quick glance at the two ideological approaches.

Why? Well, the most sense I can make out of the left/right duality is this: the right emphasizes defense of self or in-group from the threat of other or out-group; the left emphasizes defense of others from self or out-groups from in-group.

By leftists’ very nature, you would think being open to new thoughts and alien (“outside”) ideas would entail more sympathy for rightists than rightists would have for them. And that was once the case.

Not any longer. Few leftists today can pass an ideological Turing test — but most non-leftists can.

This has been noted for some time, including by careful psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt.

What happened? The left captured the commanding heights of the culture, particularly major media, entertainment, and academic institutions. Everybody is more than familiar with leftist arguments. But leftists, em-bubbled in their institutional safe spaces, have been coddled. And they are therefore, to an astounding degree, pathetically and witlessly unaware of arguments against their positions.

Further, the types of people who adopt ideas based on social status have inverted. When I was young, it was late adopters who were “conservative,” and early adopters who dared buck trends who were leftist.

Nowadays, those people who by nature are culturally conservative adopt not traditional morality and politics but “progressive” morality and politics — because they are at the cultural center. And many of the folks prone to be early adopters now flock to perceived anti-leftist dogmas and positions.

It is quite hilarious.

Of course, both of the human propensities I identify as “left” and “right” are necessary and good for life in an extended order of civilization. But the vices of both — at the extremes, where sacrifices are insisted upon and ritually made — are quite dangerous:

right-wing vice: sacrifice of others to self, other groups to in-group and its hierarchies

left-wing vice: sacrifice of self to others, in-group to out-groups

We will see if our civilization will figure this out. And we will get over this stupid squabble between two necessary human propensities.


N.B. The illustration for this post is of two covers of a great book by a Catholic theologian. In it, he invited readers to go beyond the mere aping of another’s way of thought, but to “pass over” to theirs. And then come back, with greater understanding. “Passing over and coming back, it seems, is the spiritual adventure of our time.” This has not proved to be true. In politics, it has definitely not been the case, otherwise more folks could pass an ideological Turing test. John Scribner Dunne was not talking politics, of course — his interest was in religion and spirituality — but it is curious to see the political crowd most apt to decry dogma and boast of being ‘spiritual but not religious’ fail utterly to avoid dogma and foreswear spirituality.