Archives for category: Political Theory
I have always known that governments lie, that politicians are congenital liars, and that, furthermore, secrecy is something the State requires, in addition to all those fantasies necessary to obtain compliance from the masses. But recently I have greatly expanded my estimation of the scope of state prevarication.
Some of this is the result of the brazen ways in which the shallow end of the Deep State has attempted to oust a president it did not approve of. But it goes far beyond this, and much of it is related to keeping the military-industrial complex going through incessant warfare. The insanity of these wars, their sheer idiocy and lack of coherence and even hints of efficacy to the attainment of stated goals, suggests to me something far beyond my packet of previous explanations:
1. greed and corruption via Pentagon contracts
2. powerlust by media folk, ideologues, politicians, military men, and bureaucrats
3. greed
I now think that an additional secret realm of operations has been at play, and has been kept running by an elaborate if stumbled-into plan of psy-ops. Most Americans have pictures of their government utterly at variance with reality — perhaps even their view of bedrock, non-political reality is greatly shaped by a startlingly coherent state agenda.
Funny thing is, my fellow individualists have such a low opinion of state competence that they buy into most of said government psy-op, are indeed routinely controlled by Deep State psy-ops. Their error is in underestimating the State.
For this truth is long established, and libertarians should know it best: the State is not an efficient instrument of the general interest, but, instead, a hyper-efficient conduit through which private interests can gain at the exploitative expense of other private interests, and to the general detriment of the general interest. And the key to this is the ultimate in psy-ops, the confidence game of political ideologies that promote the State as a necessary entity for the promotion of that phantom, the public interest.


A question asked by a far-left Quora “space,” and which I answered —
and published on the libertarian “space” Liberty at Large.

The freedoms of a “typical capitalist society”:

You may choose your occupation, or trade. No one forces you into any particular form of work.

You are tempted by myriads of goods to enjoy, but are not forced to buy any one of them.

Instead of spending all your income, you can save wealth and invest in work that is not plotted out for you, but which you figure out yourself — that is, you can become an entrepreneur.

You can live simply, floating on the hard work of others (and the vast accumulations of wealth) and basking in the general tolerance of society, getting by with just a few contracts. Or you can immerse yourself in the world of commerce and public affairs, buying and selling expensive goods like real estate or antiques or what-have-you. You are not forced into any one manner of living.

Freedoms you do nothaveinclude the ability to command others’ work or attention by threat. You do not have the freedom from want, or from fear, or from anxiety about the future. You lack any freedom to force others to include you in their schemes for advancement. Generally, the rule in a free society as provided in capitalist ones is reciprocity.

This is a great liberator, sure, but many folks resent that freedom. They see that they can ruin their lives with bad choices, and wish to blame others for those choices. And “bad fortune” — misfortune — can happen to anyone. And capitalist societies — private property, “commercial society” — are in the promotion of quality and value, not in equalizing quality and value. Those prone to envy hate such free advance, demanding, instead, organized advance on theirterms, not people’s generally.

Of course, “typical capitalist society” is somewhat vague. “Typical” as in average or modal, or “typical” as in conforming to an ideal type?

Exploring the latter sort of notion, we begin to look upon the laissez faire element as typical in capitalism, as essentialand defining, while in history and usual experience so far, what is typical is mercantilism, protectionism, and mixed economy/transfer state (“bourgeois socialism”) elements. Not a few of the people who most love the freedom to be found in the extended order of a liberal capitalist society emphasize the non-government features, the emergent order, not the spoliation features and centrally planned attempts. Others, ambitious or impatient or resentful, seek to impose an order upon capitalism especially advantageous to them or constructed by their values. So we have the forms of capitalism now dominant: state capitalism, crony capitalism, welfare state capitalism, social democracy, and … what it all comes down to as it works out, The Churning State, where the transfers of wealth by regulation and plunder and “distribution” are so complex that special interests are only sure of their advantages gained in a few specific programs that they have special access to, the general tumult of interests having been so churned on issue-by-issue basis and by sector-by-sector privileges that the general interest becomes impossible even to conceive coherently.

But this latter is not freedom. It is chimerical. Perhaps the term for it should be chimerical capitalism.

I prefer the palpable freedoms of the liberty provided by limited government and the opportunities of voluntary interaction to the illusions of political promise and governmental machination.

A lot of people who think they are anti-nationalists . . . are not. Or, at the very least, are nothing like my kind of anti-nationalist.

Nationalism is a [set of] political idea[s]. It is the notion that states should be co-extensive with nations, with “peoples,” as in ethno-linguistic groups and cultures.

Most people who call themselves anti-nationalists, today, are globalists. They believe that states should incorporate many nations. This ideology is a kissing cousin to imperialism.

I am anti-nationalist in the other direction. I believe that states, if they must exist, should be smaller than nations.

There are many good reasons to hold such a commitment. But I confess: to some degree this view of politics was embedded in me early on, perhaps genetically.

My main ground for this attitude boils down to Acton’s Law: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I regard nationalists as rather mad. Maddened by power.

But globalism and imperialism? (Some variant of which is what a majority of what people in the West seem to support.) I consider these madder yet.

So, it is with some amusement that I confront the current craze on the left to dub people who aren’t their kind of inter-nationalists “Nazis” and “fascists.” I have always put their kind in the same camp as the fascists. I do not see them as much better. Not infrequently they are worse. (What is worse than fascism? Well, internationalist socialism, that is what.)

I realize that mine is decidedly a minority position. My kind lost in 1789 in America, when the anti-federalists were made irrelevant upon the adoption of the Constitution. But, remember, pretty much every prediction of the anti-federalists came true.

So, today, we Americans live in a nation-state, not a federation — which is almost a dead letter. Look at the way Wikipedia describes the American compact, a document in which the word “nation” cannot be found. The idea, originally, was for the states to be sovereign (and remember: John Taylor of Caroline argued for individual sovereignty). The federation was a convenience to facilitate the survival of the several states. But try telling a college grad that, these days. Programmed by false history.

The Constitution, for all its faults, was not designed as a national government.

Under the federalist framework, “the nations” of America would be many and varied. But the problem with the federal idea is that it makes a super-state larger than any particular state, and thus bigger than the separate commonalities and cultures within the states, and focuses power away from the dispersed loci. Which in turn conjures up nation-building — with flag-worship and “patriotism” and all that — to create a single nation to correspond to the federal government. Thus, less than a hundred years after the Constitution was adopted, the federal union became a nation-state. Which was soon aggrandized into an imperialistic power.

For fun, recently, I have been calling my variant of anti-nationalism “Ameri-skeptic,” playing on the Brexiteers’ “Euro-sceptic” moniker.

I am not a patriot of the United Sates of America. I am merely rather fond of these United States. My patriotism leans towards principles, not institutions.

Terms and conditions apply, though.

twv

Currently on the left it is believed that (a) a person must be treated as “muh gender” he/she/it/x chooses rather than by sex or custom or eyeballing the sitch, and that (b) people must be allowed to freely cross borders while (c) collecting taxpayer-funded benefits without any restrictions.

These positions seem absurd because destabilizing, but a thorough adoption of the principles involved may provide a way out from the burden upon citizens of the host country.

The solution? Apply the “trans” idea to citizenship: a citizen, tired of rising taxes, could declare xself “differently loyal” and ignore that pesky tax bill.

“You’ve got to respect the sovereignty of the country I just made up and which cannot be found on any map!”

“Kekistan?”

“No, Kekistanis pay taxes. I’m an Anarchistani.”

As migrants flood the country expecting free benefits, denizens in country cease paying taxes. Progressives keep the principles of (a) and (b), and the the problem of (b) combined with (c) evaporates, for lack of funds.

Trans-citizenship would transform the political landscape! With fictions. Just as progressives insist upon.

Do efforts to eliminate class in society usually just result in the creation of new classes and, if so, why?

as answered by TWV on Quora:

It is not clear what concept of class can stand the tests of analysis and debate. See Joseph Schumpeter’s essay on class for a decent and politically unbiased discussion. (I wrote a foreword to one ebook reprint of it. I am not sure it is still available.)

But let us pretend, for sake of this question, that common sense class notions are robust enough to work with. And that the reader will follow along with me as I present the following simple argument.

Attempts to eliminate classes, so far, have been political, governmental. That is, they involve the State.

Which means: force.

Sociologist Max Weber, in “Politics as a Vocation” (1919), wrote that “a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” — that is, “a compulsory association which organizes domination [and] has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory.” Barack Obama scandalized America by repeating this basic definition in 2008. (Dumb America, of course.)

So, why is this important?

Attempts by the State to break apart classes and create one mass of humanity must fail, because those using the ostensibly legitimate force are quite distinct from those being forced. Indeed, the use of force is the separator that distinguishes so clearly that even dullards recognize that a class demarcator is in operation. It is “sticky” in all imaginations.

I bring force into the discussion because physical force is the micro-social, transactional factor that creates the most basic class distinction. It is not merely the case that one group of people, in the State, seek and work to destroy all other class distinction, leaving none left but what remains, the State/non-state. Force-relations draw the strongest line with which to separate people, at least when the directions of force go mainly one direction, between groups. The groups demarcated by force-relations constitute a new class. Force, aggression — this is the most salient social factor, stronger even than matters of family and clan (so important to Schumpeter’s theory), race, language, or generation.

Now, States usually try to provide a meta-class structure, setting terms with all perceived classes in society. This not only strengthens the State, in one sense, it does so by limiting itself, since people will still align themselves and act within the context of many state classes. These other classes provide countervailing power against the State, which often serves to limit the use of force by State actors.

But once the State seeks to destroy all other classes, the number of alternate social systems to oppose the State vanishes, and society goes into a feedback loop. We then witness a maximizing of aggression and interference by the State, turning people into stooges of the State, finking on each other in fear of being finked on first.

And worse.

Human beings naturally form groups. They must, to work and achieve, sure, but also merely to feel human. But in a society with a State program to eliminate classes, this natural, human sociality turns sour, and we almost create a new man. The human being in a one-class mass society is post-moral, fear-ridden, hubristic, anti-social. An ironic twist on the New Socialist Man prophecy? Well, it was predicted in the negative form, by socialism’s enemies in the 19th century. It came true in the Soviet Union and other failed Communist “experiments.”

And the horrifying upshot has, I am told, been exquisitely depicted on the TV show Chernobyl.

The political/bureaucratic/military attempt to create a classless society creates a class system much worse than the classes we see in our freer societies.


…a few further considerations:

Though I rely heavily on force as a basic distinguisher of class, in the answer above, I do not wish to convey the idea that it is the only distinguisher.

Indeed, in most societies at present, the State works mightily to try to muddy up and even extinguish that class indicator.

One way it does this is by the circulation of personnel along with the circulation of elite positions. Indeed, America’s founders were much concerned about this, and so pushed “rotation in office” as a way to prevent the formation of a permanent governmental class.

Another way that the early American federal republic resisted the formation of a hard state/society class split was with “the Spoils System,” in which the winners of an election would fill many government posts as rewards to supporters. This meant there was no permanent class. But the open greed and clamor for position was ugly. And corrupt. So a permanent civil service was formed. And with it, a new class.

Of course, the class structure in America and most of the West is based largely on cognitive skills, with what I call the Moderate Brights forming the main pool of people to get placed into government. And the tendency of classes to congeal around family and clan success (as Schumpeter argued) is offset somewhat by the public school system, higher education and its grants economy, and a general credentialist selection system, which technocratic progressives pushed to replace market productivity as the means for social mobility — and which they use to calcify class structure in a society under a dirigiste State.

Another method to counteract the separation of classes along what could be called the Aggression Line is ideology, which includes morality and religion. By sharing norms and myths and rites, a sharp distinction between State workers on the one hand and citizens on the other can be fuzzed up, allowing the wheels of commerce and community to flow like water around the rocks of the State.

Indeed, ideology is of paramount importance, for it is ideology that turns the water of power into the wine of authority — it is ideology that paints on the halo of legitimacy.

Further, one should always remember that human beings are naturally hierarchical animals. And though the purveyors of Equality über alles might seem to be seeking to upend all accommodations to in-group/out-group and top/bottom distinctions, their eagerness to embrace the harsh hierarchies and class distinctions of Actually Existing Anti-Class Classism belies their explicit approaches.

It is hard not to judge them as mere insurrectionists, seeking to place themselves in some advantageous class position, with their preferred in-group well-ensconced, and their place in its hierarchy secured.

Is that too reductionist? Harsh?

twv

This is not the motto, today, of very many people who call themselves “democrats.”

…as answered on Quora…

The question should be formed in the past tense: when was democracy overthrown?

OK, that’s a bit snarky. And not at all accurate, since the United States was neither designed to be nor ever became a democracy.

Unless, as I have written elsewhere on Quora, one starts fiddling with the meaning of the term “democracy.” Which is fair game, I guess, and is part of a long tradition. Alexis de Tocqueville meant something different by the word in the Jacksonian era than did the founding fathers of these benighted states.

It is pointless for me to repeat all I have written on this in the past. So, for the remainder of my answer, I will accept arguendo that democracy is a good thing, that we once had it, and that it either no longer exists or is in peril.

So who is responsible for the anti-democratic influences? People in power.

I find it weird that Democrats think Republicans are democracy’s threat, and Republicans deem Democrats the threat. Both are threats. Obviously.

Take the big marker: initiative and referendum rights. Those are democratic, after all. No controversy about that. So, all around the country, in state after state, Democratic Party political machines work to squelch the ability of voters to check legislatures — which are, after all, concentrations of political power, especially when incumbency accrues advantages on sitting politicians by seniority and sheer persistence — using the ballot box on an issue-by-issue creation and repeal of constitutional amendments and statutes.

Except in Florida. In Florida it is the Republicans who work to squelch initiative activity, through the usual sneaky political means, by regulating the petition process for ballot access.

Usually, it depends upon who is in and out of power. Truth is, politicians out of power tend to favor democracy, for their best hope into power is to ride a groundswell of citizen unrest. Where, once in power, they tend to lust to squelch the competition.

Democracy is a means to manage competition for political power. That’s one definition anyway. And any group in power tends to be against democracy.

It is one of the basic rules of politics.

But let us look more broadly at the institutions of citizen control of the government. Are we really sure we have it? Are we sure we do not live in a mixed system with heavy elements of plutocracy, oligarchy, and mobocracy as well as star-chamber Deep State machinations?

After all, way back in the late 1930s, Garet Garrett understood that revolutions need not be overt:

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.

There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, “Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don’t watch out.”

These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when “one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state.”

The key thing about citizen control of government is that government must be small enough, limited enough, for citizens to practically control. At the time of the founding, the ratio of Representatives to citizens was comparatively balanced — a normal person was apt to know his Rep. Today, to keep up anything like that ratio, our House of Representatives would have to number not 435 but in the many thousands. This means that the federal union that is supposedly the United States may be less democratic today than it was two centuries ago . . . when it was explicitly not democratic!

But Americans, when they hear this, usually just shrug.

I think it is pretty obvious that people do not want democracy. Government is something we get activated about when we fret about a particular issue. But most people have the sense to shove most questions of governance off their proverbial front burners and onto that of experts. Who have their own special interests.

The consequences of this, of course, is not democracy but rule by the most vociferous and greedy factions. The revolution of the 20th century — away from constitutional constraints and a decent balance between “the people” and “the government” and to the establishment of a vast administrative state with its bureaucracy and vast transfer programs and regulations placing unequal burdens upon society, for the benefit of some and not others — is the result of the activism of some and the “inactivism” of the many.

Is that democracy? Hardly. But the metamorphosis did not require much bloodshed, as Garrett explained:

Revolution in the modern case is no longer an uncouth business. The ancient demagogic art, like every other art, has, as we say, advanced. It has become in fact a science — the science of political dynamics. And your scientific revolutionary in spectacles regards force in a cold, impartial manner. It may or may not be necessary. If not, so much the better; to employ it wantonly, or for the love of it, when it is not necessary, is vulgar, unintelligent and wasteful. Destruction is not the aim. The more you destroy the less there is to take over. Always the single end in view is a transfer of power.

I find it funny that there are people who think they are “for democracy” but really just demand more power for their faction.

My laughter is not exactly mirthful, I admit.

twv

Democratic socialism may be all the rage.
But its most famous proponent is no sage.

The art of defining a term can be undertaken in good faith or bad faith. I am fascinated by this art. I am tempted to call the good faith version The Dialectic, but that, alas, would be a designation rather peculiar to me — it being my takeaway of what is wrong and right in Plato’s dialogues, and what I remember after reading Aristotle’s dreadful* book, The Topics. The bad faith version is vulgar propaganda, I suppose, but isn’t the p-word too nice for it?

Definitional arguments underlie so much substantive argument, so my interest in distinguishing proffered good-faith from bad-faith definitions is ongoing, persistent. Take the problem of defining “socialism.”

An important topic. There are a few plausible definitions for the term, and quite distinct ones at that. There are also some technical characterizations that can unify a few of those different approaches, which I have advanced here and elsewhere.

But a definition of socialism you often hear among rather bright people online is not correct, and it is worth showing why. That definition?

“worker ownership of the means of production”

How is socialism as worker ownership of the means of production not a good faith definition?

There exist, today, many economies** that qualify under that definition, but which no socialist I have ever encountered promotes, and which most of the leading socialist theoreticians and proponents look upon with utter disdain, even wishing to squelch. And what are these economies? Sole proprietorships and partnerships that have no employees. These professionals provide goods and services to others by contract. They most certainly labor at their work and thus qualify as “workers” and “laborers” under any commonsense definition of the terms. But these are not what socialists have historically meant by worker and laborer.

Indeed, actual socialists in the past have organized by the thousands to murder millions of workers precisely like this: think of the kulaks’ fate under Stalin.

Further, one can imagine a whole vast catallaxy of market institutions in which all of the businesses are owned and operated by workers democratically — yet no living, breathing socialist I have encountered has any interest in it, despite its near-term viability. What is this astounding institution? Corporations with majority stockholders made up of worker pension funds and other saved funds invested by individual laborers. Robert Nozick suggested this as a possibility; Peter Drucker was its prophet. When Gene Epstein offered this as a decent alternative to state socialism in a recent debate, his socialist interlocutor was just flummoxed. This isn’t political; no force and bullying required — where’s the fun in that?

And there we see why the worker-ownership definition of socialism is a bad-faith definition: it is a lie that masks what socialists really want.

They want power, especially to expropriate the rich and bully people they disagree with. So, though I usually trot out technical definitions of the s-word that make a lot of sense, a nastier definition serves, and it is, despite its nastiness, not in bad faith:

Socialism is the ideology promoting systems of total state power as wielded by people who call themselves socialists.

A bit circular? Well, there are crucial non-circular elements to it, and, besides, there is nothing quite so taut as a tautology.

And it leads to a working definition of a competitive ideology:

Fascism is any ideology promoting systems of total state power wielded by people whom socialists call fascist.

Leftists’ habit of calling nearly everyone they disagree with “fascist” is no more worthy of emulation than is their raising aloft the banner of “democratic socialism.” If they actually wanted a truly democratic socialism, they would defend and advance the liberal, minimal state order — maybe going so far as libertarianism — while working in the voluntary sector, in business, to bring about a worker-owned order.

But what, if you are a socialist, would be the fun of that?

Integral to socialist agitation is the politics of opposition to private property and free markets along with the promotion of state power. Both of these corrupt even the most earnest souls. Whatever good, charitable thoughts that may begin their political quest, and nudge them to prefix socialism with that eulogistic term democratic, erode quickly, replaced by a terrifying changeling: tyranny.


*Oh, and I do mean really, really badly written and mostly unconvincing. Aristotle was a great thinker but not a great writer, and The Topics is one of his very worst treatises.
** I am using “economy” in the manner suggested by F. A. Hayek, in contradistinction to “catallaxy” that I use in the next paragraph. I do not remember where Hayek suggests these two terms of art. I am reshelving my economics section of my library this week, so maybe I will dip into the Hayek volumes mid-course, and come back here to give the proper citation. Until then. . . .

Philosopher Jan Lester offers what he says is a new paradigm for libertarianism. Though old hands at the philosophy may raise an eyebrow at the daring of such a claim — and I am, by this time, one of those old hands — it is not as if libertarian social philosophy were all shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Looking at his essay “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians,” I found myself not at all shocked by his alleged novelty — though novelty there is. From a perspective of critical rationalism (via Popper, Lakatos, Bartlett, and others), Mr. Lester advances three alternatives to most libertarian ideology and rhetoric:

  • Instead of “justificationism” and the eternal search for the Foundations of Ethics and Politics, Lester insists that we stick to the more humble and honest task of offering conjectures about which we are open to debate.
  • Instead of characterizing our normative theories in terms of “deontological” or “consequentialist” terms, recognize that they are “more like two sides of the same coin.”
  • Instead of waffling and arguing in a circular fashion, develop an explicit, sufficient and necessary “theory of freedom.”

This last point points to the most obvious need, but it is not one that many libertarians recognize as an actual problem. There is an awful lot vagueness and hand-waving among libertarian theorists. And some concepts get jumbled together, like “self-ownership” and “negative freedom” and so forth. Hearkening back to classical liberal days, Lester focuses on non-interference — Henry Sidgwick would have understood this — and develops it as a prohibition of “proactive constraint.” I have not adequately confronted this understanding of liberty, so as I prepare to read his book, Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism, I will try to keep an open mind.

I am sympathetic to his general perspective, and, so far, seem to agree on quite a lot. I do have a different way of looking at freedom than many libertarians — and this has been one reason for my odd position in the libertarian movement: I am a member of no faction, and hail not from the School of Rand or School of Rothbard, but, instead, from the School of Nozick . . . without having ever been a Nozickian.

Odd man out, I.

So, before I lash out at Lester’s paradigm, or drop mine, I will put them to the test, which would also mean essaying to discover whether the two might be compatible.

As far as the deontic/consequentialist debate goes, anyway, we are on the same side. I found this “controversy” very interesting in my early 20s, since it was a major feature of libertarian intellectual discussion in the 1980s. I soon decided, however, that most discussions of this were hopelessly muddled or, at the very least, red herrings. My late boss R. W. Bradford, writing as Ethan O. Waters, did not exactly make the issue clearer, in the pages of Liberty magazine in its first year. I went a different direction, taking consequentialism chiefly as a meta-ethics.

Regarding Lester’s anti-justificationism, well, this strikes me as a terminological issue. He denies this. I am more in line with C. S. Peirce than Karl Popper, so I see all this “critical rationalist” talk as just another form of fallibilism, whereas he regards it (I think) as quite distinct. I may have read both Popper and Lakatos, I confess to having devoured their work only in small doses: this is not an area of anything but a passing familiarity for me. So, I should practice caution. Still, I will drop a hint: Jan Lester believes that philosophy is not about words, it is about the world. That is certainly a nifty slogan. It reminds me of Husserl’s “to the things themselves!” I think philosophy cannot help but be about words — and definitions, too — because words are our chief tool for engaging with concepts. He calls them theories and conjectures, and that is fine, except it seems a long way around to say something fairly obvious.

But I could be wrong. Indeed, all this jumps the gun of reading his book.

So, if I have not read this book, and the cited essay is brief, how do I know what Mr. Lester holds to? Well, a year-and-a-half ago a friend of mine and I interviewed Mr. Lester at length. And this week I finally turned the Skype session into a video, which is now up as a series on YouTube:

Where Libertarians Go Wrong:

  1. Introduction: Why “Critical Rationalism
  2. Error One: Seeking a foundation or justification
  3. Error Two: Taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism
  4. Error Three: Lacking an explicit, necessary & sufficient theory of freedom

By the way, I had intended to do this all last year. But the best laid plans of mice and men, the gang’s all here in the glee club, and all that.


Jan Lester’s Escape from Leviathan. And me.
Definition of a word most people are not familiar with, from the Century Dictionary.

Variants of the following question seem common enough. I have almost certainly answered one or two previous ones before. Because it is common, and because previous historical instantiation is a reliable indication of possibility, the question has some importance today. But, as I try to make clear, being new is not a sure sign of impossibility or undesirability. But more will needs be said.

as answered on Quora:

Why has there never seem[ed] to have been a nation whose approach to government was Libertarianism?

Simple answer: because libertarianism is a fairly recent refinement of a long tradition in social innovation.

More complex answer: many, many societies have demonstrated libertarian elements, and it is worth remembering that until the modern period, most societies did not even sport states. Libertarianism arose in response to the abuse of state power, and to rescue a sense of morality in law from the general run of state power that almost invariably corrupts legal practice.

Further, states tend to form around high capital areas, by capture (high capital regions make easy marks), and — if not run by murderous psychopaths or morons — also encourage the accumulation of more capital. By encouraging capital and commandeering capital, they often produce lasting markers that we can track, as history. Freer societies in ancient times tended not to leave big monuments or be known for their conquests. So they tend not to leave historical mileposts. If there were free societies in the tribal, upland, and margins-of-civilizations societies, we probably would not know much about them.

But it is worth remembering that the basic libertarian stance is very old, and can be seen in writings as various as the Hebrews’ I Samuel 8-15 and the Chinese Tao te Ching.

That being said, libertarianism is a workaround to a problem arising from our hierarchical natures and the path dependence set in place by relying upon the most valiantly coercive: accommodation to power, legitimation of the powerful, Authority . . . and the eternal problem of in-group solidarity and out-group antagonism. Libertarianism is an attempt to regulate these volatile mixes — regulate by law. Other attempts at such regulation have included timocracy, democracy, and republicanism. Libertarianism is the latest, and if it seems familiar, no wonder, for libertarianism is a lexarchy. The fact that we almost never hear that term suggests to me that libertarianism, despite its august lineage from rule-of-law traditions, is very young, and that today’s libertarian challenge has not been met in the general culture. Not even libertarians themselves really understand what it is that they are trying to accomplish — they might boil it down to “rights,” for instance, or The Individual . . . without contextualizing what a universal right to liberty would actually accomplish.

So, the past is something of a red herring. It is not for nothing that the major libertarian (as opposed to myth-making liberal) theorists have looked to the future, not the past. Henry David Thoreau wrote of a future with radically less political governance, but he noted that it requires a culture and a general character to match it: “when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” This notion of a cultural context of resistance to mere power and position was carried on a few years later, in another early classic of libertarian advocacy, Social Statics: or, The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness and the First of Them Developed, by Herbert Spencer. Speaking of the novelty of the most extreme elements of his doctrine — which most libertarians today would assent to — he wrote that “There are many changes yet to be passed through before [libertarianism] can begin to exercise much influence.” At about the same time as Thoreau and Spencer were formulating their rather radical doctrines — of law as regulated by explicit contract — a young Belgian economist put the idea to its most precise formulation in an essay entitled “De la production de la sécurité.” This Gustave de Molinari’s last full book, and the only one to be translated into English, was titled The Society of To-morrow. In that he explained why what we would now call libertarian ideas were so late in developing. But why he had hope for a later instantiation.

Now, I confess: I am not fully convinced that libertarian proposals are even possible fully to implement in a society of baboonish hominids, I mean, humans. But if they are, it would be the result of some sweeping changes, not only institutionally but also culturally.

And, I readily concede, it is not as if such radical changes have not happened, even in our lifetimes.

But most relevantly, consider the cultural, intellectual support for two institutions, democracy and slavery.

If in 1492, the year that I believe marks the beginning of the modern period, you had asked all educated men on the planet at that time, whether some day the word “democracy” would not only inform the politics of the nation states of more than half the world, it would even play as piety on the lips of even the most brutal of tyrants, not one man would not laugh, chortling in derision at the preposterous nature of your question. Yet “democracy” has become the byword of politics.

And, perhaps more astoundingly, throughout history slavery was a civilizational norm — even many pre-civilized tribes and chiefdoms practiced this brutal form of tyranny. Yet, in recent modern history Christians in England and elsewhere began liberating slaves and abolishing the institution, making it illegal. Now, it is so anathematized that no civilized person can even conceive of bringing it back.

If democracy — once universally condemned — can become normalized nearly everywhere, and slavery — once universally practiced — made taboo, then it is not altogether incomprehensible that liberty rigorously conceived might someday also become the norm.

But that would make libertarianism definitely a future, not a historic, development.

twv

Currently back to reading this book.

Democracy was the State’s way to ape the market. Democratic socialism is the belief that aping the market in a limited political realm provides proof of concept enough for the State to replace all market activity with its own machinations.

What democratic socialists do not understand is that the aping of the market in democratic action cannot be maintained when there is no market left to ape — in no small part because the replacement of markets with politics and bureaucratization is, transactionally, anti-market, and cannot allow even the mimicry of trade.

The “socialism” part of democratic socialism must trump the “democracy” part, transforming what may begin by voting and “voice” into the paradigmatic socialistic activity: statist fiat. Compulsion. Command. Totalitarianism.

The democratic socialist is the kind of person who has tricked himself, conned himself, not realizing that some inkling of intent cannot override the reality of the means chosen. Socialism is control. And its form of control must always destroy the weak shadow of freedom retained in democratic action.

Democracy mimics the market’s myriad of two-way transactions — where each side can refuse to coöperate (demonstrating “exit”) and where a proposed scheme will fail if it cannot find willing collaborators, willing traders — with an orchestrated expression of “voice” without any possible exit or right of refusal. And this lack of “exit” — the lack of an ability to decline the results of a vote — ends up with a prohibition of failure. Democracy cripples the learning inherent in failure, allowing the State to carry this to the extreme by almost never allowing a failed program to cease: instead failure gets rewarded with more resources.

Thus building up failure into the very warp and woof of the socialist enterprise.

Along with forceful control.

twv