Thursday, August 23, 2007

Checks and Balances: Two Kinds

Checks and balances should be a fairly familiar concept to Americans. The standard definition of checks and balances is that the state must be broken up into multiple segments that function as checks against eachother's power and perform different functions, while these segments still remain within one central institution. Traditionally, the idea is that there must be three separate branches (executive, legislative and judicial) within one central government in order to prevent the accumulation of power into one group. At least superficially, this view slightly recognizes the principle of decentralization. Another somewhat more powerful conception of checks and balances is the idea that there must be multiple and separate levels of government, each with their own branches and jurisdictions, and that in order to combat the accumulation of power, individual states or parishes and cities should remain "independant" from the central state.

This is the doctrine of internal checks and balances. Both separation between branches and levels of government are internal theories of checks and balances. But how well do these theories stand up in the face of logic and empirical evidence? Not very well. The fundamental flaw in the idea that separation between branches within one institution will stop power from being concentrated should be fairly obvious: it is still within one institution. There is theoretically no "third party" outside of that institution functioning on a check on it, which is to say that the overall institution is a judge in its own case. The supreme court is still part of the federal government. All historical evidence shows a great deal of collusion between branches, and when there is collusion between branches, there is centralization of powers into one expanding group. Clearly, merely having three branches under one institution will not stop power from accumulating in that institution. Much heftier criterion must be met.

While the doctrine of state's rights is a step up from this, since it maintains at a minimum that there should be a multitude of jurisdictions within the overall territory bestowed to the central government, it nonetheless contains a similar flaw. The states are still ultimately subject to the territorial dominion of the federal government and there is once again collusion between the levels of government. If a central government still exists, it doesn't matter how many territorial jurisdictions that one tries to split the central state's control into, political power is still concentrated at a central point. Surely expanding the amount of people in the government or the number of sub-governments within a government's territorial monopoly is not necessarily a way to restrict political power. In order to at least be a "pure" advocate of "state's rights", one must support a more radical approach, with no federal government.

Once one has made it to this point, the same problem keeps repeating itself at each level of government. The states in themselves would now be the central governments, only over smaller territories. The size of the dominion of power may have been reduced, but the essential feature of territorial monopoly is still maintained. Counties, parishes and cities would synergize with and the states. If the states were gotten rid of, the counties would be the territorial monopolies and the cities and towns would synergize with them. And even down to the city-state level, the problem of territorial monopoly would persist. The advantages of so-called "state's rights" or "city's rights" mostly only have to do with the size of the territorial monopoly, but they do almost nothing to address the problem of territorial monopoly itself. All such mechanisms are ultimately within the structure of the institution of the state itself. A monopoly cannot be broken up without competition from other institutions external to it.

This is why external checks and balances are much stronger and more meaningful than internal ones. Checks and balances in which governmental institutions are held in check by non-governmental ones, which requires a separation between buisiness and state, constitutes an example of external checks and balances. An honest private institution that opens up a buisiness in competition with the state in a particular area, which inherently requires that the given buisiness not engage in any kind of patronage and protectionism with the state, is functioning as a check on state power by providing an alternative option for people and lowering dependance on the state. The improvement of technology and the availability of private alternatives to the state in a given field, and the long-term decrease in prices it often leads to, can function as an external "check and balance" on the state much better than any internal "check and balance" ever can.

On the other hand, a private institution that colludes with the state is participating in the centralization and expansion of power. Indeed, the leaders of such institutions become part of the ruling class. When such synergy between industry and government takes place, various buisinesses start to become more centralized, modeled more similarly to the structure of the state than would otherwise have been possible. When buisiness starts to merge at the hip with the state, this presents an oppurtunity to obtain and expand political power for both select private interests and members of the government itself. The union of church and state is a perfect historical example of territorial monopolies further centralizing and expanding as a consequence of collusion between the state and external organizations. The ultimate end of such collusion is the merging of a more multi-centered order into one large central organization.

In a sense, everyone who is outside of the ruling class of a given society is a potential check on political power, by the mere virtue of not being within or in control of it. There are many external methods of checking and resisting political power, which includes various types of civil disobedience and economic decisions. From the perspective of an individual as a consumer, withdrawing consumption from the state's "services" and merely patronizing a private alternative at a lower price and participating in peaceful black markets is an important haven from state power. On the other hand, actively and enthusiastically participating in the state's "services" transforms one into either a state of dependance on the state, or worse, part of the ruling class. Here too, collusion has a negative effect because it is internal to the institution. It's working within the system, which is precisely why it does not work.

Economic incentives is a very important check and balance on state power. A defining feature of the state as an organization is that it is an externalizer of costs, which is to say that those who hold the political power in a society do not actually bear the costs of the laws and policies that they work with. Therefore, mechanisms that internalize costs provide a disincentive towards political power. Political power cannot be obtained or maintained without externalizing costs through mechanisms such as taxation and eminent domain. If the state is denied access to external resources then it will eventually crumble, as the state as an organization depends entirely on the production of those who are not in it. If it is either cut off from recieving that production then political power obviously cannot be maintained for very long.

The ultimate check on political power is philosophy. In short, it is impossible to maintain or expand political power without the propagation of ideological ideas in favor of political power or encouraging resignation to it. What ideas people adhere to ultimately effects the course of history. All that is required to combat political power is the action of withdrawl of support to the best that one can manage. And in order for this to be done, it must be philosophically accepted that the only possible checks against the state that can possibly exist are external to the institution because the institution of the state is a compulsory territorial monopoly regaurdless of what one tries to do with it internally. It is logically inconsistant to maintain that one can reduce, restrict or abolish political power by using political power, and it is nonsensical to claim that one can provide checks and balances on an institution through mechanisms that are entirely within the framework of that very institution and when that institution has a territorial monopoly.

What about so-called "competition" between nation-states? If there can be said to be anything resembling checks and balances between goverments, it would be the total lack of both collusion and offensive intervention between governments. When states engage in economic hegemony with eachother they begin a gradual trend towards international or global government, taking the centralization process to the extreme of there being virtually no territory immune from being within the jurisdiction of the government monopoly. International government possesses all of the problems previously mentioned about federal and state government. It just conglomerates power even more than nation-states and has a larger monopolistic jurisdiction.

Modern state warfare essentially cannot be done without collusion and contracting with particular banking and buisiness interests through contracting. War is the most costly endeavor a government can possibly engage in and it can only be waged by externalizing the costs, particularly through the mechanism of monetary inflation and borrowing from from foreign governments and banking interests. War has historically been a means of maintaining and expanding political power. As such, it would be disingenous to use it as an example of checks on state power. It is, by definition, a flexing of state power. Even if a state is overthrown by another, the victor state usually has increased power when the smoke clears. War has been the main mechanism of expanding state power throughout history.

In conclusion, it should be clear that true checks and balances lies within the domain of private and decentralized mechanisms that are external to and not in any kind of collusion with any political power. The more standard concept of checks and balances, while a well intended attempt to form a structural means for restricting political power, is incredibly mistaken in its premises as to how the state functions as an institution. It is rather niave about the nature of political power. In order to truly have checks and balances, the state as an organization must be questioned altogether and participitation in the activities of and consumption of the loot of such an organization must begin to be abandoned in favor of a multitude of alternatives.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Liberty Space

Coming Soon...

New website at

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Statism is Counterintuitive

Great article by Anthony Gregory.

Excerpt: "When most children are fairly young, just as they learn that the world operates according to some basic principles of physics, they are taught that humans ought to act according to some basic ethical guidelines. Most parents teach their kids not to steal, to keep their hands to themselves, to do their best to keep their word. Well, that’s really all libertarianism is: It’s the idea that people shouldn’t initiate force against other people’s bodies and property, and that people should honor contracts."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pragmatic Utilitarianism: A Road to Tyranny

The arguements given by people to justify unethical acts are usually utilitarian, which is to say that a given act is defended on the grounds that it is beneficial to someone. This is commonly manifested in the arguements given in defense of the alleged "need" for a whole host of economic policies, and government in general. For example, conservatives often argue that the tax-funded defense industry helps "stimulate the economy". It is often argued that the public sector is justified because it "creates jobs". So long as a measure can be shown to be beneficial to a specific group of people, the utilitarian is prone to be comfortable with it.

On one hand, these kind of arguements are fallicious even in utilitarian terms in that they ignore the cost side of the equation. Government creates only government jobs, which inherently comes at the cost of private jobs. Governments cannot increase employment in one sector without withdrawing it from another. All government jobs represents a net loss to the tax-payer. Government cannot create wealth, it can only redistribute it, and in the process of redistribution it actually decreases overall utility by shifting production into consumption. The government itself does not produce, it consumes from private production. It is a leech on the producing classes, which includes both workers and genuine enterprenuers.

On the other hand, even if it can be substantiated that a given measure is beneficial to people, this does not necessarily justify it in ethical terms. Afterall, one can try to argue that a thief is justified in their theft because they donated the stolen goods to charity, but that would not justify theft. Just because something may be beneficial to some people does not necessarily mean that it is justified, nor does it negate the fact that it may very well be at the expense of other people. Economic efficiency and metric benefit is not a proper measuring stick of justice. In short, the ends do not justify the means. One can very well show how a redistribution benefits certain people, but that would not justify confiscation of property.

A common mistake made by many utilitarians is the broken window fallacy. The broken window fallacy refers to a situation where one argues that a destructive act is justified because it may lead to the gain of others in some way, usually by stimulating economic activity. Should we encourage children to break windows of baker's stores because this stimulates the economy by making the baker buy a new window? Or are destructive acts never justified, and this actually represents a loss to the baker? To take the former view ignores how those same resources would have been used otherwise. This fallacy is precisely what is going on when people claim that warfare benefits the economy, ignoring that there are immense costs that can only be delayed at best.

While some utilitarians think more long-term than others, utilitarians may often take a short-term view, being concentrated on obtaining the maximum utility in the present, regaurdless of long-term consequences. A good example of this is manifested in monetary policy. The establishment view goes roughly as follows: "monetary inflation is a good thing because it stimulates the economy by raising wage rates, creating jobs and stimulating growth". But as Ludwig Von Mises demonstrated close to a century ago, in the long-term this is unsustainable, it must be reconciled in a downturn, malinvestments must be cleared and the debt it generates must be payed off. This is beside the fact that the inflation also reduces the value of each monetary unit, thereby raising some prices and diminishing the purchasing power of the wages. Viewed in ethical terms, all of this is irrelevant to the question as to wether or not the stealing of the value of people's money can be justified.

Also, utilitarianism is all about maximizing "happiness". But the problem is that there is no concrete definition of happiness, which is to say that it varies from individual to individual. The question becomes "who's happiness"? It is not really possible to statistically measure "happiness" in the first place. In practise, therefore, it seems as if the utilitarian is stuck either arbitrarily trying to measure things in terms of their own definition of happiness (which makes way for authoritarianism), or playing the role of a value-free observer that accepts whatever a person's own definition of happiness is (which makes way for hedonism). Another route that may be taken is to define happiness by whatever a majority defines it as (which makes way for persecution of the minority).

Furthermore, and this is very important to stress, happiness is not the criteria by which we measure right and wrong. The happiness of a murderer may come from murdering, but surely we do not condone murder simply because it brings happiness to the murderer. Pleasure may seem like a good goal to strive for, but some people may find pleasure at the expense of others. In some cases, commonly accepted morality may very well require that people abstain from acting out of primitive desire for pleasure. A man may find pleasure from sexual intercourse, but in order to be ethical they must abstain from simply forcibly mounting every woman they see. And if utility is defined more in terms of general economic well-being, a person may steal in order to stay alive, but in order to remain ethical even the most impoverished person must abstain from robbing banks.

In short, it is impossible to consistantly apply any ethical principle using utilitarianism as a method of looking at things. Any ethical consideration can in theory be overturned using utilitarianism so long as it is percieved or can be sufficiently proven to be net beneficial or bring happiness. At best, utilitarianism can be used to show how certain actions will have negative or unintended consequences. It can have a limited use in this respect. But as an ethical system it is a nightmare. Pragmatism becomes more important than principle and even if a long-term view is held a utilitarian may find ways to attempt to justify just about anything. In particular, so long as something can be shown to benefit a larger amount of people, the individual or minority is fair game to be trampled upon in a utilitarian world. This is fundamentally determental to the cause of individualism.

A fundamental requirement for justice is universality, which is to say a logically consistant application of principles to each individual. Utilitarianism cannot possibly consistantly apply a principle to each individual, for it seeks a numerical maximization of variables in which whoever has the most numbers wins. It turns everything into a numbers game, into a game theory of a sort. There is a fundamental clash between universal justice and bare consequentialism. Universal justice proclaims that certain things are wrong regaurdless of the consequences and regaurdless of the amount of people involved in or benefited by them; even if it's one individual against the world. Utilitarianism, on the other hand, essentially proclaims that anything is right provided that it has good consequences; even if the individual or minority must be forced to sacrifice for a "greater good" (whatever that means).

One's options are as clear as a bell: either ethics are definitive and universal, or they are prone to juxtoposition and subordination based on consequences and sheer pleasure.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

State Interferance

State Interferance by William Gramn Sumner

[Excerpted from "War and other Essays"]

I desire, in this paper, to give an explanation and justification of extreme prejudice against State interference, and I wish to begin with a statement from history of the effect upon the individual of various forms of the State.

It appears, from the best evidence we possess, according to the most reasonable interpretation which has been given to it, that the internal organization of society owes its cohesion and intensity to the necessity of meeting pressure from without. A band of persons, bound by ties of neighborhood or kin, clung together in order to maintain their common interests against a similar band of their neighbors. The social bond and the common interest were at war with individual interests. They exerted coercive power to crush individualism, to produce uni-fortuity, to proscribe dissent, to make private judgment a social offense, and to exercise drill and discipline.

In the Roman State the internal discipline gave victory in contests with neighbors. Each member of the Roman community was carried up by the success of the body of which he was a member to the position of a world-conqueror. Then the Roman community split up into factions to quarrel for the spoils of the world, until the only escape from chronic civil war and anarchy was a one-man power, which, however, proved only a mode of disintegration and decay, not a cure for it. It has often been remarked with astonishment how lightly men and women of rank at Rome in the first century of our era held their lives. They seem to have been ready to open their veins at a moment's notice, and to quit life upon trivial occasion. If we can realize what life must have been in such a State we can, perhaps, understand this. The Emperor was the State. He was a mortal who had been freed from all care for the rights of others, and his own passions had all been set free. Any man or woman in the civilized world was at the mercy of his caprices. Anyone who was great enough to attract his attention, especially by the possession of anything which mortals covet, held his life at the utmost peril. Since the Empire was the world, there was no escape save to get out of the world. Many seemed to hold escape cheap at that price.

At first under the Empire the obscure people were safe. They probably had little to complain of, and found the Empire gay and beneficent; but it gradually and steadily absorbed every rank and interest into its pitiless organization. At last industry and commerce as well as all civil and social duties took the form of State functions. The ideal which some of our modern social philosophers are preaching was realized. The State was an ethical person, in the strictest sense of the word, when it was one man and when every duty and interest of life was construed towards him. All relations were regulated according to the ethics of the time, which is, of course, all that ethical regulation ever can amount to. Every duty of life took the form and name of an “obse-quium”; that is, of a function in the State organism.

Now the most important relation of the citizen to the State is that of a soldier, and the next is that of a taxpayer, and when the former loses importance the latter becomes the chief. Accordingly the obsequia of the citizens in the later centuries were regulated in such a way that the citizen might contribute most to the fiscus. He was not only made part of a machine, but it was a tax-paying machine, and all his hopes, rights, interests, and human capabilities were merged in this purpose of his existence. Slavery, as we ordinarily understand the term, died out, but it gave way to a servitude of each to all, when each was locked tight in an immense and artificial organization of society. Such must ever be the effect of merging industry in the State. Every attempt of the Roman handicraftsmen to better themselves was a breach of the peace; disobedience was rebellion; resistance was treason; running away was desertion.

Here, then, we have a long history, in which the State power first served the national interest in contest with outside powers, and then itself became a burden and drew all the life out of the subject population.

In the Middle Ages a society which had been resolved into its simple elements had to re-form. The feudal form was imposed upon it by the conditions and elements of the case. It was as impossible for a man to stand alone as it had been on the hunting or pastoral stage of life or on the lower organizations of civilization. There was once more necessity to yield personal liberty in order to get protection against plunder from others, and in order to obtain this protection it was necessary to get into a group and to conform to its organization. Here again the same difficulty soon presented itself. Protection against outside aggression was won, but the protecting power itself became a plunderer.

This oppression brought about guild and other organizations for mutual defense. Sometimes these organizations themselves won civil power; sometimes they were under some political sovereign, but possessed its sanction. The system which grew up was one of complete regulation and control. The guilds were regulated in every function and right. The masters, journeymen, and apprentices were regulated in their relations and in all their rights and duties. The work of supplying a certain community with any of the necessaries of life was regarded as a privilege and was monopolized by a certain number. The mediaeval system, however, did not allow this monopoly to be exploited at the expense of consumers, according to the good will of the holders of it. The sovereign interfered constantly, and at all points, wherever its intervention was asked for. It fixed prices, but it also fixed wages, regulated kinds and prices of raw materials, prescribed the relation of one trade to another, forbade touting, advertising, rivalry; regulated buying and selling by merchants; protected consumers by inspection; limited importations, but might force production and force sales.

Here was plainly a complete system, which had a rational motive and a logical method. The object was to keep all the organs of society in their accepted relations to each other and to preserve all in activity in the measure of the social needs. The plan failed entirely. It was an impossible undertaking, even on the narrow arena of a medimval city. The ordinances of an authority which stood ready to interfere at any time and in any way were necessarily inconsistent and contradictory. Its effect upon those who could not get into the system — that is, upon the vagabondage of the period — has never, so far as I know, been studied carefully, although that is the place to look for its most distinct social effect. The most interesting fact about it, however, ig that the privilege of one age became the bondage of the next and that the organization which had grown up for the mutual defense of the artisans lost its original purpose and became a barrier to the rise of the artisan class. The organization was a fetter on individual enterprise and success.

The fact should not be overlooked here that, if we are to have the mediaeval system of regulation revived, we want it altogether. That system was not, in intention, unjust. According to its light it aimed at the welfare of all. It was not its motive to give privileges, but a system of partial interference is sure to be a system of favoritism and injustice. It is a system of charters to some to plunder others. A mediaeval sovereign would never interfere with railroads on behalf of shippers and stop there. He would fix the interest on bonds and other fixed charges. He would, upon appeal, regulate the wages of employees. He would fix the price of coal and other supplies. He would never admit that he was the guardian of one interest more than another, and he would interfere over and over again as often as stockholders, bondholders, employees, shippers, etc., could persuade him that they had a grievance. He would do mischief over and Over again but he would not do intentional injustice.

After the mediaeval system broke up and the great modern States formed, the royal power became the representative and champion of national interests in modern Europe, and it established itself in approximately absolute power by; the fact that the interest of the nations to maintain themselves in the rivalry of States seemed the paramount interest. Within a few months we have seen modern Germany discard every other interest in order to respond to the supposed necessity of military defense. Not very long ago, in our Civil War, we refused to take account of anything else until the military task was accomplished.

In all these cases the fact appears that the interest of the individual and the social interest have been at war with each other, while, again, the interests of the individual in and through the society of which he is a member are inseparable from those of the society. Such are the two aspects of the relation of the unit and the whole which go to make the life of the race. The individual has an interest to develop all the personal elements there are in him. He wants to live himself out. He does not want to be planed down to a type or pattern. It is the interest of society that all the original powers it contains should be brought out to their full value. But the social movement is coercive and uniformitarian. Organization and discipline are essential to effective common action, and they crush out individual enterprise and personal variety. There is only one klud of cooperation which escapes this evil, and that is cooperation which is voluntary and automatic, under common impulses and natural laws. State control, however, is always necessary for national action in the family of nations and to prevent plunder by others, and men have never yet succeeded in getting it without falling under the necessity of submitting to plunder at home from those on whom they rely for defense abroad.

Now, at the height of our civilization and with the best light that we can bring to bear on our social relations, the problem is: Can we get from the State security for individuals to pursue happiness in and under it, and yet not have the State itself become a new burden and hindrance only a little better than the evil which it wards off?

It is only in the most recent times, and in such measure as the exigencies of external defense have been diminished by the partial abandonment of motives of plunder and conquest, that there has been a chance for individualism to grow. In the latest times the struggle for a relaxation of political bonds on behalf of individual liberty has taken the form of breaking the royal power and forcing the king to take his hands off. Liberty has hardly yet come to be popularly understood as anything else but republicanism or anti-royalty.

The United States, starting on a new continent, with full chance to select the old-world traditions which they would adopt, have become the representatives and champions in modern times of all the principles of individualism and personal liberty. We have had no neighbors to fear. We have had no necessity for stringent State discipline. Each one of us has been able to pursue happiness in his own way, unhindered by the demands of a State which would have worn out our energies by expenditure simply in order to maintain the State. The State has existed of itself. The one great exception, the Civil War, only illustrates the point more completely per contra. The old Jeffersonian party rose to power and held it, because it conformed to the genius of the country and bore along the true destinies of a nation situated as this one was. It is the glory of the United States, and its calling in history, that it shows what the power of personal liberty is — what self-reliance, energy, enterprise, hard sense men can develop when they have room and liberty and when they are emancipated from the burden of traditions and faiths which are nothing but the accumulated follies and blunders of a hundred generations of “statesmen.”

It is, therefore, the highest product of political institutions so far that they have come to a point where, under favorable circumstances, individualism is, under their protection, to some extent possible. If political institutions can give security for the pursuit of happiness by each individual, according to his own notion of it, in his own way, and by his own means, they have reached their perfection. This fact, however, has two aspects. If no man can be held to serve another man's happiness, it follows that no man can call on another to serve his happiness. The different views of individualism depend on which of these aspects is under observation. What seems to be desired now is a combination of liberty for all with an obligation of each to all. That is one of the forms in which we are seeking a social philosopher's stone.

The reflex influence which American institutions have had on European institutions is well known. We have had to take as well as give. When the United States put upon their necks the yoke of a navigation and colonial system which they had just revolted against, they showed how little possible it is, after all, for men to rise above the current notions of their time, even when geographical and economic circumstances favor their emancipation. We have been borrowing old-world fashions and traditions all through our history, instead of standing firmly by the political and social philosophy of which we are the standard-bearers.

So long as a nation has not lost faith in itself it is possible for it to remodel its institutions to any extent. If it gives way to sentimentalism, or sensibility, or political mysticism, or adopts an affectation of radicalism, or any other ism, or molds its institutions so as to round out to a more complete fulfillment somebody's theory of the universe, it may fall into an era of revolution and political insecurity which will break off the continuity of its national life and make orderly and secure progress impossible. Now that the royal power is limited, and that the old military and police States are in the way of transition to jural States, we are promised a new advance to democracy. What is the disposition of the new State as regards the scope of its power? It unquestionably manifests a disposition to keep and use the whole arsenal of its predecessors. The great engine of political abuse has always been political mysticism. Formerly we were told of the divine origin of the State and the divine authority of rulers. The mystical contents of “'sovereignty” have always provided an inexhaustible source of dogma and inference for any extension of State power. The new democracy having inherited the power so long used against it, now shows every disposition to use that power as ruthlessly as any other governing organ ever has used it.

We are told that the State is an ethical person. This is the latest form of political mysticism. Now, it is true that the State is an ethical person in just the same sense as a business firm, a joint stock corporation, or a debating society. It is not a physical person, but it may be a metaphysical or legal person, and as such it has an entity and is an independent subject of rights and duties. Like the other ethical persons, however, the State is just good for what it can do to serve the interests of man, and no more. Such is far from being the meaning and utility of the dogma that the State is an ethical person. The dogma is needed as a source from which can be spun out again contents of phrases and deductions previously stowed away in it. It is only the most modern form of dogmatism devised to sacrifice the man to the institution which is not good for anything except so far as it can serve the man.

One of the newest names for the coming power is the “omnicracy.” Mankind has been trying for some thousands of years to find the right ocracy. None of those which have yet been tried have proved satisfactory. We want a new name on which to pin new hopes, for mankind “never is, but always to be blessed.” Omnicracy has this much sense in it, that no one of the great dogmas of the modem political creed is true if it is affirmed of anything less than the whole population, man, woman, child, and baby. When the propositions are enunciated in this sense they are philosophically grand and true. For instance, all the propositions about the “people” are grand and true if we mean by the people every soul in the community, with all the interests and powers which give them an aggregate will and power, with capacity to suffer or to work; but then, also, the propositions remain grand abstractions beyond the realm of practical utility. On the other hand, those propositions cannot be made practically available unless they are affirmed of some limited section of the population, for instance, a majority of the males over twenty-one; but then they are no longer true in philosophy or in fact.

Consequently, when the old-fashioned theories of State interference are applied to the new democratic State, they turn out to be simply a device for setting separate interests in a struggle against each other inside the society. It is plain on the face of all the great questions which are offered to us as political questions today, that they are simply struggles of interests for larger shares of the product of industry. One mode of dealing with this distribution would be to leave it to free contract under the play of natural laws. If we do not do this, and if the State interferes with the distribution, how can we stop short of the mediaeval plan of reiterated and endless interference, with constant diminution of the total product to be divided?

We have seen above what the tyranny was in the decay of the Roman Empire, when each was in servitude to all; but there is one form of that tyranny which may be still worse. That tyranny will'be realized when the same system of servitudes is established in a democratic state; when a man's neighbors are his masters; when the “ethical power of public opinion” bears down upon him at all hours and as to all matters; when his place is assigned to him and he is held in it, not by an emperor or his satellites, who cannot be everywhere all the time, but by the other members of the “village community” who can.

So long as the struggle for individual liberty took the form of a demand that the king or the privileged classes should take their hands off, it was popular and was believed to carry with it the cause of justice and civilization. Now that the governmental machine is brought within everyone's reach, the seduction of power is just as masterful over a democratic faction as ever it was over king or barons. No governing organ has yet abstained from any function because it acknowledged itself ignorant or incompetent. The new powers in the State show no disposition to do it. Nevertheless, the activity of the State, under the new democratic system, shows itself every year more at the mercy of clamorous factions, and legislators find themselves constantly under greater pressure to act, not by their deliberate judgment of what is expedient, but in such a way as to quell clamor, although against their judgment of public interests. It is rapidly becoming the chief art of the legislator to devise measures which shall sound as if they satisfied clamor while they only cheat it.

There are two things which are often treated as if they were identical, which are as far apart as any two things in the field of political philosophy can be: (1) That everyone should be left to do as he likes, so far as possible, without any other social restraints than such as are unavoidable for the peace and order of society. (2) That “the people” should be allowed to carry out their will without any restraint from constitutional institutions. The former means that each should have his own way with his own interests; the latter, that any faction which for the time is uppermost should have its own way with all the rest.

One result of all the new State interference is that the State is being superseded in vast domains of its proper work. While it is reaching out on one side to fields of socialistic enterprise, interfering in the interests of parties in the industrial organism, assuming knowledge of economic laws which nobody possesses, taking ground as to dogmatic notions of justice which are absurd, and acting because it does not know what to do, it is losing its power to give peace, order, and security. The extra-legal power and authority of leaders over voluntary orgenizations of men throughout a community who are banded together in order to press their interests at the expense of other interests, and who go to the utmost verge of the criminal law, if they do not claim immunity from it, while obeying an authority which acts in secret and without responsibility, is a phenomenon which shows the inadequacy of the existing State to guarantee rights and give security. The boycott and the plan of campaign are certainly not industrial instrumentalities, and it is not yet quite certain whether they am violent and criminal instrumentalities, by which some men coerce other men in matters of material interests. If we turn our minds to the victims of these devices, we see that they do not find in the modern State that security for their interests under the competition of life which it is the first and unquestioned duty of the State to provide. The boycotted man is deprived of the peaceful enjoyment of rights which the laws and institutions of his country allow him, and he has no redress. The State has forbidden all private war on the ground that it will give a remedy for wrongs, and that private redress would disturb the peaceful prosecution of their own interests by other members of the community who are not parties to the quarrel; but we have seen an industrial war paralyze a whole section for weeks, and it was treated almost as a right of the parties that they might fight it out, no matter at what cost to bystanders. We have seen representative bodies of various voluntary associations meet and organize by the side of the regular constitutional organs of the State, in order to deliberate on proposed measures and to transmit to the authorized representatives of the people their approval or disapproval of the propositions, and it scarcely caused a comment. The plutocracy invented the lobby, but the democracy here also seems determined to better the instruction. There are various opinions as to what the revolution is which is upon us, and as to what it is which is about to perish. I do not see anything else which is in as great peril as representative institutions or the constitutional State.

I therefore maintain that it is at the present time a matter of patriotism and civic duty to resist the extension of State interference. It is one of the proudest results of political growth that we have reached the point where individualism is possible. Nothing could better show the merit and value of the institutions which we have inherited than the fact that we can afford to play with all these socialistic and semi-socialistic absurdities. They have no great importance until the question arises: Will a generation which can be led away into this sort of frivolity be able to transmit intact institutions which were made only by men of sterling thought and power, and which can be maintained only by men of the same type? I am familiar with the irritation and impatience with which remonstrances on this matter are received. Those who know just how the world ought to be reconstructed are, of course, angry when they are pushed aside as busybodies. A group of people who assail the legislature with a plan for regulating their neighbor's mode of living are enraged at the “dogma” of non-interference. The publicist who has been struck by some of the superficial roughnesses in the collision of interests which must occur in any time of great industrial activity, and who has therefore determined to waive the objections to State interference, if he can see it brought to bear on his pet reform, will object to absolute principles.

For my part, I have never seen that public or private principles were good for anything except when there seemed to be a motive for breaking them. Anyone who has studied a question as to which the solution is yet wanting may despair of the power of free contract to solve it. I have examined a great many cases of proposed interference with free contract, and the only alternative to free contract which I can find is “heads I win, tails you lose” in favor of one party or the other. I am familiar with the criticisms which some writers claim to make upon individualism, but the worst individualism I can find in history is that of the Jacobins, and I believe that it is logically sound that the anti-social vices should be most developed whenever the attempt is made to put socialistic theories in practice. The only question at this point is: Which may we better trust, the play of free social forces or legislative and administrative interferenceP This question is as pertinent for those who expect to win by interference as for others, for whenever we try to get paternalized we only succeed in getting policed.

Frank Chodorov on Class Struggles and Systematic Inequalities

"...the real struggle that disturbs the enjoyment of life is not between economic classes but between Society as a whole and the political power which imposes itself on Society. The class-struggle theory is a blind alley. True, people of like economic interests will gang up for the purpose of taking advantage of others. But within these classes there is as much rivalry as there is between the classes.When, however, you examine the advantage which one class obtains over another you find that the basis of it is political power. It is impossible for one person to exploit another, for one class to exploit another, without the aid of law and the force to back up the law. Examine any monopoly and you will find it resting on the State. So that the economic and social injustices we complain of are not due to economic inequalities, but to the political means that bring about these inequalities.If peace is to be brought into the social order it is not by accentuating a class struggle, but by restraining the basic cause of it; that is, the political power." -- Frank Chodorov

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Tensional Values

An interesting topic is which cultural values are compatible or incompatible with libertarianism. On one hand, some Libertarians such as Walter Block maintain that libertarianism does not require any particular cultural values, that cultural questions are irrelevant to libertarianism. On the other hand, other libertarians believe that libertarianism will require some rather specific cultural values in order to be sucessful. Perhaps a position somewhere in between the two is the most sensible.

Libertarianism is, in a sense, profoundly cosmopolitan, which is to say that people of all sorts of cultural and religious backgrounds can co-exist under libertarian principles and accept them. It is possible for libertarians to disagree sharply with eachother in their cultural world-views while remaining entirely consistant with libertarian principles. A libertarian can be an atheist, a Christian, a racist, an anti-racist, an urbanite, ruralite/country-dweller and so on. So long as such groups persue their ends within the context of non-aggression, they are perfectly compatible with libertarianism.

On the other hand, it is undeniable that certain cultural values may be more or less conductive to libertarianism. Some cultural values, while in theory not violations of libertarianism, may produce tension. A cultural value that produces tension can theoretically co-exist with libertarian principles, but there is a danger of the cultural value in question overriding libertarian considerations. In other words, some particular cultural tenets may lead some people to abandon the libertarian means towards desired ends. On the other hand, perhaps certain cultural values more easily lead people to application of libertarian principles than others.

So what particular values are tensional with libertarianism? And which may more easily lead to libertarian conclusions? Let's take a look at some cultural values and see how compatible or incompatible they are.


There are many religious libertarians, if anything simply because of the fact that most people are adherants of a particular religion. There is nothing inherently contradictary about being a religious libertarian so long as one persues their religious beliefs and advocacy within a voluntary context. Since religion is a highly interpretive thing, some people interpret their religions in a manner that sanctions a voluntary ethic, and may even interpret it as a sanction for anarchism (I've seen some rather intrigueing intepretations of Jesus as an anarchist).

On the other hand, religions clearly have an authoritarian history. Religions may be prone to encourage absolute obedience to religious authorities, which has the potential to produce tension with libertarianism as it may manifest itself in politics as well. In many ways, religious institutions can be viewed as political institutions, and historically they have by the very least engaged in patronage with states. Religious zealotry may very well lead some people to support coercive measures against non-believers or wars, and hence abandonment of libertarianism.

Psychologically speaking, a belief in a god is in many ways comparable to belief in a state. Religious fatalism, which is the idea that a diety controls all of our fates in a deterministic manner, can easily lead to political fatalism, which is the idea that the state controls our fates in a deterministic manner. Furthermore, people's religious beliefs are easily exploited by political figures in order to obtain obedience and participitation. In many ways, religions can be viewed as the spawn of states, for historically states have both created and relied upon religious beliefs in order to maintain their power, even to the extreme of regaurding the prime political leader as literally being a god.

While religion can exist within a libertarian paradime, a libertarian society quite likely would experience a gradual diminishing in religious belief, or at least religious institutionalism, and given enough time it may even lead to the end of organized religion as we know it in a considerably long-term context. Already in our modern world, people have become more secularized, to the extent that medieval-style religious traditionalism isn't too popular even among many religious people. At least in the western world, while it has some proponents to be sure, religious traditionalism, absolutism and literalism is on its way out.


While many right-wing libertarians may protest the idea, there is nothing contradictary per se between certain types of communalism and libertarianism. It is true that libertarianism is generally an individualist phenomenon, but there are people who have some rather socialistic economic values that are willing to work within a voluntarist context. If someone genuinely wants to go form a hippie commune or an entirely worker owned firm in a libertarian society, so long as it is done voluntarily there is nothing we can do to stop them outside of persuasion. In this sense, it is possible to have "libertarian socialism", although the term does seem quite contradictary taken at face value.

On the other hand, these collectivistic values may very well tend to produce some tension with libertarian principles. Very few socialists, even of the anarchistic variety, are actual voluntarists. On the contrary, most of such people actively advocate expropriation of the means of production by workers and the deliberate use of violence. Since they have adopted Karl Marx's fallicious class analysis, anyone who is identified as being within the capitalist class is apparently subject to having their property taken from them by the masses at large, if not murdered. Thus, all sorts of aggressions are condoned by such people.

Afterall, how can a universal ban on the initiation of aggression be mantained when who exactly is the aggressor cannot be properly ascertained? If all people of relative wealth and success are considered as being aggressors, then aggression against them suddenly becomes "justified" as a defensive or retaliatory action. If one genuinely believes that the factory equipment is the rightful property of all the workers of a factory, and it currently is in the control of a buisiness owner, then the initiation of force against the current owner of the factory becomes condoned. The violent methods by which communists tend to persue the end of their "worker's revolution" are clearly incompatible with libertarianism.


Territorialism is a person's identification with a particular territory of land beyond that which they actually control. That is to say, people's identification with their town, their state and their nation is territorialism, for the individual is identifying themself with a territory that is external to them. Territorialism does not refer to, for example, one's sense of ownership of one's own home, for one's own home actually is an extension of oneself in a sense. The term territorialism refers to a sense of an extension of oneself over areas that clearly are not. At face value, this may seem innocent enough, but a closer look reveals some potential problems that can arise from this way of thinking.

This way of thinking may lead people into thinking of themselves primarily as members of groups as opposed to independant individuals, and thus it tends towards groupism. It leads people to speak of an entire territory as if it actually were theirs, or as if it actually were collectively owned by everyone. For example, the simple statement "my country" taken literally implies that you actually own the entire territory of the country. And if one acts as if they own the entire territory, they will be prone to try to exercise control over that which is not really theirs to exlude people from entering or making use of their "country" or "community".

Consequentially, territorialism may lead people to condone aggressions against others in the name of the "nation" or "community". This can most clearly be seen in some people's attitudes towards immigration, as well as the ideology that leads some people into support their government's wars, under the notion that the state is protecting their "country" against a bad-guy "country". But this becomes mighty anthropromorphic, treating territories of land as if they were individuals, while simultaneously ignoring the diversity of traits between the people within a given territory of land. This way of thinking has lead many well-intended people down an unlibertarian path.


It may come as a surprise to some, but it is theoretically possible to be a libertarian racist. They aren't the majority, but they exist. Technically so long as they persue their racism within a voluntary context, it is completely compatible with libertarianism. They can refuse to invite or allow racial minorities onto their property all they want under a libertarian order. What they cannot do is use the law towards these ends or control what other people can do with their own property with regaurds to racial interrelations.

Unfortunately, especially for their victims, the vast majority of racists are not willing to work within a voluntary context. The history of racism is filled with the use of the government to enforce a separatist policy onto society, lynchings and the general use of force against racial minorities. Much in the same way that many communists cannot resist condoning violence against "capitalists", for the most part racist groups are all about institutionally engaging in coercion or force against the racial groups that they do not like.

In a libertarian order, a racist policy from a buisiness standpoint is suicidal. Consequentially, racial separatism, to the extent that it may exist at all, would be highly disincentivized and unpopular. In a Spencerian sense, people have fortunately developed more and more "moral sense" with respect to racial relations, and in a libertarian order there is no reason why this trend will not continue until racism is little more than a thing of the past. People have nothing to gain by isolating themselves from eachother in the way that racists desire.


In many ways, tolerance could be viewed as a prerequisite for libertarianism, for one must be able to tolerate voluntary relationships between people of all sorts of different religious beliefs, ethnicities and so on. A sense of tolerance most certainly can lead one to see why there is something wrong with forcing disagreeing groups to associate or disassociate with eachother. Indeed, in order to be a consistant libertarian, one must be able to tolerate a whole host of things that one may disagree with so long as they are voluntary. As the old Voltaire saying goes, "I disagree with what you say, but will fight for your right to say it".

On the other hand, there is a sense in which tolerance can be taken too far. What if someone's cultural practises includes something that blatantly involves the initiation of aggression? What if the sacrifice of children is involved in a given group's cultural or religious practises, against the will of the children? Why should such a thing be tolerated? If the basic non-aggression principle is accepted, then logically one must oppose such things. It doesn't make sense to be tolerant just for the sake of it. There may come situations where tolerance breaks down as a value. Barring that, it does seem to be quite conductive to libertarianism though.

Agrarianism and Environmentalism

Obviously, there is nothing contradictary between libertarianism and a rural lifestyle. One could choose to live a rural life as one pleases. There is also nothing contradictary between libertarianism and desiring an environmentally safe and naturalistic lifestyle. This too would be nothing but a voluntary choice. If one wants to live the life of a hermit, or cabin-life in the woods, or a teepee in the middle of the desert, one is perfectly free to go do just that in a libertarian order. And the developement of environmentally sound technology is perfectly compatible with libertarianism, and indeed can only genuinely arise as a consequence of the market.

A potential problem that may arise from a rural world-view is opposition to the advancement of industry and technology, and urban growth, and thus one may be lead to become rather luddite. The term "burgeiosie" could be seen as coming from the term "burg", which means city. The rise of cities and industrialization was in some ways opposed by rural people historically, for it represents a move away from their traditional way of living. A luddite attitude may develope among those with a naturalistic or rural world-view, in which technology is viewed as corrupting. Consequentially, an urge arises to supress or destroy technology. Combine this attitude with the means of modern politics, and we have a potentially dangerous phenomenon indeed.

The ideology of contemporary environmentalism is very troublesome because it seems, at base, to be opposed to industrial living and modern technology itself. Industrial civilization is portrayed as inherently destroying the planet itself and infinitely corrupting of the human soul. While it is theoretically possible to hold such irrational views and persue environmentalist goals within a libertarian context, contemporary environmentalists tend to wish to impose their ideals on everyone else. Most modern environmentalists clearly have a political agenda and are not willing to keep it personal and voluntary.


So after overviewing the possible tensions that certain values may create, what particular values may be potential prerequisites for a libertarian social order? I would say the following: a healthly dose of cultural tolerance or cosmopolitanism, a sense of aterritorialism/non-territorialism, secularism (one can technically be a secular religious person), individualism and industrialism. These things may not necessarily be absolute requirements, but it seems to me that they are much more conductive to a libertarian order than ideologies such as racism, communalism and religious traditionalism. With the advancement of technology, a sense of modernity seems necessary. With the inevitable intermingling of ethnicities, a sense of racial tolerance seems necessary. With the process of secularization, liberation from the constraints of religion seems necessary. And with the increased decentralization of society, aterritorialism seems necessary.