Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Synthetic and Imperial View of Freedom

Does the government "invent" and "give us" our rights (legal positivism), or as the declaration of independance implies, our rights are self-evident and pre-existing and at best all a government can do is recognize that pre-existing right and abstain from violating it (legal naturalism)? Either rights are special privilidges granted by the government that can be revoked at whim (at which point it ceases to be any right at all), or they are something that we inherently possess by virtue of being human beings with self-ownership and property.

Those are the two basic opposing views on rights. Either freedom is a naturally arising thing, or freedom is something that government invented synthetically. These are the two diametrically opposed views on the nature of government: does society create government, or does government create society? I hold that society and government are two separate entities, and society precedes a government. The classical liberals, including the founding fathers, leaned heavily towards the position I am taking. They largely rejected the positivist and synthetic view of freedom.

Since I am an individual human being that controls myself, and therefore presumably my liberty is my own, then my liberty derives from my own faculties as an individual. This implies, first and foremost, self-ownership. And if I am a self-owner, only I can therefore enforce this in practise, by applying my faculties to the best of my ability. The positivists and statists deny all of this, for the implication of their view is that I cannot exersize such faculties without having them being given to me by a government, as if government literally invented human rationality and capability itself. But the entire notion is contradictary. Someone's liberty cannot be both their own and synthetically created by someone else at the same time.

The synthetic view of freedom and society blurs the distinction between society and government. It acts as if a society is molded in the absolute by the government, rather then taking the view that the government is something created by society. To the legal positivist, society is therefore seen as a synthetic thing to socially engineer, to mold like clay. It is simply assumed that society does not contain any capacity within itself for order or cooperation, and therefore it must be controlled dictatorially as if it were a canvas for the central planner to paint on as they please. To the positivist, society can be "planned" in the absolute.

But this is a highly mistaken view of the nature of society and government. Society is simply a statistical aggregate, a concept, meant to describe a group of individuals. It is government that is the artifice. Society is a natural order that is the necessary result of the need for individuals to band together as to cooperate in order to ensure survival and overall well-being. As such, society arose out of a self-organizing principle. Government came into the picture long after society formed itself. Society created governments. Governments were not always there, as if they were grand inventors that magically created society. The positivists therefore have the nature of social evolution entirely backwards. First, there is the individual, then there is the family, then there is the tribe, then there is the city, and so on. It is not the reverse, where first there is government, and we work our way down to the individual.

Not only is society a self-organizing entity, but as it evolves it becomes harder and harder to centrally plan. This is precisely because of the spontaneous nature of societal order. It is impossible to manage society from the top-down. Positivists are fooling themselves if they think that they are actually capable of centrally managing a modern economy. It has become so complex that it is impossible for a single central entity to be able to keep track of all of the variables involved. An economy is something that naturally arises to begin with out of (1) homesteading of previously unused and unowned property and (2) consequential exchange between property titles that were brought into existance by homesteading and production from the fruits of the homesteading. It is absolutely fallicious to believe that an economy is the artificial creation of an institution such as a government.

It is not because of the existance of a government that people decide to cooperate with eachother. People cooperate with eachother because if they did not, if everyone were completely isolated from eachother, with no interaction at all, everyone would simply die. The human race would have simply never come into existance. Social cooperation is a necessary result of existance itself. If men and women did not band together to form families, then procreation would not have occured. If people did not engage in production and trade with eachother, then there would be no way for them to efficiently obtain food, clothing and shelter. In short, there is a natural incentive towards cooperation. The alternative is non-existance.

It should be clear on this basis that it is impossible to synthetically create social cooperation. It is impossible to synthetically create a family, an economy, a society. Someone cannot be artificially made into a free person, they already are a free person by virtue of their nature as a social animal. Someone cannot be given a right to property, they already have a right to property. Someone cannot be given a right to self-ownership, they already are a self-owner. This is what is meant by the terms "natural rights" and "natural law". It is expressly not synthetic. It is natural. It arises as a consequence of human nature itself.

The synthetic, positivist view of freedom is commonly manifested in the notion that someone wouldn't have the right to critisize the military if it weren't for the military fighting for their right to say it in the past. It is a blatantly statist premise that I'm not allowed to critize my government "because people fought and died so that you can say that"; this is a reoccuring disingenuous tagline that people use to shoot anyone down critical of their government, especially military policy. But it is wrong. No, my ability to freely speak derives entirely from my faculties as an individual, not from any external force or group.

The sentiment in question is a false conclusion driven from a false premise. The false premise is the idea that "the troops" are currently defending our rights, or have done so in past offensive wars. This is, of course, not the case at all. The false premise is the notion that one's ability to express freedom would not exist without some deliberate action of people in the past to grant me this ability, such as in some anchient battle. But obviously, my actual abilities of expression derive only from me. In many ways, this is a crude from of ancestor worshop at best. But the people being refered to are most likely not my ancestors at all, so it is even further removed from the nature of reality than this.

This conservative idea that liberty comes from the military is one of the grand obfuscations of government. My liberty derives from my nature as an individual human being. My liberty does not derive from the altruistic sacrifices of other people towards the goverment's wars, to causes that I myself may disagree with to boot. The military power is not synonomous with liberty. The military power, more than any other institution, has been than grand violator of liberty, for it possesses the ultimate means of force by which state power is obtained, retained and expanded.

Consider those who argue that America's current foreign policy is "defending our freedom". It takes quite a perversion of the meaning of freedom in order to buy into such a notion. To begin with, if it protects my freedom, then why can't I not pay for it? And here we get to the paradox of the militaristic arguement for freedom: they have to violate my freedom, in the name of protecting their own flawed conception of freedom. That is, I am not free to abstain from being forced to be allegedly "free". But if I am forced, then obviously I am not free. This continues endlessly in logical contradiction.

The idea of forcing people to be free is orwellian indeed. Many defenders of the Iraq war do not only assert that it defends my freedom (by allegedly keeping me safe from "the terrorists", a claim that is factually absurd when one looks at the empirical facts) but that it is in defense of the freedom of the victims themselves, of the Iraqi people. It shouldn't take much thinking to see what's wrong with this idea. The military invaded their territory, regaurdless of their consent or rather lack thereof. The very definition of being free, of having rights, is based on consent. Rights had to be violated in order for the invasion to take place. Empire and freedom are two diametrically opposed principles. The idea that through government we can make foreign people free is nothing but a large-scale consequence of the flawed belief that governments are where our own freedom comes from domestically.

The entire idea that we can use military occupation and nation building to "spread freedom" is an oxymoron. Freedom cannot be forced onto people, they have to choose it. They have to express it themselves. They have to assert their rights themselves, free of compulsion in either direction. People cannot be bombed into freedom. You cannot give someone else rights. They already have them, and only need to assert them. If you enact force on someone in the name of "helping them", one is in reality harming them by violating those rights that they already have. It's like punching someone in the face and then claiming that you're defending them.

The military complex is a violator of freedom by its very nature as an institution. It is founded in force. Coercion is its means. Everything that it does is at the barrel of a gun. It is the great big gun in the room, so to speak. It is the government's ultimate means of enforcement of coercion. Its aim is to destroy, not to create. It results in the mass destruction of human life and property, and human life and property are the very things that freedom derives from. If the individual, if human life, is our unit of value, then militarism and empire is the ultimate destructor of value. If the fundamental right is the right to life and property, then war is the ultimate violation of rights.

One of the biggest problems of politics is the perversion of language. The meaning of words is warped and even reversed into their polar opposite. Forcing systems of government on foreign people is asserted by politicians as being freedom. The meaning of rights is twisted as to imply coercive positive obligations with respect to other people. A right is improperly defined as something that is given to you, and therefore you owe allegiance to others, some power structure, for bestowing something upon you that you allegedly did not already possess the capacity for in yourself. Freedom, therefore, is defined in a manner identical to slavery.

This is the moral crises of the modern world. A lack of understanding as to the nature of freedom. Only when people properly understand what freedom is will they be able to gain it back from those who have taken it away from them. The choice between slavery and death is no choice at all. Freedom at the point of a gun is no freedom at all. But freedom is not just a pipe dream. It is something that can be brought into fruition in all of our lives, if only we properly identify it.


Brainpolice said...

Just to clarify: no, I do not buy into any romantic "noble savage" deal, just emphasizing that social cooperation and organization is a naturally arising thing, not something that the government invented, not something that coincides with the rise of larger and more centralized government. It's not as if from time immorial there was centralized government that magically invented property, cooperation and rights. In this sense the synthetic and positivist view of freedom simply turns government into a diety.

Of course there was no anarchist utopia in the past. The early stages of our social evolution were much more brutal in many ways because we lacked adequate knowledge and technology. Tribal societies do not represent anarchy but merely a localized and primitve state; and even more tyranny in the sense that it is so direct. Stefan Molyneux made a podcast recently (which can be listened to here: on the matter makes alot of sense. Tribal societies look nothing like what a modern anarcho-capitalist society may look like.

Also, as was alluded to somewhat in my comments about central planning, my historical view is the opposite of romantic, it's actually "progressive" in that I see the complexification of knowledge, the accumulation of capital and improvement in technology to possess an inertia that makes central planning fail worse and worse, and therefore social progress requires more decentralization to the point where there is no government. Kind of Spencerian. Basically, every single improvement of society, wether that be increased knowlege or the expansion and improvement of technology and markets (which all go hand in hand), brings about a state of affairs where it is more and more impossible and unecessary to centrally manage it.

To the extent that government still exists is the extent that people have not adapted to the improvements, have not yet quite adopted the moral sense necessary for them to come to full fruition. Therefore, the solution is to work on spreading moral sense about the populace. Basically, social power has not yet caught up with state power; but it is constantly advancing creepingly despite state power. Once it does catch up with state power, state power will be forced to diminish to the point of non-existance. The only thing stopping the state from collapsing is people's belief in it.

Brainpolice said...

Thomas Paine essentially made the very overall point about social organization that I am making, as he wrote in "The Rights of Man" (1792):

"Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their law; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government."