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.

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