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Libertarianism

Libertarianism and Conservativism – foes or friends?

F.A. Hayek at the end of his “Constitution of Liberty” (1960) wrote “Why I am not a Conservative” – which is odd as Hayek had (perhaps without knowing it) a good grasp of what actually is a positive conception of conservatism, and a poor grasp of libertarianism.

Hayek rejected the word “libertarian” as “artificial” which is just as well as he was not a libertarian – philosophically or politically.

Philosophically Hayek was a determinist (like so many 19th century and early 20th century thinkers, he assumed that “science” mandated determinism). Hayek took David Hume literally (whether Hume should really be taken literally is a hotly contested issue), the “I” (the human person) is an illusion, as is human choice – a thought does NOT mean a thinker (a reasoning “I”) and as there is no agent (no human being – no reasoning “I”) there is no agency (no free will), actions are predetermined by a series of causes and effects that go back to the start of the universe – and humans (who are not beings) can do no other than we do (we could not have done otherwise – as choice is an illusion).

Politically Hayek claimed to an “Old Whig”, but is hard to see how his philosophical views are compatible with the Whig point of view – which was based on the MORAL value of human free will (it is not an accident that David Hume was not a Whig) . The determinist (such as the Thomas Hobbes) holds that “freedom” is just an absence of external restraint – for example when a dam fails the water is “free” to rush out and destroy towns and so on. “Freedom” (in the determinist view) is not a matter of moral choice (remember choice is an “illusion”) so “freedom” is like taking one’s hand off a clockwork mouse and letting this clockwork mouse go around on the floor. It is hard to see how this “freedom” can be of any moral importance at all – if any view of politics can be based upon it would be a politics of tyranny (exactly the politics that Hobbes did base upon it), after all walls of water from broken dams (and so on) does not sound very nice.

Still does Hayek say anything else about his politics? Yes he does – again in the “Constitution of Liberty” we are told that he supports the “limited state” not the “minimal state”, because (according to Hayek) the minimal state can not be defined and the limited state can be defined.

Hayek is just wrong – the minimal state is easy to define (although very hard to achieve or maintain – an anarchist would argue impossible to maintain or achieve). The definition of a minimal state is one that just uses force only against the violation of the non aggression principle (attacks on the bodies or goods of people or groups of people). It is actually the “limited state” that is hard to define. Limited to what?

Hayek does make some vague efforts to define the “limited state” – for example he says that such a state applies “general rules” that apply to everyone.

O.K. then – everyone is to have their head cut off. Is that a good example of a “limited state”?

Hayek also says that a limited state does not seek to have a monopoly of any service.

O.K. then – everyone but the children of Mr Smith of 25 Silver Street to go to a state school?

Unfair example? O.K. – how about the state hands education and healthcare “free” (at the expense of the taxpayers), but you are free to pay twice (i.e. pay again on top of taxation) to go private? Is this the limited state?

How about you can go to any doctor you like and send your children to any school you like, but the state pays the bill (no matter how big it is), is that the limited state?

Such a state (one that seeks to provide or pay for education, healthcare, old age provision and on and on) will end up spending half the entire economy (and still fail). That does not sound very limited or sustainable – and Hayek (in his attack on the Welfare State) shows he understands this. However, his “limited state” is not defined in a way that prevents it.

Oh dear this post seems to have turned into “why Hayek is crap” which is unfair as anyone (even the best of us) looks terrible if one just concentrates on errors and weaknesses. I will leave the above out if I ever give a talk on this subject (because it sounds terribly negative) – but it needed to be put on record.

So why is Hayek (perhaps without knowing it) insightful about Conservatism?

Hayek’s own definition of Conservatism (given in “Why I am Not a Conservative”) is not good. He just defines it as being opposed to change – so (for example) a North Korean conservative now would be a socialist (or that is the system they have) and a British conservative I (say) 1870 would be a free market person – as this was the system of the time.

Whatever Hayek may have believed that is not a serious definition of Conservatism. But Hayek (again perhaps without knowing it) does give a description of Conservatism – in “Constitution of Liberty”, “Law. Legislation and Liberty” (and other works).

Cosmos not Taxis – spontaneous order (evolved over time) not top down planning. What Hayek called the results of “human action not human design” (it would be have been better to say the results of voluntary action not forced action – but Hayek had philosophical problems with even voluntary design).

Or (in the language of the conservative writer M.J. Oakeshott) a Civil Association not Enterprise Association, a Societas not a Universitas.

Institutions and customs that evolve over time often without people knowing the reasons they are useful – till they are broken.

As Tolkien’s (Tolkien being a Catholic Conservative) character “Gandalf” puts it in the “Lord of the Rings” – “he who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom”.

This is what Conservatism is about – a preference for evolved custom and ways of doing things (ways of living) over imposed “rational” planning by the state.

The state (in the Conservative view) is like the Thrain of the Shire (Tolkien’s) and the Mayor.

The Thrain does nothing in peacetime (in war it is different) – he just farms his estate. And the Mayor is the leading figure at formal dinners (like those of the old Closed Corporations that were the only “urban local government” before the Act of 1835 in England and Wales), he does not order folk about. Families govern their own affairs and do not attack each other (police forces were not compulsory on the counties of England and Wales till 1856). There is plenty of (moral – traditional) authority, but little naked “power”.

I think it is obvious show this view of Conservatism is close to libertarianism (hence “Tory Anarchist”) – a friend not a foe. But is it tied to Hayek and his philosophical opinions?

No it is not – which is why I mentioned Oakeshott and Tolkien (two Conservatives with very different philosophical opinions to Hayek). Both Oakeshott and Tolkien believed in free will (agency – moral responsibility, the ability to choose to do otherwise).

Even in the 18th century Conservatives did not follow the philosophical opinions of David Hume (again IF they were his opinions – I repeat this is hotly contested). Neither the Tory Conservative Dr Johnson or the Old Whig Conservative Edmund Burke (a real Old Whig – unlike Hayek) accepted determinism and the denial of human personhood (moral choice – the ability to choose to do otherwise). Edmund Burke and Dr Johnson (the Whig and the Tory) both believed in free will (agency – moral responsibility, the ability to choose to do otherwise) and were moral universalists (not just Dr Johnson – but Edmund Burke also, for the T. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson view of his is totally wrong, to Burke it did not matter if something happened in the Middle Ages or right now, in India or America – right was right and wrong was wrong).

Is this the only view of Conservatism?

Of course not – there are other views of Conservatism. For example the statism of Disraeli (with his life long commitment to “social reform” – yuk).

However, that is hardly “doing nothing” (against those who do not themselves aggress against others). The Tauist Old King Log sitting in the shade – rather than Young King Stork “helping” his subjects by eating them.

Bill Clinton is right – the U.N. will prove to be a lot worse than the NSA.

Bill Clinton may be a crook (well forget the “may be” – he is a crook), but that does not mean he is not right – indeed it gives him an insight into corrupt minds. And not being in the service of a political ideology (being an “honest thief” rather than a “bitch” [a servant of the Soviets] – in the language of GULAG) he has no reason not to say what it is going on.

We now see what the Edward Snowden thing was really about (as well as giving the FSB some tips in the cyber war – stuff they most likely guessed at anyway). It was about discrediting United States control of the internet – thus giving Mr Obama an excuse to do what he always wanted to do. Hand over control of the internet to the United Nations international telecommunications union (read Russia, China and the Islamic powers). The NSA just wants to know what you are saying – the new masters of the internet (with no pesky First Amendment) will want to stop you saying it.

Was Mr Snowden just a useful idiot – or an FSB agent all along? I do not know – but the censorship of the internet (not practical under American control of the internet) is now a real possibility. Barack Obama may get his dream (control of speech – by P.C. doctrine) by the back door of the “international community”.

The young people (the ones who nod their heads at the “libertarians” on Mr Putin’s “Russia Today” television station) will not (yet) believe me. But the NSA (and yes the CIA also – people such as Mike Baker who risked his life so many times for young people who think he is a “Fascist”) were not the enemy (they never were). They (the NSA and the CIA) were not out to censor you. It is your “saviours” (the people you hero worship) who want to censor you.

“We are techno people, no censorship will work on us” – oh you silly people, that is not what censorship is about. Censorship is about the average person not seeing something.

How Not to Be a Libertarian

I put the money quote in boldface ….

‘Anyone advocating government officials or anyone else coercively taxing some people against their will and giving that money to others [is] guilty of advocating coercion and intimidation. Such people are not libertarians based on the ZAP criteria.

Such people are also guilty of fraud if they claim to be “libertarians.”’

–Commenter Garry Reed | December 7, 2013, 9:36 pm

…in response to the posting ‘U.S. “Libertarians” Debate Basic Income,’ which links to several pieces, pro- and not-so, on the topic by various Shining and Less-Shining Lights. These include a podcast interview by somebody at Cato of our pal Zwolinski, whose allegedly libertarian heart regularly bleeds, though not for people who think charity and justice are two different things, and also a piece by somebody at Reason, who tells us how much less demeaning such a program would be. (I guess people are still, underneath it all, not proud of being unable to look after themselves — not even in the face of catastrophe.)

I thought this last article might be a satirical debunking of the idea, but no such luck.

The War against Eastasia: Theatre: The Paranoid Style in Libertarianism

Single Acts of Tyranny proposes to tyrannize us by destroying our fondest dream, which is that hell is the creation of the Devil which takes the form of bringing to Humanity that most desirable of conditions, happiness and joy — O hell, World PEACE, happiness and joy — by denying us everything that any human being could possibly need or want. In this case, the sense of physical sweetness that sugar brings us.

Now along comes Perfesser “Nudge” Sunstein, who says, “No such thing”: It’s all the woolly-minded Paranoid Libertarians, who broadcast to us the Sirens’ wail in the form of warnings against such things as slippery-slope arguments, plus four more dreadful paranoid ploys.

On the other hand, the Comments to the articule (what an apt typo! think I’ll leave it) seem to be running rather heavily against what they see as the Prof’s muddying of the waters.

Actually, it’s my observation that as soon as you let the meaning of words (that is, their meaning in Standard English, since there does have to be a standard for interpretation somewhere or “it’s deuces wild”) — as soon as you let the meaning of words become unmoored from their core meaning in Standard English, you are deep into the territory of the Slippery Slope and worse. Mr. Whittle did a wonderful illustration of how this works, on a Trifecta a few years back. If you have a “standard” as opposed to “basic” (but still paid) membership, I think it is, you can still watch it.

But I’m O/T there. The point is that ANY argument can, in my experience, be stretched to prove anything whatsoever, if you have just the teensiest bit of imagination. And Lefties are loaded with it, as long it informs them that their plans will work so well that they should just naturally have the final say.

Go, read — including the Comments, until you get bored: there are 288 of them so far, some meaty — and be Enlightened.

PS: Acts, no offense. That first line is my idea of humor. I do like your idea of putting 5 kg. of sugar in jail, though. Maybe it work to help me lose a little around the hips. :>)

It’s A Wonderful Life… Comrade.

It is one of the best loved Christmas movies of all time, (it’s certainly one of my top five favourite films) but back in 1947 it was being accused of being Communist propaganda because the Banker character Potter, is portrayed as an evil money grubbing bottom line Capitalist. A bit far fetched for me I’m afraid.

Capitalists have never had a good Press have they? Can anyone name me a film or book where a Banker is the hero?

“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? no it’s Venture Capital Man and he has saved the day again! With his timely injection of cash the Dam was repaired, the Valley saved from flooding and all our children can sleep easy in their beds, well fed and prosperous for evermore. You’re my hero Venture Capital Man!”

It just doesn’t happen, does it?

Now don’t get me wrong, McCarthy was right ( if rather too paranoid and heavy handed), Hollywood was stuffed full of Luvvy Communists who were trying to push a Marxist agenda, but they were not hugely successful in getting the message across, because the essence of most films is the triumph of Good over Evil. The White hats win and the Black hats lose, it’s pretty crude at best, but hey that’s entertainment. What’s important is that the little people like us, the ones who provide the bums on seats, feel that we are on the winning side. However small and insignificant our lives that if we have friends and family who love us, and who we love back and help out when the going gets tough, then we are as important and consequential as Kings and Queens.

PS. You will notice on reading the article that Ayn Rand is mentioned as sitting on a committee that reported to the House Un-American Activities Commission. She gave evidence personally. Now quite what an upfront Libertarian is doing reporting to J Edgar Crossdresser and McCarthy is beyond my understanding of her Libertarianism. I wouldn’t have gone near Big Government witch trials myself. But then I have never read her and very likely never will. In fact the few details of her life and circle that I know of, I know for certain that she would never have been a friend of mine in real life. Do click on the link at the bottom of the Mail article, very illuminating.

So it only leaves me to say… for the day is almost upon us… A very Happy Christmas to all the Kitties that Kount, all our faithful Commenters, and yes to you, as yet unannounced, Lurkers in the Dark. Happy Christmas one and all!

Kenyan fiddling with a kid.

Sex attacker is confronted by his victim in Kenyan court… a female GOAT (and he is jailed a record ten years for ‘defiling’ it)

defiling the goat? He’s not precisely covered himself in glory has he either? I mean it might have been a very attractive goat – to other goats but… it’s a goat.

A man who was jailed for 10 years for having sex with a female goat came face-to-face with his victim in a Kenyan court.

The goat watched quietly from the corner of the court room in Malindi while Katana Kitsao Gona, 28, was jailed for bestiality.

I’m really not sure about this story. It is quite possibly the first time he came (oh, er missus!) face to face with said beast. My vague understanding (and I could be very wrong) is the only critters who have sex face-to-face are humans and bonobos. Personally I don’t think he ought to have got chokey. Surely the stare of the goat* and his naming and shaming is enough? I mean that happened a few years back to a bloke from Hull who was caught molesting a goat by a railway line. He was fined (the goat was deemed OK by police vets) rather than ten years in the tank but his career was ruined. He was a chef. Well, who is going to employ a chef who sodomizes goats? And it is sodomy by pretty much any rational definition. Call me odd and all but sex with another human regardless of gender is like whatever. Shagging a goat is basically not OK. Do I have to explain why? And why the Mail has to state prominently that it was a female goat is beyond me. I suppose you just shouldn’t shag the nanny.

Anyway, on with this tale of utter depravity…

According to Jimmy Kimaru, chief prosecutor, Gona was caught sexually assaulting the goat in a bush.

It really doesn’t get better than that. Some of us dream of Brad Pitt or Keira Knightley on a Caribbean beach and some of us fuck goats in the backwoods of Kenya. Admittedly a female goat but quite frankly that doesn’t make a quantum of WTF to me. And why did this vile crime happen?

Gona, who pleaded guilty, told the court his wife is disabled and depends on him daily. Despite this, the judge jailed him for a record 10 years for ‘defiling’ the animal.

Well, as I said before some crimes are in a sense their own punishment. This is a very libertarian stance. Would you employ the goat-fucker of Malindi? No and neither would I. If you were his wife would you not seek a divorce? Obviously you would! There is not a court on the planet that would deny you. I mean an affair with another human might be forgiven but screwing a goat in a bush is simply unforgivable.

And now we get onto arguably the meat of the deal. I think the Dr Who character of Captain Jack is interesting. He is frequently described as “bisexual” but he is is actually “omnisexual” and I think calls himself that. So why does that matter here? He fancies males and females of every bipedal, thinking, speaking race in the Universe. OK, I’m fine with that but a goat is different. What is clever about Captain Jack is a couple of things. The first is there is very little hint in Dr Who of interspecies pregnancies (I’m gonna get called on that) and in that respect it is much more on the biological money than Star Trek (score one for the Brits!) but it acknowledges that sex is not just about procreation. And it acknowledges another thing. If one accepts that (and some don’t) then you have to face a tricky question and Captain Jack answers it very well. He is prepared to fancy different species so therefore he can’t see gender as that important. I think that is interesting. Obviously Captain Jack would never fuck a goat but he kissed both The Doctor and Rose. I guess what I’m getting at is that interspecies sex is acceptable in a fantasy setting (think Beren and Luthien) iff (not an sp) the species are roughly comparable and able to give informed consent and stuff. In short an Elven princess is one thing and a goat is quite, quite different.

Seeing as there is a species difference either way I’m not entirely sure if I can make a solid point here and I have to just really on the “yuk” factor to a certain extent here but… let’s face it making love to Arwen in the Royal Bedchamber of Minas Tirith beats the Hellskis out of goat-fucking in a bush in Kenya.

Pretty much anything beats that. The last time I had a filling beats that.

Quotes from The Mail.

*Goats have nasty stares. I recall an incident on a Greek island in the ’90s when I was surrounded by goats and the leader of the pack – a big billy with horns poised at my scrotum gave me a vile stare. I thought it about to charge and de-bollock me but then the goatherd turned-up. I have rarely if ever been more pleased with a Greek fellow entering stage left. I had also accidentally nearly troden on a snake about ten minutes before which was seriously nonplussed. Beautiful island but full of things that wanted to kill me.

Liberty Hall

A Bertram Chandler, the aussie science fiction writer, has a reputation as a supporter of liberty second only to RAH.

A lot of this is based on his character Captain John Grimes, who welcomes people into his home with:

Come In. This is Liberty Hall; you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard!

Now, while this is laid back and relaxed, is it really a statement of liberty? Is spitting on someone’s mat a statement of freedom, or of contempt?

Why be rude about their cat?

Isn’t this an invitation to licence, rather than liberty?

How William James of Harvard helped undermine moral responsiblity – agency.

Most libertarians (and conservatives) have some idea of the harm Harvard University (in spite of the good elements that have always existed there) has done to the United States and (by extension) the rest of the West.

For example, Harvard (via its relationship with Cambridge in England) helped push Keynesian “economics” thus undermining real economics – and leading to the credit bubble nightmare the world now faces.

Before this Harvard Law School actively discouraged study of the text of the Constitution of the United States and the other writings (showing the intentions) of those who wrote that text – pushing the study of “case law” instead, thus undermining constitutional limitations on government power in the United States.

It is true to say that both in economics and law many other American universities followed the example of Harvard – because of its prestige (based, in part, on its being the first American university and its vast resources).

However, before the harm it did in economics and law, Harvard did great harm in the study of human beings themselves (in what was called the study of the “nature of man”) – in philosophy and psychology.

Once American philosophy had been dominated by those who believed and defended three great principles.

The objective nature of the physical universe.

The objective nature of good and evil.

And the ability of humans to choose between good and evil – that humans were beings (agents) that they had the capacity (if they made the effort – a big “if”) to choose good and reject evil.

Both the Aristotelians who dominated Catholic education and the “Common Sense” thinkers who dominated Protestant education (sometimes called followers of “Scottish philosophy” of John Reid and so on – although the principles go back to 17th century thinkers such as Ralph Cudworth and before).

Harvard took the lead in attacking these principles – by the rise of the American “Pragmatist” School.

The “Pragmatists” are best summed up in the words of William James (one of the leading members of the group) “the right is just the expedient in our way of thinking” – and by this William James meant both “the right” in the sense of truth (there was no objective truth – whatever it was useful to be “true” was “true”) and in the sense of “good and evil” (right and wrong – in both senses), to the Pragmatists objective good and evil did not exist – they were “myths” just as objective truth was a “myth”..

The European “philosopher of violence” Sorel, was later to make use of this doctrine of “useful myths” – what did it matter if one told lies (to incite violence) if truth and lies did not really exist? If what was “true” was just what was “useful” to  the cause.

Mussolini did the same thing – what did it matter if both reason and evidence had refuted socialism? So much for reason and evidence! He might move from strict Marxism (because it was too easy to refute – at least for people who believe in such things as objective truth), but his new form of socialism (“Fascism”) would do – it would be based upon “myths”  and if there was no objective truth. lying was O.K. (indeed a new “truth”).

One can even see this in the writings of the Oslo murderer (he wanted his name to be famous – so I never use it) – William James was his most favoured philosopher (on his Facebook page – before it was taken down). So what if the people he murdered were unarmed kids – if his “truth” was that they were armed foes, and he was a “Knight Templar” was not his “truth” as valid as the “truth” of anyone else? And was not his “good” (murdering unarmed kids) not as valid as the “good” of anyone else?

Not even religious people were immune from the spell of William James – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out, one was more like to hear the name William James than Saint James in the Churches of the Progressives.

How can it be objectively wrong to murder millions of helpless people – if there is no such thing as objective wrong (or objective right)? Besides it is not convenient to try and save the helpless people being murdered – one might be hurt (or even killed) trying to save them, so it may be “your truth” that they should be saved, but it is not “my truth”.

Besides “modern scientific thought” had “proved” that one could not choose between good and evil (which do not objectively exist anyway) – choice is an “illusion”, one is really controlled by impersonal social forces of “class” and/or “race” in one’s “historical period”.

The Schoolmen (the scholastics) had been fond of saying “natural law is the law of God – but if God did not exist natural law would be EXACTLY THE SAME” – the “new” way of thinking (actually this evil is as old humanity – but I will not go into this here) held that natural law (right and wrong, good and evil) did not really exist for the religious or for atheists – and that (even if they did exist) humans were not beings (not agents) and could not choose between them anyway – choice (morality) being an “illusion”.

Thus the fury (righteous fury) of Dietrich Bonhoeffer with the “Christians” who either murdered the innocent (after all “what is innocence?” said the smooth talking scum) themselves, or stood by and did nothing as the innocent were murdered in front of them.

And it was not just in Germany. in the United States the eugenics movement was welcomed by the “religious progressive” – both the holding down and cutting up of women for being “inferior” (only Justice Pierce Butler, the “arch reactionary”, voted against forced sterilisation – the other eight Justices on the Supreme Court thought it was fine) and even plans to actively exterminate the “inferior” – even if this “inferiority” was actually a “useful myth”.

And even if is evil (although objective evil does not exist……) we do not “really” choose our actions – choice is just an “illusion” (so it is not my fault that I pushed these children into the gas chamber and then murdered them).

But how did William James (and his “intellectual” friends) undermine moral responsibility – agency. the courage to choose good and reject evil? To stand against the “social forces”?

How did the philosophy (and the psychology) of “Common Sense” thinkers such as James McCosh (the once famous President of Princeton) and Noah Porter (the once famous President of Yale) get replaced?

One looks in vain for in “Psychology” (1892) for a formal refutation of (for example) Noah Porter’s “The Human Intellect: With An Introduction Upon Psychology And The Soul” – which, before the work of William James, was the standard work on psychology in the United States. Indeed the name “Noah Porter” is not even mentioned in the book.

Instead we get this……..page 457 “Psychology” by William James (1892).

“But a psychologist cannot be expected to be thus impartial, having a great motive in favour of determinism. He wants to build a Science; and Science is a system of fixed relations. Where ever there are independent variables, there Science stops. So far, then, as our volitions may be independent variables, a scientific psychology must ignore that fact, and treat of them only so far as they are fixed functions. In other words, she must deal with the general laws of volition exclusively; with the impulsive and inhibitory character of ideas; with the nature of their appeals to the attention; with the conditions under which effort may arise, etc.; but not with the precise amounts of effort for these, if our wills be free, are impossible to compute, She thus abstracts from free-will, without necessarily denying its existence. Practically, however, such abstraction is not distinguished from rejection; and most actual psychologists have no hesitation in denying that free-will exists.”

The word “psychology” goes back to Ralph Cudworth in the 17th century – the great defender (against Thomas Hobbes) of human agency, the great denier that humans were just machines (not beings). And. by the way, the great attacker of the “chopping up” of the human mind between “will” and “reason” ( a perhaps mistaken practice of the scholastics). Noah Porter (the most famous writer on psychology in America ) had only died a couple of years before this book by William James was published, James McCosh (the great “Common Sense” philosopher) was actually still alive (he died in 1894). Reason (agency) had defenders (at that time) in almost every university in America – yet William James comes out with this tissue of lies – and that is what (thanks to Harvard – and its influence) future generations of students would be taught.

I will now translate what William James wrote into English – I will give its “practical” sense, to use his term. “Practically” (without his cowardly evasions – such as “without necessarily denying its existence”).

Humans are not beings, human volition (agency) does not exist. Humans are just machines – all of whose actions are predetermined. There is no real “choice” (it is an “illusion”). There is no moral difference between a human and a clockwork mouse. And we need not be concerned with enslavement of humans by the state – because humans are slaves (indeed machines – not beings) by nature anyway.

The utter denial of human freedom – no agency, no moral responsibility.

The victory of evil – total and absolute.

That is at the heart of modern academia (of “Nudge” by Cass Sunstein and all the rest of it) – and it came long before (indeed was the cause) of the corruption of such things as law and economics.

Why should humans make the great effort (suffer the terrible pain) required for agency (for standing against evil) if this is impossible? If humans are not really beings (not really agents) at all.

This is the heart of evil.

Our Enemy, The State

Our enemy, the state

“It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.

– Henry L. Mencken, 1926 

The above is one of the opening quotations in Albert J Nock’s 1935 classic “Our enemy, the state” and to my mind this single phrase along with the above quotation typifies my current view of the increasingly statist world within which we are forced to exist (I will not say “live”).

I am well aware that this viewpoint, while being common among libertarians, is very much at odds with the propagandised masses that surround us, who see the state as a beneficent or at least benign entity which would deliver an earthly utopia if only it weren’t for x, y or z. (more…)

The New Shadow

JRR Tolkien started writing a sequel to the Lord of the Rings.

I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Sauron], but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless – while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors – like Denethor or worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow – but it would be just that. Not worth doing.

I think that says as much about our World as Middle Earth. No moment of triumph ever lasts. It’s a second law of thermodynamics for societies.

Roger Donway and Robert Bradley on Gabriel Kolko and Libertarianism

Roger Donway is at The Independent Institute, along with, among others, economist Robert Higgs and the unspeakable Anthony Gregory. On the other hand, Stephen Halbrook, the eminent Second-Amendment advocate, used to be there and maybe still is.

The two gentlemen do move in Objectivist circles, however. Here’s the first part of a short Atlas Society article introducing their paper.

In a new article, “Reconsidering Gabriel Kolko: A Half-Century Perspective,” Robert Bradley and Roger Donway explain why libertarians should not embrace the views of historian Gabriel Kolko.

. . .

September 16, 2013 — In 1963, Gabriel Kolko revolutionized the then-prevalent understanding of American business history with his book The Triumph of Conservatism. In it, he disputed the Progressive historians’ narrative of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, specifically, their assertions that the economic legislation passed between 1887 (the Interstate Commerce Act) and 1914 … had been enacted to restrain the power of the large new corporations…. Kolko argued instead that the legislation had actually been passed at the behest of the large new corporations, in order to protect them from a gale of competition that they could not otherwise withstand. ….

Kolko’s interpretation was eagerly embraced by many libertarians, following Murray Rothbard’s endorsement of it in 1965. Kolko, Rothbard said, had pulled down the two pillars of Progressivist history: that big business was the friend of free enterprise and that the Gilded Age was an era of laissez-faire capitalism. ….

They may tek our lives but they’ll nivver tek us seriously!

The BBC News is leading on the story that in exactly a year the pale folk up Norf get to vote on dissolving the Union. Well, like, whatever. I don’t care. If King Alex of Pies wants his fiefdom then so be it as long as the rest of us don’t have to pay for the woadsters (is the woad even historically accurate?) to create a Socialist Celtic Wonderland. In any case it is utter gesture politricks (not an sp) because NewScotland(TM) will of course be de facto be as economically tied to England as ever – even though they have pandas. You simply can’t sever those ties easily and they are the real ties that bind – between individuals and companies and such. It’s like imagining Norway can be truly independent of Sweden, or Canada from the USA.

Now don’t get me wrong. This post is not really about Scottish Independence which is a bizarre idea in an increasingly globalised planet (or maybe not – the only branch of government I trust is my parish council – so, perhaps smaller political entities is the way ahead) but this blanket coverage of what is in many ways a non-issue (we’re not going to get “Checkpoint Alex” in Berwick or rebuild Hadrian’s Wall (don’t tell Micky Gove – it’s the sort of deranged thing he’d like – teaches Classics and gets the proles doing something)).

No, this post is about something deeper. It is the absurd attention that the TV News (I’ll betya Sky weren’t better) pays to politics. And it ain’t just us. I was last in the USA in 2006 and a certain chap I’d never heard of was everywhere on the TV. You might know of him – he’s now the President. He was being hyped more than two years before the election. Now regardless of your feelings about Mr Obama that is ridiculous and so is this. As I said, this is irrelevant. We have a Scottish contributor here, Sam Duncan. Now we, obviously, don’t agree on everything but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts if we met we’d probably talk more about the late and lamented Commodore Amiga computer than who pays for prescription charges in Fife. Shallow? No. Real. We hear a lot in the blogosphere about stringing ‘em up etc but the cruelest and most effective treatment for the political class is to ignore them. They’d rather be flayed over a gun-carriage than have me or you just go, “Yeah, like, whatever…” You can argue the Midlothian question or whether there ought to be a separate Scottish team at the Rio Games in 2016 until you are blue in the face but, “Sam, do you think Atari would have developed the Amiga better…” is more interesting. The really big questions are the small ones. Politicians only make their stuff important because we let them. And the mirage of Scottish independence is a prime example. Note it is exactly a year from now that Scotland goes to the polls. It will be the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Now if that isn’t gesture politics then I’m a Dutchman!

Does anyone care? Hell’s teeth! When I was in the USA in 2006 I visited amongst other things the Capitol which the Redcoats torched (using the contents of the Library of Congress as kindling) during the War of 1812. Like who cares anymore? I didn’t do it – honest! It’s quite possible ancestors of mine fought at Bannockburn though I neither know nor care upon which side. This is not to dismiss history but to put it into context and not keep on trotting it out like Basil Fawlty with German guests.

And here is something that barely scrapped the news yet really puts our minor squabbles over flags and such into genuine context – this summer our species achieved something remarkable and in the grand scheme a much bigger deal than arguing the toss over the EU-specified meat-content of a haggis or whatever excruciating minutiae the pols raise to rarefied heights of significance. Voyager I passed the Heliopause. There is now a man-made object in interstellar space. Now that is important (and more to the point cool) and makes the ambitions of Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon (why so fishy?) look utterly petty. Or to quote John Nance Garner* (he was speaking about the US Vice Presidency – that he held), “It’s not worth a pitcher of warm piss”.

Similarly, I have never for the life of me understood Ireland and it’s “troubles” (how delightfully euphemistic). I guess they were “solved” by giving Gerry Adams** a ministerial Jag rather than a cell in the Maze Prison which of course says much about the venality of politicians. No, I never did understand Ireland. If we consider one substantive issue (i.e. not the colours flying over Stormont) like, say, abortion then surely there would be a meeting of minds between staunch Catholics and staunch Presbyterians? So why the agro? Neither of them were up on birth-control or queers so they ought to have gotten along like a house on fire which I suppose in a twisted sense they did. I know many, many people died (frequently horribly) in Ireland over the decades but this anecdote sums it up for me. I gleaned this gem from a documentary many years back. Apparently you set off a fertilizer bomb using sulphuric acid and the best thing to keep that in is apparently a condom which is then ruptured for the kaboom! OK. I’ll take their word for it only ever having used condoms for the more traditional reasons but being “good Catholics” debate erupted amongst the IRA as to the use of “immoral objects” to achieve their moral goals such as indiscriminate killing and maiming. The lack of seeing the big picture here is astonishing. As a side-light it is also illuminating as to assigning morality to objects. I can’t help but feel there is some sort of connexion with the gun-control nuts. A gun is neither moral nor immoral. Going on a rampage in Mumbai is immoral. Shooting a rabid dog in the way Atticus Finch did is the right thing to do. Morality is not about means but desire. With a box of matches you can burn a Rwandan village (and its inhabitants) to ash but you can also light a cooking fire for the refugees. Nobody said life was about easy decisions. Nobody but politicians anyway. They are far too eager to legislate and then call the problem a done one. Just look at the “War on Drugs”.

There is an uncomfortable truth here. Being good and decent is not about law as such (would you rape, rob or murder even if there were no laws against such acts?) it’s about being good and decent and whether you get that from a holy book or just knowing (I suspect there is a large cross-over) morality is not legality. It is not statutes, laws nor all the rest. It is generally fairly basic and obvious***. And that is what is uncomfortable. Like Voyager I in the interstellar cold we have to let slip the surly apron-strings and no amount of politics and minimum booze prices or smoking bans or warnings on fatty food or campaigns against sexual harassment shall do that – just plain decency out of the creche – and yeah it’s a tough one to wave nanny goodbye.

Arguably such laws are counter-productive but the simple truth is that being fair, decent and honest is internal because if we are worth anything we are moral agents, not subjects. It is that simple and that hard. It is why (and I’ve lived in some rough areas – but not here, not now) I implicitly trust my next-door neighbour with my keys and we have hers. Perhaps politicians don’t get this simple truth. Laws can’t force the “good” whether it be a ban or a nudge or whatever. You just are good. Or not. Or most likely a “bit of both”. Yes, the morality of actions can be difficult to judge. That is partly why such judgements matter. Morality matters because we aren’t just Skinner’s pigeons. Politicians don’t understand this. They have the hubris to believe they can perfect the human condition. They can’t (clearly) and neither can we but we can get much closer than they because in a sense we don’t believe. Politics is almost entirely grand-standing. If I were ever in a position to employ folks then would I give a toss about whether or not they were gay, straight, male, female, black, white, Muslim, Christian or Jew… No! If they could field-strip a Dell and tell me what was wrong with it then bingo!

That wasn’t as much of a digression as I had feared.

I regard myself as a libertarian almost not as a political position or even an anti-political position but as orthogonal to politics. The title of this post (despite wrapping itself in a second-hand version of a third-hand Scottish flag – must be a bit tatty by now…) has nothing really to do with Scotland. It’s about the bigger picture. It’s about what freedom really means. Nationalism (of any form) is just a crib-sheet for freedom devoured by politicians. We know better. Don’t we?

We are star-dust that has just started to flirt with the Galaxy and the BBC witters on about Scottish Independence? I like Scotland (when it isn’t raining****) or I’m being eaten alive by midges and it will still be there however the vote goes. It is obviously of supreme importance to the sort of people this sort of thing is of supreme importance to but if, for example, I asked Sam to recommend a Linux distro would it matter? No. Of course not! -

See how irrelevant this is to us all? And see how nasty making it so is?

And Voyager I just projs on!

It’s like the final scene in “Antz” where the CGI pans out to show the anthill is just a little mound in Central Park in NYC.

*A contrary sod but let one of his enemies extol his virtues. In Congressional testimony, union leader John L. Lewis described him as “a labor-baiting, poker-playing, whiskey-drinking, evil old man”. Gets my vote!
**Perhaps the most bizarre graffiti I ever did see was in the gents of the George Green Science Library, University of Nottingham, “I’d sleep with Gerry Adams but I’d be thinking of Martin McGuinness”. God knows!
***Yes, I appreciate there are complexities here. Especially in terms of things like IP and contract law and such and such.
****Living near Manchester that is very important.

All your knickers are taxed by us!

But, if you think about it, that is true of all commodities. They are all composed of essentially indestructible base materials, which are always scarce to a degree and which would cause inherent problems if they all wound up being owned by a small group of people in the future. There is nothing particularly special about land, other than the fact that it is one of the easiest commodities to “harvest” in terms of labour input and that laying claim to it is inherently visible.

If you are against private ownership of land, you are against private ownership of all commodities.

- Jaded Voluntarist, Samizdata commenting on a post about Land Value Tax.

I agree with JV but would go further. It appears to me the basic argument for LVT is to kind of force people to be “productive” with their assets. It seems it takes almost a moral view on this. I don’t know in what sense JV meant “commodity” but I see no reason, if you accept the LVT logic, not to extend this argument to all property from a heap of coal (a commodity in the technical sense) to things that aren’t commodities but just “stuff people own”.

Let’s say you own a helicopter. Why not, by the LVT logic, should you not pay Air-transport Value Tax on the chopper because you might decide to use it to run an air-taxi business? Well, why not? Those hundred acres you own might similarly be used to raise crops, build houses or whatever in exactly the same way.

So, you don’t have a hundred acres or a whirly-bird but I bet you have a computer? So why not Website Development Tax on the basis of owning a computer?

To take it to a sort of reductio ad absurdam in terms of possessions – what of underwear? You might have those frillies and posing pouches for purely personal reasons but that doesn’t mean they can’t potentially be used to pursue a career as an “exotic dancer” (or similar) any less than the hundred acres of land be used to enter into organic market-gardening? So why not just tax them the same way?

My point here is that if the mere ownership of land can can be taxed on the basis of it’s perceived economic potential then so can everything else. The LVT principle means an undermining of the entire principle of private property whether the mightiest of estates or the skimpiest of g-strings.

PS. And before anyone starts… I appreciate foxy underwear doesn’t last as long as land but in much the same way your underwear drawer’s contents need maintaining with a continual influx of expenditure so does property if you want to maintain the value of either.

Who is John Galt?

“I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

CCiZ is not really a forum for book reviews, but to try and introduce myself without reference to my nom de guerre, the fictional John Galt, hero of Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic novel of libertarianism Atlas Shrugged is impossible.

I know that many readers of CCiZ have not read “Atlas Shrugged”, due to being put off by the sheer impenetrability of Ayn Rand’s prose, which is torturous at best and diabolical at worst. In fairness, I agree…but it beats Dan Brown any day.

Suffice to say that John Galt was a freedom fighter in a dystopian vision from half a century ago that increasingly resembles the world we live in today, especially the United States. (more…)

Brian Micklethwait: Libertarianism is Simple to Describe But Not Simple to Argue For

Speaking of “The Alternative Bookshop,” get some more popcorn (RAB is excused, as he prefers plastic peanuts). Here, in the unlikely event someone has missed it, are some of Brian Micklethwait’s ideas about why Libertarianism may be unappealing. (Not to give anything away, but I too decided awhile back that people are scared to death of freedom.) He goes on to discuss the success in at least spreading the idea of Libertarianism.  42 minutes.

 

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