Previously, I have written on my blog and on social media concerning rights and all the things surrounding rights in common discourse. As far as I can tell, I have not written the word “right” in quite a while… and I’ve only mentioned it a few times out-loud in private conversations as I explored the ideas I am planning to write on, today.
Today, I want to begin a frank discussion of rights. Given my self-imposed word limit and general mental constraints, I want to ask and contextualize three questions and make one follow-up (potentially) controversial statement. One may be able to trace the evolution of my ideas alluded to in previous posts to where I am now by reading though my published posts and the book-exclusive material, and one certainly could do so if they know me on social media or in-person; regardless, this is where I am at in my exploration of the concept of rights. So now, some questions:
What function does the concept of rights serve?
What is the ontology or metaphysics concerning rights?
Are there more philosophically resilient alternatives to the concept of rights?
I will save my statement for later.
Rights seem to be a shorthand for ethical and moral reasoning. In classical texts I’m familiar with, “rights” are less a concern than they tend to be in modern and postmodern texts. As a matter of fact, when the Greeks and Romans addressed concepts that look like “rights”, they tended to focus more on what the term “privileges” covers in the modern age: a liberty granted to an individual or group by the guy(s) in charge. In a lot of ways, moral and ethical argumentation either had everything to do with virtue and ignored rights entirely, or centered entirely on one’s responsibilities as derived from one’s privileges. In the middle-ages, the concept had evolved slightly so as to include what amounts to “privileges granted by God”; a prime example would be the so-called “divine right of kings” or the liberties taken by the Church.
In the 1700’s, there was a major shift in popular philosophy. With the sudden explosion of productive technologies (such as the printing press and general industry), the subsequent decentralization of cultural production and consumption, and the sub-subsequent weakening of governmental power, certain theories that were only whispered about in the middle ages became widely popular. One such set of theories would be those of classical liberalism; another would be social contract theory; and one more example would be the rise of secular humanism.
One theme that was central to all three of those sets of theories was this niggling question: “If our rights aren’t derived from the king’s (or God’s) permission, how can morality exist?” The answer that seems to have won out in the marketplace of ideas is the straightforward, “People have rights because they are people, just because. Rights are something intrinsic instead of some contingent set of permissions.” Given how liberalism, democracy, and humanism have played out over the last few centuries, I doubt anyone with a basic understanding of modern history could honestly deny that the answer provided above is fraught with pitfalls. Even the SJWs demanding that free college, getting paid just for existing, and having permission to murder one’s offspring are intrinsic rights, just because, will tell you that people are mis-applying the concept.
Ultimately, every application of rights I am familiar with revolves around the essential question(s): “What can I get away with and what am I entitled to?” This is the reason I say it seems to be the case that rights are used as shorthand for ethical and moral reasoning; the focus of the rights discussion seems to be largely the same focus of ethical argumentation in general. If I have a negative right (the moral claim to be exempt from some obligation or another), such as the right to be left alone, that would mean that I “can’t get away with” harassing others (because they have the same right). If I have a positive right (the moral claim to be served by others), such as medical care, that would mean that anyone who can provide me with medical care is obligated to do so.
Depending on the theory, rights derive their ontology from different underpinnings. Some theories posit that rights are God-given, others posit that rights are brute facts, yet other theories posit that rights are derived from the general acceptance of society, and on and on. I think this diversity of suggestions is a result of the above discussed function of rights. Ethics and morality are, by their nature, abstract. Ethics and morality don’t make things happen in the world, at least not directly; they are descriptions of how one ought to act, but they don’t make someone act in a particular way. Rights, as a shorthand for parameters of acceptable human action are at least equally abstract. Where one can observe an apple falling in the orchard and posit a theory as to the mechanisms by which such an event occurs and the regularity with which such an occurrence is likely, one does not have the opportunity to observe a right and speculate as to the mechanisms by which the right accomplished its end.
Instead, more often than not, a philosopher or political activist will ask themselves, “What do I want to achieve? By what mechanism can I empower people to give me what I want and disenfranchise those who would get in the way of my goals?” This may sound like a very cynical take on Locke, Montesquieu, Smith… but one must remember that “What I want to achieve” may in fact be “peace on Earth and goodwill towards (wo)men” or some other fruitcake ideal. Upon answering these questions, the strong zeitgeist of rights becomes a valuable tool in accomplishing those ends. One need only come up with a source of rights that is compatible with one’s pre-existing ontological commitments and promotes one’s agenda.
Of course, this cynical reading of the history of philosophy presents a series of arguments concerning rights that have more to do with sophistry and political theory than it does with a genuine pursuit of Truth. If one were to make a genuine attempt to ground rights in a reliable ontological or metaphysical framework, I imagine it would look a lot like the cases made by a number of Rothbardian philosophers. Unfortunately, the level of abstraction required to make a case for the existence and nature of rights rivals the cases for the existence and nature of God. I only have enough bandwidth for one God-level case at a time, and people should know by now which one I’ve taken on. Instead, I just want to point out that a theory of rights which anchors itself in some moral or ontological case needs something metaphysical which lacks direct interaction with the physical world, some sort of platonic realism, and a theory of rights which anchors itself in utilitarian or sociological cases results in a utilitarian ethical framework which is sufficient to replace a similar doctrine of rights altogether.
So, what if a grounded theory of rights is better just left as an ethical framework without the concept of rights? Well, for one, doing so effectively neuters the ongoing social justice commentary as well as the general statist narratives wherein people claim positive rights which must be produced by state slavery. Additionally, It expedites certain discussions within and without my particular school of thought when one focuses on the principles and facts available which concern themselves with issues most people refer to as “rights issues”. What I mean to say is that the rhetoric and traditions of rights may only muddy the waters if there is an equally or more philosophically resilient alternative.
Despite the likelihood of being accused of all manner of character flaws, such as that of being a materialist, being a nominalist, or of being some sort of pagan or atheist, I think we can ground any discussion of “rights issues” in a far more easily defined and effective set of terms and principles. For example, I believe Hans Hermann Hoppe’s premises for argumentation ethics obtain nicely. One such premise is that private property is an inescapable feature of the human condition; the very fact that one has access to and control over one’s body demonstrates the principle of self-ownership in a way that cannot be abrogated by any instance or degree of criminal trespass or chemical interference.
So, ever the quintessential AnCap, I think that exploration of the logical, physical, and metaphysical features of property will sort out all of the issues commonly presented as “rights issues” and will, more often than not, produce results that jive with rational intuition. For example, a good portion of the classical liberal “negative rights” are the immediate logical consequent of the nature of property: the right to secure oneself against coercion, murder, and theft is less a “right” and more a natural result of the nature of self-ownership; If I own my body (and by extension that which my body produces), given the definitive quality of property that is “exclusivity”, I may exclude others from use of that property by whatever means that does not involve trespass on my part. There: without “rights”, I’ve established the justifiability of self-defense and, due to the universal nature of property, have also denied the justifiability of trespasses such as murder, coercion, and theft.
If there were any rationally defensible claim to what is often called a positive right, an argument for such a claim could be made stronger by avoiding a discussion of rights, itself, and focusing on the reality of property, instead. Perhaps the most defensible claim of positive rights is that of the Catholics: the “right to life”. For example, a “right to life” can not be taken seriously, lest it result in absurdity given the above alluded to discussion concerning the relationship between positive rights and state slavery. Death is inevitable, so to have a right to escape such an inevitable phenomena would require that mankind collectively devote every resource available to the discovery of immortality which would, itself, result in the deaths of everyone involved.
Instead, acknowledging the unborn human’s ownership of its body, the propertarian obligations of a landlord (or, in this case, a mother), the degree of action either is able to engage in, and other features of property and the human condition would result in positions which directly parallel the traditional positions of the Catholic Church concerning abortion, evictionism, self-defense, euthanasia, and care for the elderly. As an added bonus, such an activity would demonstrate the absurdity of the “right to choose”, “right to birth control”, and etc.
The time has come for my controversial claim (as if this hasn’t been controversial so far). The Catholic Church made a grave error in adopting the enlightenment-era’s rhetoric concerning rights. I kinda’ already alluded to that claim in the last section of the post, but I think it is important enough to warrant explicit attention. In engaging a secular humanist agenda on its own flawed terms instead of continuing its pursuits in determining the truth of the matter, the Church made itself more popular in an adversarial world. In the process, though, it laid the groundwork for the current social and ethical battles it finds itself buried under. That is not to say that the Doctrinal positions of the Church, or even the moral and ethical teachings of the Church as a whole are inaccurate, but it is to say that the use of flawed theories and terminology obfuscates the veracity of those teachings. Because of this obfuscation, it is not an unfair accusation to blame the SJWs on the Church and to point out that the Church has backed itself into a corner concerning the pursuit of knowledge of creation (most noticeable of which being economics). This mistake can be rectified if teachers and clergy make a concerted effort to pursue truth as opposed to political expedience… but how long it will take to do so is very much a live question.
TL;DR: Rights, in their most resilient formulation can best be described as “temporary privileges granted by the guys in charge” or, alternatively, “an ethical or moral shorthand for determining justification of actions”. There are a number of frameworks in which people try to ground rights and accomplish the ends for which the have created those rights, some are more reasonable than others, but they all present issues I do not believe can be resolved. Additionally, there is far too much baggage and theory in the realm of discourse concerning rights to expect calm, rational debate. Property, and the logical and material consequences of property provide a resilient alternative to the discussion of rights which also achieves intuitive outcomes. For these and other reasons, I think that it would be a better rhetorical move to simply deny the existence of rights altogether and demonstrate the efficacy and utility of property in dispute resolution and moral or ethical dilemmas.
Also, here’s some George Carlin, for your entertainment.
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A discussion I have been avoiding since starting this project is that of descriptive versus prescriptive statements. I have been avoiding doing so because awareness of such delineations is so basic and fundamental to any activity resembling intelligence that I felt readers would be offended that I would feel they could use a reminder of that reality. After so many conversations on the internet and in-person, I think more people need a reminder that would be justifiably offended.
In today’s postmodern culture, inability to compartmentalize or categorize thoughts, feelings, activities, and identities is so widespread so as to be its defining characteristic. As such, people tend to confuse their ideas with their identities, their feelings with their actions, and their descriptions with their prescriptions. This has resulted in what amounts to a culture-wide crisis of logical illiteracy. There are few greater examples of what I mean than the electoral politics currently ongoing.
Descriptions are typically pretty straightforward. With little exception, a descriptive statement is one which establishes a definition or identity. For example, a descriptive statement could be, “Dogs, by nature, are quadrupeds.” That statement describes the nature of dogs. However, it doesn’t fully describe dogs; there are many other creatures that, by nature, are quadrupeds and are also distinct from dogs. It also does not sufficiently describe dogs so as to allow for dogs that have more or fewer legs than four. Despite such shortcomings, it is not metaphysically impossible to establish a set of descriptive statements which encompass the entirety of “dog-ness”, it would just require a lot more time, effort, and linguistic exercise than anyone has yet attempted; instead, biologists and preschool teachers seem to have done enough of that work so as to cover the practically required bases of describing dogs. I don’t know what more I could say to make the idea of a descriptive statement more clear.
Prescriptive statements are only slightly less straightforward. Where descriptive statements indicate how things are, prescriptive statements indicate how things should be. For example, a descriptive statement could be, “The U.S. federal government is $250,000,000,000,000 in debt,” and a prescriptive statement is, “The U.S. Federal government should not be able to incur such debt,” or “The U.S. Federal government should declare bankruptcy.” Some prescriptive statements are more tied to descriptive statements than others; for instance, “Hilary Clinton should be president because it’s the current year!” has a little less to do with reality than the above examples. In most circumstances, a prescriptive statement could be phrased as an ethical claim, too.
As with all statements, both descriptive and prescriptive statements may or may not be factual. “Women make less money than men for the same work,” may or may not reflect reality (spoiler alert: it doesn’t at all) as may, “The voting age should be lowered to 16,” (Spoilers: it shouldn’t). In the case of descriptive statements, facticity can be more-or-less established by way of the standard epistemic process: verify logical validity, compare to empirical and experiential data, compare to alternative descriptions… This process can be more-or-less involved, depending on the complexity and immediacy of the statement in question. Prescriptive statements are usually either subjective or aesthetic in nature: “This soup needs more salt,” or an ethical statement, “If one wants an environment conducive to human flourishing, one ought to avoid hyper-inclusive mass democracy.” Aesthetic statements, while not meaningless, are largely non-actionable to anyone other than the individual expressing said preference. However, ethical statements are verifiable by means of experimentation, reason, and evidence. I’ve already addressed ethical statements before, but it bears repeating in this context.
Of course, two difficulties emerge in the hairiness of common discourse. The first, most common, issue I have seen is making descriptive statements as if they were prescriptive. Easy examples emerge in political discourse. “I’m offended,” “That’s racist/sexist/ableist/insert false pejorative,” “That’s not how the world works,” etc. all describe a circumstance (and may more may not be accurate) without any prescription attached; usually, though, they are stated as if one expects someone else to modify his behavior in some way. Regardless of the facticity of such statements, they contain nothing which warrants action, despite what demagogues and their followers may expect.
The second issue, which seems to be the second most common, is confusing the grammar of the two classes of statements. What I mean is that some very skilled rhetoricians and some clumsy conversationalists manage to hide a prescription in a descriptive statement. This is different from declaring a description as if it has prescriptive power. Unfortunately for both my readers and myself, I am not skilled enough to compose an example and my memory has not yet recovered sufficiently to recall one I have encountered in the wild. As long as one maintains an awareness of descriptive and prescriptive paradigms, though, one can pretty easily identify such an attempt.
If you are a regular reader of the blog, you may notice that most of the posts follow a “description, elaboration, prescription, opinion” format. This is technically accidental in that I did not actively choose to write in such a format. However, it is a habit I have which has been established for quite some time. Without an awareness of ontological and metaphysical reality, no one can make reasonable prescriptions. I’ve already addressed this before, in different terms. Because this is the case, I have practiced the approach of establishing an ontological context before issuing prescriptions and issuing prescriptions in the format of “if-then” statements.
More important to one’s grammar and rhetoric than identifying descriptions and prescriptions in others’ speech, more important even than being careful to make a clear delineation in one’s grammar, I have discovered, is explicitly addressing statements as such. Of course, one can’t go around and preface every statement with “This is a descriptive/prescriptive statement:” Sometimes, such pedantics are appropriate, though. I am still experimenting with this variable to see what gets the best results in the art of rhetoric.
This whole discussion of description versus prescription was brought on by repeated discussions of my favorite Hans Herman Hoppe quote:
“In a covenant…among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian [RE: propertarian] social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”
Taken in its context, this statement is actually a descriptive one, not a prescriptive one. This is a paradigm case of the hairiness of this distinction in common discourse. On an initial reading, outside of its context, this quote will likely sound like an advocacy of “physically removing” the enemies of freedom, so to speak. However, what Hoppe was expressing is a description of the features of propertarian societies which emerge from the underlying social foundations.
A propertarian society, one which holds property rights as paramount to all human activity, is a social order which arises spontaneously out of the chaos of nature (or capitalism, same thing). Each individual property owner is, necessarily, the arbiter of one’s own property, whether it be land, buildings, physical objects, or one’s own body; it is one of the definitive qualities of property. One may use one’s property towards whatever end one sees fit. There are a few activities for which one can use one’s property which result in performative contradiction, though. For example, one can use one’s property to undermine another’s control over his own property (violating the non-aggression principle); in doing so, though, one is acting in such a way so as to disregard the primacy of property in human action. Using property to undermine the concept of property is a performative contradiction.
The entire preceding paragraph consists entirely of descriptive statements. Any prescriptions that one reads into said paragraph are the creation of the reader himself, stemming from his own value judgments. It’s important to note that, here, as the next paragraph is also purely descriptive and if one hasn’t noticed the absence of prescriptions thus far, the significance of the next paragraph will be lost on him.
In allowing the use or trade of one’s property, one subsidizes or incentivizes particular activities. If my friend is a drug addict and he can either afford a meal or drugs, but not both and I buy him a meal I am subsidizing his purchase of drugs by externalizing the opportunity cost he faces. Similarly, if I own a patch of land or a building and allow customers/clients/acquaintances to use that property as a platform to advocate or perform activities which undermine property, such as the political activity of democracy or communism, I would be engaging in a performative contradiction. I would have to physically remove him from my property or otherwise silence him, lest I be using my property to abdicate my property. In a propertarian society, each individual actor holds property rights paramount and would have to avoid such performative contradictions, which would ultimately result in democrats and communists being physically removed from society.
Now, after a thorough exploration of the description of propertarianism with regards to communism and democracy, we get to explore a couple prescriptions. I find Hoppe’s propertarianism infinitely preferable to today’s anti-propertarian environments such as found within Empire, and I want everyone to at least consider Hoppe’s Democracy: the God that Failed. If one wishes to defend one’s bodily autonomy or private property from unscrupulous hordes of rapists and murderers, they ought to familiarize themselves with both the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive statements as well as the nature of human action and property. Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom does a great job of both.
TL;DR: Many people confuse descriptions and prescriptions. In common conversation, it isn’t usually too important a distinction. “If you consume this substance you will die,” is often taken as a prescription to avoid consuming said substance. It is technically only a description, though. If one were to wish to die, one may wish to consume the substance. This difference between description and prescription becomes fundamental when engaging in politics and culture. Without proper awareness of descriptive versus prescriptive statements and the “if-then” structure of prescriptions, one is going to be met with failure and, when the violence of the state is involved, cause incalculable damage. Oh, and you should read Hoppe and sign up for Liberty Classroom.
If the state were a rapidly-spreading apartment fire, consuming all wealth and livelihood in its path, feminism (and the other leftist cults of feels and misanthropy) is the jet fuel being dropped from airplanes onto the building. It is eminently helpful (if insufficient) to have a handful of firefighters and air-traffic controllers, like these two, trying to prevent the spread of destruction.
Also, I’m aware the site has been a little low-content the last couple weeks… we had an aborted attempt at moving to NH which presented quite a bit of opportunity cost and monetary expense. Hopefully, starting Saturday, we will be back in full-force on this site.
“I’m totally a darwinist, but I couldn’t bring myself to adopt social darwinism.” Then you’re not a darwinist, you’re an intellectually dishonest waste of everyone’s time.
If humanity is the result of natural pressures (ie. scarcity) driving some monkeys out of the jungle and into the fields, an environment where something as flimsy as a human would have to develop at least partially K-selective behaviors such as lower time preference, increased intelligence, and social interdependence, then the forms those social interdependencies, time preferences, and ideologies take on are a natural extension of those same evolutionary forces.
If you are unwilling or unable to accept that some genetic lines are simply dead-ends and that the species as a whole would be better off if they just ended, rather then being subsidized at the expense of successful genetic lines, YOU ARE NOT A DARWINIST.
What you are is a lukewarm idiot. Don’t take on labels and ideologies out of social self-promotion, only to eschew them on the occasions that they aren’t politically expedient. In the same way every single politician at the debates this cycle (and every politician that ever came before) has changed their positions on how to best use initiatory violence based solely on what they think will get them (re)elected, you are a liar and a whore.
One cannot simply put on and take of different philosophies or hats based on one’s feelings at any given moment, it requires extensive research and contemplation to be able to contribute any value in the marketplace of ideas. Those that have demonstrated that they are incapable of doing so should just remain silent, rather than saying assinine things like “I’m totally a Darwinist, but I don’t feel like following such claims to their logical conclusion.” You’re wasting everyone’s time get a real job and shut the fuck up.
I’m actually an agnostic with regards to the whole “Darwinian vertical-evolution” thing, but it’s not for lack of research and contemplation. If someone who isn’t even committed to your alleged position can explain it better than you can, you’re either stupid or intentionally maligning the position you claim to adhere to. I’m pretty certain you aren’t intelligent enough to plan that far ahead, though.
About a year ago, I read “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life — Second 2nd Edition”. I was very resistant to giving NVC a chance. My introduction to it was some people on Free Talk Live talking about it, and it sounded like some sort of cult-y, Scientology-like, “if we all learn to pray and talk with hippie vibes, the world will be healed”. Hearing about it from Stephan Molyneux next sealed the deal (he is a de-facto cult leader). Satya Nadella made this book required reading for Microsoft execs, which made me wonder if this was becoming a mainstream fad and made me even more resistant to the idea. Also, the name itself seemed off-putting to me. I figured (and still do) that any language that didn’t consist of veiled or direct threats is, by default, non-violent.
Then, certain people that I don’t always agree with but always respect their opinion and degree of thought it takes for them to develop an opinion re-introduced me to the idea of NVC. Between Brian Sovryn explaining that it has less to do with non-violence, and more to do with empathy, I started to reconsider. Seeing Adam Kokesh put it to work on Christopher Cantwell, of all people, sealed the deal. I saw the way that Kokesh (someone whom I’ve always been suspicious of) managed to basically shut down the angry part of Cantwell’s brain and get a begrudging admission that NVC may be an effective tool. I still was very, very suspicious of the whole idea in general, but I knew I had to at least research it before dismissing it.
I bought the book on Amazon for something like $15 and read it in a few weeks, taking it a few pages at a time. The book is easy to read, short and sweet, and gives actionable suggestions. While the methods of NVC aren’t useful in every circumstance, (philosophical discourse, for instance), they are incredibly effective at smoothing out day-to-day interactions with people, especially adversarial people. I am, by no means, a peaceful parent, but I’m looking into that, as well. I can say this much, though, after giving NVC a shot, I’ve gotten incredible results with my middle child. It used to seem like her sole purpose in life was to antagonize me, but we’re making excellent progress in getting along, thanks to Rosenberg.
The way I understand NVC to operate is thus:
We, in our culture today, are addicted to counter-productive emotions. We have developed a habit of being outraged at things. The4 internet has proven to be instrumental in fueling this addiction to outrage, as there’s always something out there for anyone to be mad at. The way addictions work is in cycles. Stimulus, reaction, dopamine/adrenaline/etc, brain-drugs wear off, repeat. In the case of outrage, something touches on an unresolved need or desire within us, we get mad and lash out at at whoever or whatever touched on that nerve, we get a release of feel-good drugs in our brains, and we feel good about being miserable, repeat ad-infinitum. What NVC seems to do is interject itself between the stimulus and reaction and closes that loop prematurely. This is how addictions are broken, how good habits are formed, and how someone can talk down a 280 lb thug before getting their face punched in.
It is also a method of communicating that, in closing that loop prematurely, leads people into uncharted areas of their own human mental experience and opens them up to actually exploring alternative ways of seeing the world, which is useful when discussing crucial matters such as human flourishing.
As it stands now, I understand NVC in an almost entirely scholastic sense, but my early efforts at putting it into practice have already made family and work far more manageable. I recommend everyone read this book. I don’t think it’s some sort of silver-bullet to eliminating the state, as some do, but I do believe that this is a tool set that is irreplaceable if one wants to flourish in a post-state society.
Admittedly, the metaphysics in the book is very cloogy, but that’s to be expected. Ignoring the metaphysics and treating the work as a rhetorical tool seems to be much more efficacious and fits well into other practices in rhetoric, such as the Trivium.
I haven’t been posting very much this week. To those of you that care, I apologize; I’ve been working on editing, formatting and writing new chapters for the book I’m trying to get done by the end of this year. Between an insane work schedule and the amount of effort I’ve been pouring into this book, I haven’t had time to even feed or bathe myself properly (gross, I know).
Anyway, there was this little gem I found the other day, and I had to carve out some extra time to share it with you guys. Lately Chris Cantwell has been worrying himself more with how different genetic and cultural factors are not conducive to freedom as opposed to sticking to his “thin” libertarian brutalism, which he used to be so well-known for. Basically, he’s gone “thick-right” to the same degree as those that have gone “thick-left” in the libertarian movement.
One of the interesting results of this move is how quickly and effectively he resorts to tearing apart left-libertarians, even as compared to before. Today’s Daily Resource Suggestion is this video in which he argues with CopBlock, an organization that used to be a police accountability group that is now a Black Lives Matter soapbox.
I don’t agree with everything Cantwell says, I never have. but he is definitely in the top three celebritarians as far as rational consistency, epistemic rectitude, and actually researching the subjects they discuss.
The time has already come for another dose of procedural philosophy.
As is always the case with procedural philosophy, some homework is in order. If you want to get the most out of this post, you should read or listen to the post about “Paradigmatic Awareness”. Today, we are talking about ethics directly, as opposed to the usual posts about how ethics impacts our relationships. Ethics, like all terms, requires a shared definition in order to be useful.
Ethics is the study of principles which dictate the actions of rational actors. Some will note that this closely parallels some people’s definition of economics. This is not an accident, but this phenomenon will have to be addressed later. There is a glut of ethical theories which assume different premises and result in wildly different prescriptions. This is a problem for an individual who is genuinely concerned with pursuing an absolute truth by which to live. Being one such person, I must admit I’m still searching; but I can help others make it as far as I have and ask others to do the same for me.
“But wait, ain’t you one o’ dem Catholic fellers?” Yes, I am. The Church has a pretty solid grasp on it’s doctrine and dogma (of which there is surprisingly little) and has built an ethics on top of that, something akin to a divine-law-meets-metaphysical-utilitarianism to which it appeals in every ethical discussion. One will notice that I do not advocate a moral stance which violates the doctrinal positions of the Church. I am fortunate that my quest for the truth has not yet forced me to choose between my own faculty of reason and the divine law of my faith. One will also notice that I staunchly oppose certain modern positions of the Church, especially in cases surrounding “divine right of kings” and compromise with injustice, such as “You have to pay taxes, because of the politically expedient manner in which we interpret ‘Epistle to Diognetus’, a letter written thousands of years ago.” (CCC-2240) What I am trying to say here is that “God said so” is never sufficient justification for one’s actions, but what “God said so” may nonetheless be rationally justifiable.
That tangent segues nicely to where we are going today. Ethics operates identically to the method outlined in “Paradigmatic Awareness” in many ways, with some variation. As the numerous postmodern moral nihilists are wont to point out, ethics faces an important problem: the is/ought divide. This problem, popularized by Hume, essentially points out that objective material knowledge of what is does not give rise to ethical prescription without first approaching what is with a subjective value assessment, an ought. This is where the procedure outlined in “Paradigmatic Awareness” becomes crucial.
Simply put, I must determine by way of intuition and abduction from what is to what I (should) value. Ultimately, anything could conceivably be the basis of ethical reasoning; hedonism, consequentialism, stoicism, legalism, virtue ethics, divine law, statism, nihilism, and anarchism are all predicated on different values and represent a fraction of existing ethical frameworks. Many are compatible with each other; as a matter of fact, most ethical frameworks are ultimately either nihilist or teleological in nature and tend to compliment others of the same nature.
Ethics, really, is the ultimate product of philosophy. Philosophy can answer any question, “How did the universe come to be?” “What is it made of?” “How can we know anything?”, but without answering “Why should I care?” it has no real utility. I propose that the best answer to “Why should I care?” is “because, if this worldview is factually true, you ought to do X and here is why.”
Of course, an ethics which is too esoteric or complex for common application and immediate results is as equally useless as a philosophy with no ethics whatsoever. This is where rules become attractive; “thou shalt not” and “always do” are certainly the result of most or all ethics. For instance, if I were a Kantian (I am NOT), I would value the rationality and identity of individuals, which results in the mandate that people be ever treated as ends only and never means; followed to its logical conclusion, one could say, “Thou shalt not enslave others.” Those that lack the faculties or resources to consider the corpus of Kant (a waste of time, really) can simply rely on the rules which fall out of his work. Without an understanding for the cause of these rules, though, one cannot reliably improvise in a circumstance not outlined in the rules, nor can they discuss ethical matters in an intelligible way. “You can’t do that, because this book said so” is a laughable claim, regardless of the book in question.
Everyone considers themselves to be an intelligent person and feel themselves to be very ethically-minded. They are correct in thinking and feeling so. Even psychopaths have a set of motivating factors for behaving in the way that they do. However, such a set of motivations, even in the form of a rule-set, does not qualify as an ethical framework. As a matter of fact, if one does not pursue the full rational grounding of one’s motivations, they will likely adopt a heterogeneous hodgepodge of contradicting rules from various sources. Any ethical claim which feels intuitive or justifies an action one desires can be easily adopted and, with a little mental gymnastics, can be incorporated into one’s rule set without too much apparent contradiction.
This results in an emotional minefield scattered with beliefs such as, “I value property rights above all else, so we have to steal from people to prevent theft.” All one needs to do is go on the internet and read the intellectually toxic political arguments found in nearly every comments section and they will see what I am talking about. The problem is not the argument or even the belief held (though, by definition, nearly every political belief is wrong), but instead the lack of paradigmatic awareness. If someone lacks the foundational knowledge of what is, a clear definition of one’s values, or a grasp of logic sufficient to put it all together, it is impossible to assess others’ claims or to sufficiently convey one’s own belief. Instead, such people (regardless of whether one’s claim is factual or not) are forced to resort to dismissive name-calling and an arsenal of rhetorical and formal fallacies.
So, then, the same prescription in “Paradigmatic Awareness” applies in ethics as well. When encountered with a radical and apparently nonsensical claim such as, “You have a duty to vote, even if it is merely a choice between two evils,” it is important to inquire as to the value and basis for such a claim. Conversely, when meeting resistance to a personally forwarded claim, it is crucial to present the premises and method used to reach the contested claim, lest one look no different than a generic social justice warrior or fundamentalist republican.
Also, just like with paradigmatic awareness, if someone is not willing or able to have a calm rational discourse, they are not providing an opportunity for critical thought. They are wasting everyone’s time. One’s time is better spent writing blog posts no one will read, reading books, or smashing one’s face in with a hammer rather than getting into a shouting match with a morally illiterate person. The goal, as is the case with all of philosophy, is pursuing truth; one cannot do so while stooping to the level of the ignorant. However, if one pursuing truth happens to bring others along, all the better.
Ultimately, my motivation for writing this post is twofold. I want to invite people to critically assess this approach and help me do a better job of understanding how I ought to live my life. I also want to find someone, anyone, who can play by the rules I’ve outlined and believe to be absolutely crucial to communication and progress. I honestly desire for someone to prove me wrong. The ethic that I have managed to cobble together over the last twenty years is incredibly taxing. I would love to (re)apply for welfare, to stop going to church, to stop trying and start partying… but I can’t. My rationality and what little virtue I do possess prevent me from doing so. I think I could do well as a Fascist (which I believe to be the only logically consistent alternative to anarchy), but no one has proven me wrong yest, so as to grant me the opportunity to try my hand at it.
Remember, despite the immense and demonstrable utility that it provides, anarchism is a moral philosophy. It holds the utmost value for human rights and, as a result, human flourishing. When an anarchist says “you shouldn’t do that,” they aren’t forcing someone else to behave in a manner consistent with their opinion. Anarchists cannot point a gun at someone and demand that they refrain from doing so, nor can they vote and delegate that task to someone else.
TL:DR; If someone wants the privilege of being able to criticize the actions and ethics of others, they ought to put in the work of critically assessing one’s own position and actions. If people cannot communicate the reasons for the rules they are so wont to broadcast, they are wasting everyone’s time.
This article, by Murray Rothbard, was originally published in the Libertarian Forum, Vol. 10, No. 7, July 1977.
I have been ruminating recently on what are the crucial questions that divide libertarians. Some that have received a lot of attention in the last few years are: anarcho-capitalism vs. limited government, abolitionism vs. gradualism, natural rights vs. utilitarianism, and war vs. peace. But I have concluded that as important as these questions are, they don’t really cut to the nub of the issue, of the crucial dividing line between us.
Let us take, for example, two of the leading anarcho-capitalist works of the last few years: my own For a New Liberty and David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom. Superficially, the major differences between them are my own stand for natural rights and for a rational libertarian law code, in contrast to Friedman’s amoralist utilitarianism and call for logrolling and trade-offs between nonlibertarian private police agencies. But the difference really cuts far deeper. There runs through For a New Liberty (and most of the rest of my work as well) a deep and pervasive hatred of the State and all of its works, based on the conviction that the State is the enemy of mankind. In contrast, it is evident that David does not hate the State at all; that he has merely arrived at the conviction that anarchism and competing private police forces are a better social and economic system than any other alternative. Or, more fully, that anarchism would be better than laissez-faire, which in turn is better than the current system. Amidst the entire spectrum of political alternatives, David Friedman has decided that anarcho-capitalism is superior. But superior to an existing political structure which is pretty good too. In short, there is no sign that David Friedman in any sense hates the existing American State or the State per se, hates it deep in his belly as a predatory gang of robbers, enslavers, and murderers. No, there is simply the cool conviction that anarchism would be the best of all possible worlds, but that our current set-up is pretty far up with it in desirability. For there is no sense in Friedman that the State — any State — is a predatory gang of criminals.
The same impression shines through the writing, say, of political philosopher Eric Mack. Mack is an anarcho-capitalist who believes in individual rights; but there is no sense in his writings of any passionate hatred of the State, or, a fortiori, of any sense that the State is a plundering and bestial enemy.
Perhaps the word that best defines our distinction is “radical.” Radical in the sense of being in total, root-and-branch opposition to the existing political system and to the State itself. Radical in the sense of having integrated intellectual opposition to the State with a gut hatred of its pervasive and organized system of crime and injustice. Radical in the sense of a deep commitment to the spirit of liberty and antistatism that integrates reason and emotion, heart and soul.
Furthermore, in contrast to what seems to be true nowadays, you don’t have to be an anarchist to be radical in our sense, just as you can be an anarchist while missing the radical spark. I can think of hardly a single limited governmentalist of the present day who is radical — a truly amazing phenomenon, when we think of our classical-liberal forbears who were genuinely radical, who hated statism and the States of their day with a beautifully integrated passion: the Levellers, Patrick Henry, Tom Paine, Joseph Priestley, the Jacksonians, Richard Cobden, and on and on, a veritable roll call of the greats of the past. Tom Paine’s radical hatred of the State and statism was and is far more important to the cause of liberty than the fact that he never crossed the divide between laissez-faire and anarchism.
And closer to our own day, such early influences on me as Albert Jay Nock, H.L. Mencken, and Frank Chodorov were magnificently and superbly radical. Hatred of “Our Enemy, the State” (Nock’s title) and all of its works shone through all of their writings like a beacon star. So what if they never quite made it all the way to explicit anarchism? Far better one Albert Nock than a hundred anarcho-capitalists who are all too comfortable with the existing status quo.
Where are the Paines and Cobdens and Nocks of today? Why are almost all of our laissez-faire limited governmentalists, plonky conservatives, and patriots? If the opposite of “radical” is “conservative,” where are our radical laissez-fairists? If our limited statists were truly radical, there would be virtually no splits between us. What divides the movement now, the true division, is not anarchist vs. minarchist, but radical vs. conservative. Lord, give us radicals, be they anarchists or no.
To carry our analysis further, radical anti-statists are extremely valuable even if they could scarcely be considered libertarians in any comprehensive sense. Thus, many people admire the work of columnists Mike Royko and Nick von Hoffman because they consider these men libertarian sympathizers and fellow-travelers. That they are, but this does not begin to comprehend their true importance. For throughout the writings of Royko and von Hoffman, as inconsistent as they undoubtedly are, there runs an all-pervasive hatred of the State, of all politicians, bureaucrats, and their clients which, in its genuine radicalism, is far truer to the underlying spirit of liberty than someone who will coolly go along with the letter of every syllogism and every lemma down to the “model” of competing courts.
Taking the concept of radical vs. conservative in our new sense, let us analyze the now famous “abolitionism” vs. “gradualism” debate. The latter jab comes in the August issue of Reason (a magazine every fiber of whose being exudes “conservatism”), in which editor Bob Poole asks Milton Friedman where he stands on this debate. Freidman takes the opportunity of denouncing the “intellectual cowardice” of failing to set forth “feasible” methods of getting “from here to there.” Poole and Friedman have between them managed to obfuscate the true issues. There is not a single abolitionist who would not grab a feasible method, or a gradual gain, if it came his way. The difference is that the abolitionist always holds high the banner of his ultimate goal, never hides his basic principles, and wishes to get to his goal as fast as humanly possible. Hence, while the abolitionist will accept a gradual step in the right direction if that is all that he can achieve, he always accepts it grudgingly, as merely a first step toward a goal which he always keeps blazingly clear. The abolitionist is a “button pusher” who would blister his thumb pushing a button that would abolish the State immediately, if such a button existed. But the abolitionist also knows that alas, such a button does not exist, and that he will take a bit of the loaf if necessary — while always preferring the whole loaf if he can achieve it.
It should be noted here that many of Milton’s most famous “gradual” programs such as the voucher plan, the negative income tax, the withholding tax, fiat paper money — are gradual (or even not so gradual) steps in thewrong direction, away from liberty, and hence the militance of much libertarian opposition to these schemes.
His button-pushing position stems from the abolitionist’s deep and abiding hatred of the State and its vast engine of crime and oppression. With such an integrated worldview, the radical libertarian could never dream of confronting either a magic button or any real-life problem with some arid cost-benefit calculation. He knows that the State must be diminished as fast and as completely as possible. Period.
And that is why the radical libertarian is not only an abolitionist, but also refuses to think in such terms as a Four Year Plan for some sort of stately and measured procedure for reducing the State. The radical — whether he be anarchist or laissez-faire — cannot think in such terms as, e.g., “Well, the first year, we’ll cut the income tax by 2 percent, abolish the ICC, and cut the minimum wage; the second year we’ll abolish the minimum wage, cut the income tax by another 2 percent, and reduce welfare payments by 3 percent, etc.” The radical cannot think in such terms, because the radical regards the State as our mortal enemy, which must be hacked away at wherever and whenever we can. To the radical libertarian, we must take any and every opportunity to chop away at the State, whether it’s to reduce or abolish a tax, a budget appropriation, or a regulatory power. And the radical libertarian is insatiable in this appetite until the State has been abolished, or — for minarchists — dwindled down to a tiny, laissez-faire role.
Many people have wondered: Why should there be any important political disputes between anarcho-capitalists and minarchists now? In this world of statism, where there is so much common ground, why can’t the two groups work in complete harmony until we shall have reached a Cobdenite world, after which we can air our disagreements? Why quarrel over courts, etc. now? The answer to this excellent question is that we could and would march hand-in-hand in this way if the minarchists were radicals, as they were from the birth of classical liberalism down to the 1940s. Give us back the antistatist radicals, and harmony would indeed reign triumphant within the movement.
Why can’t we all just get along? When it comes to discussion, why can’t we seem to understand what each other are saying?
As is outlined extensively in my yet-unfinished book, epistemology (how we know what we know) is a field of intense and voluminous study. I will do my utmost to remain concise and direct today, but we will see if I can manage to get my point across.
Among thinking people, there is a disturbing trend of people missing each others’ points and progressively resorting to name-calling and physical altercation. Friendships end, wars erupt, libraries are burned… all over a misunderstanding as to whether Star Trek ToS is better or worse than J.J. Abrams’ reboot. This phenomenon is easy to see every four years in America, when just under half of the population suddenly erupts in closed-minded and aggressive rhetoric over which master we should be owned by and what behaviors we ought to compel with the violence of the state. For many people, this argument continues on a daily basis (Thanks, Obama).
Very, very rarely does one actually change their mind or realize that oneself was wrong. On the occasion that one does so, it is rarely a result of dialogue, but instead a result of a personal and concrete experience of their worldview and reality not comporting. This sort of event is at the heart of every popular feel-good drama about a grouchy old person overcoming his racism. My purely subjective standard by which I choose to judge a philosopher’s ability to philosophize is their willingness and ability to change their mind and admit error by way of dialogue as opposed to concrete experience.
While very few people my be called to be a philosopher, everyone ought to be capable and willing to do philosophy, lest they be vulnerable to misanthropy, self-dehumanization, and falling for vicious and criminal ideologies. What is required in order to do philosophy? There is a multitude of tools required and yet another multitude of tools that are merely useful. The first two, the most fundamental and primary, of these tools are logic and paradigmatic awareness. Of course, one is a prerequisite for the other.
What is logic? Logic, contrary to popular belief, does not refer to “all of the not-emotional things that happen in my brain”. Logic is a science and an art as old as man’s pursuit of knowledge. As a science, the body of theories and research has been steadily growing through the generations. As an art, the technique and skill of those who wield it waxes and wanes with times and cultures. Logic is the place where language, reason, and objective observation meet. Logic, in its purest form, is the exploration of the principle of non-contradiction and its application to our experience of reality. The quest for knowledge requires a reliable and finely-tunes toolset. The study of logic, epistemology, and phenomenology, has been directed towards the development of these tools since their inception.
Even though some high schools teach introductory classes on deductive symbolic logic and may touch on inductive reasoning, logic has been widely abandoned by our education system and, by extension, society at large. Without a working knowledge of and praxis concerning deduction, induction, abduction, and the interrelationship of the three, one cannot be expected to be consistent in their beliefs, claims, and behaviors. Unfortunately, a blogcast of this length and quality is insufficient to teach such a skill. Fortunately, there is a vast body of material available on the internet for those that wish to be rational.
A grossly oversimplified and brief introduction of the three is required, though, before I can address paradigmatic awareness. Deduction, then, is described as “arguing from the general to the specific”. A classic, if not entirely reliable, example is the famous “all men are mortal” syllogism.
“All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. ∴ Socrates is mortal.”
In this case, it assumes general premises such as “all men are mortal” and uses the principle of non-contradiction to reach the conclusion, “Socrates is mortal.” So long as the premises are factual and there is no error in the logic, the conclusion must be true.
Induction, in simple formulation, is arguing from specifics to the general. An example frequently addressed in modern philosophy is the claim, “the sun will rise tomorrow.” This claim is made based in the consistency of such an occurrence in the past as well as an absence of any predictors which indicate that such an occurrence would cease (for example, the sun vanishing would leave some pretty significant clues). Induction does not produce certainty in the same way that deduction may, but instead some well-reasoned and reliable guesses which have a particular utility about them.
Abduction can be considered “making the strongest case”. If the circumstance arises such that a question presents itself which requires an answer and neither a deductive nor an inductive argument is possible, one can produce an answer which does not contradict accepted deductive and inductive claims and is, itself, self-consistent. Using tools such as observation, occam’s razor, intuition, and a detailed understanding of one’s paradigm (we’ll address this is a minute), one can make a compelling case as to why their chosen belief is true.
This brings us to the interrelation of the three. Due to the certainty produced by valid deductive reasoning, one’s inductive claims cannot come into contradiction with such claims. If one is committed to a particular inductive claim which is found in contradiction with deductive claims, they must first demonstrate a flaw in the premises or logic of the existing deductive claim. This same priority is given induction over abduction for the same reasons.
Of course, this description ignores the source of our general premises that this whole process began with. In all reality, premises are produced by abductive reasoning and ratified by the simple Popperian principle of trial and error. This means that, per Gödel, any complete philosophical worldview cannot prove itself to be factual. Only by way of comparing a worldview’s predictions and claims against one’s experience of reality or confirming the strength of the premises’ defense can one ultimately justify any particular worldview.
This finally brings us to paradigmatic awareness. Those that have read this far, I salute you. Using a modified version of Thomas Kuhn’s definition of “paradigm”, a paradigm is the set of established or assumed claims which take priority before the claim in question based on the rubric I briefly described when addressing logic. Why does something so simple-yet-esoteric matter? It may sound intuitive once described, but despite its intuitive qualities, very few (if any) people truly possess paradigmatic awareness
For instance, when faced with a claim one may find absurd, such as “We need to tax every transaction possible in order to pay for government guns,” it is possible that the (clearly incorrect) individual may have a valid logical argument to reach that conclusion. More likely they hold, either implicitly or explicitly, flawed premises from which they derived an absurd conclusion. There is really no point in discussing the conclusion itself so long as the premises are left unacknowledged and unaddressed. Communication simply isn’t possible without commonly accepted paradigms between communicants.
This is where the standard of being able to change one’s mind comes into play; in the process of exploring the premises held by someone else which resulted in an apparently absurd claim, three beneficial results may arise. In exploring the paradigm of someone else, you may bring to light counter-intuitive or implicit premises that your conversant may never have previously critically assessed. Additionally, it will give you the opportunity to cast doubt on another’s premises, allowing them the otherwise impossible moment of self-reflection. Lastly, of course, by holding a counter-factual presented by someone else, there is always a chance (however slim) that you may realize that you, yourself, are wrong.
Now, one cannot always explore others’ worldviews without expecting the same intellectual courtesy in return. By following the advice given above and explaining what you are doing along the way, you can effectively provide an education in communication skills and logic that far exceeds what meager offerings most people are exposed to. This will give them a greater chance to entertain your correct but unpopular claims like, “Taxation is theft.” Additionally, anyone unwilling to explore their own premises or yours are clearly not interested in intellectually honest dialogue directed at obtaining truth and, therefore, are not worth your time or energy; a handy resource management tool, if you ask me.
So, why can’t we get along? Because no one is given the tools required to even consider getting along. Why can’t we understand what each other are saying? Because we don’t try hard enough. Remember, no unwilling student can learn, this includes yourself.
TL;DR: Listen to what people claim. Ask, “How did you reach that conclusion?” Make it a point to maintain an awareness of your opponent’s paradigm. Genuinely search for the truth in their words. Expect and demand that they reciprocate the effort, lest you waste both parties’ time and energy.
As I said on facebook the other day (while re-realizing some flaws in the AnCap worldview):
I love being a philosopher. My worldview is constantly shifting and undulating… but always gradually comporting itself more closely to reality. Where fleeting moments of intuition can, decades later, be given meaning and purpose and carefully constructed arguments and justifications can crumble, there is where humility and virtue can grow. The fires of truth and the crucible of reason can lay bare natural and artificial landscapes of mind alike, and enrich the soil for new growth and the return of the most robust ideas to carry on their existence.
More and more frequently these days, it seems that when meeting people for the first or second time, I am outed as an anarchist. Usually, it is a mutual friend of my acquaintance and myself that does so (sometimes, I think they get some sadistic pleasure from doing so), but sometimes I am compelled to out myself, especially when so many people ask, “What’s your take on such-and-such political issue?” More often than not, the statement I am an anarchist” is met with incredulity and disbelief. It’s as if I had said, “I’m a racist,” or “I’m a rapist,” or “I shot JFK.” Often, the first thing I’m asked after a moment of stunned silence is, “So, you want an-eye-for-an-eye/Mad Max/The Purge or something?” Sometimes, the more intelligent will ask, “Didn’t anarchists kill Franz Ferdinand and start the World War?” or “But who will build the roads?” Very rarely, someone will say, “I think you mean Libertarian…” or will genuinely attempt to explore the idea with an open mind.
Modern media and education definitely do what they can to tarnish the name of a long-standing and rich philosophical tradition. This isn’t limited solely to anarchy, many concepts necessary to optimal human flourishing have found themselves ridiculed and marginalized by the agents of the state. Today, though, I want to focus on anarchy (as is the case most days). Easy examples of such “brainwashing” is simply the manner in which the term is used in both “informative” and and entertainment realms of media. The word “anarchy” is rarely uttered, which is not itself indicative of any agenda… but when it is spoken, it is without exception, a pejorative term meant to evoke or describe images of violence, destruction, and criminality. A current example would be the way the media describes the Ferguson riots as “anarchy” while flashing scenes of hundreds of grown men looting a dollar store. In entertainment, only the villain can speak the word without spitting it as if it were a profane and venomous curse. The worst culprits are the news agencies and procedural crime dramas; the news agencies reserve the term for radical combatants or rioters in the third-world or the inner cities of America (but I repeat myself), and the self-described anarchists in the procedurals are always the object of ridicule and often depicted as a villainous caricature of sociopathy.
In education, at least K-12, one is likely to hear the dreaded “A-word” once in all 13 years. That one time is the point when the World War, the result of states’ military posturing and nationalistic furor and one of the most devastating events in recorded history, is blamed on the Black Hand, a group of anarchists who killed a politically insignificant duke. The total ignorance of the ways anarchy as a philosophy influenced the American war of independence, the secession of the Confederacy, and the economy of 19th century America, not to mention the history of a greater number of American states is a clear sign that either the history curricula are useless or part of a conspiracy to tell a very specific and pro-state narrative to America’s youth. The recent controversies in Jefferson County, CO are actually hinged on this very issue. It is easy to dismiss such a claim as a conspiracy theory and to say I sound just like that crazy guy you saw on Law and Order, CSI, Bones, Criminal Minds, Blue Blood, Cops, America’s Most Wanted… but one has to admit that the education system definitely assumes the necessity of institutionalized coercion (laws), theft (taxes), and murder (war, police, etc).
The responses I receive upon coming out of the anarchy closet clearly indicates a cultural reverence for the state. This is puzzling to me, as our government has a 12% approval rating from it’s own citizens. I would expect that more people would be open to the suggestion that “maybe the idea of government is inherently flawed” if 82% of Americans disapprove of our particular instance. Especially when taking into account that they simultaneously believe “we are the best nation on earth.” Admittedly, there are a near-infinite number of ways you can structure a government… but the one feature they all have in common is the institutional threat of imprisonment or death to those that do not allow themselves to be robbed or controlled by way of taxation and law enforcement. At the end of the day, all statists agree, whether communist, fascist, republican, democrat, monarchist, or Libertarian, society only flourishes at the business end of a gun. For this reason, the real bad word, which ought to be said with great infrequency and shame is “government”.
How is it that the uptake of freedom-oriented philosophies and movements has not resulted in the reclamation of the word “anarchy”? Well, these philosophies have their own names. With so many agorists, voluntarists, libertarians, capitalists, egoists, and more running around, little attention is paid to anarchy itself anymore. It’s a name that has been left for statists to use as a totem for the evils of freedom to ridicule and revile. Besides, doesn’t “voluntarism” sound so much more pleasant than “anarchy”? The only problem in thinking such things is, admittedly, a philosophical and intellectual one as opposed to a practical or immediate one.
In order to make a compelling and categorical case for any or all of these ideas, though, one has to understand their philosophical underpinnings. The reality of the matter, in all of its complexity can be glossed in one simple explanation. As I addressed in the last post, anarchy is predicated on a negative philosophical claim: namely the rejection of coercion, theft, and murder as well as institutions which perpetrate such behaviors. These other, nicer sounding, philosophies are predicated on a anarchy first and build a positive claim on top of it. Voluntarism, for example, establishes voluntary association as fundamental to the philosophy.
This may seem like semantic nit-picking, but it is an important distinction to make when trying to establish a strong identity in an inhospitable environment such as that found in the first world. The importance isn’t because all the “t”s must be crossed and “i”s dotted, but because all of these positive philosophies of freedom are actually anarchy at their heart, despite their positivist differences. These philosophies, like agorism, are positive assertions built off of the underlying premise of the anarchist principle. So, voluntarism is anarchy + voluntary interaction, or egoism is anarchy + the primacy of the self, or capitalism is anarchy + basic economics, et cetera. In order to best protect ourselves from the war machine of the state, we must learn to get along and collaborate. Doing so is easy if we all realize that we are all anarchists simply building different castles on the same bedrock foundation.
TL; DR: Anarchy isn’t a bad word, government is. Freedom-oriented philosophies need to embrace their roots in freedom, rather than obscuring the fact that they are indeed anarchists.