Wizardly Wisdom Guest Spot #2!

Hello all,

Here’s another bit of audio-only content.  I did another guest spot on Wizardly Wisdom Podcast.  The first one was a blast, but this one is about 20% more awesome.  We spoke about the philosophical underpinnings of the libertarian movement, some historical context for different positions people hold to be “the libertarian position”, and why discourse about this discourse is important.

You’ll have to forgive my rough audio, we had some technical difficulties, but I think the content more than makes up for a little echo and click.

 

Liberty Classroom: an Invaluable Tool

If you are reading this near the end of November in 2016, you can get some major discounts and provide a great deal of support to the Mad Philosopher project by going to Tom Woods Liberty Classroom and subscribing.  If you are reading this at any other time, you can still provide a great amount of value to the project by doing so.

Tom Woods Liberty Classroom is easily one of the most undervalued resources available on the internet, as it provides a legitimate PhD-level resource on a number of crucial subjects such as history and economics.  The term “legitimate” is important, here, as what most universities provide is only half-true and full of leftist propaganda.  This resource is the closest to comprehensive and the closest to unbiased as can be found.

Click Here to get some coupon codes and subscribe.  This affiliate program is definitely one of the best ways to support the Mad Philosopher project, second only to just sending me Bitcoin directly.

 

Here’s some free samples (the best stuff is behind the paywall, obviously):

the best way to fulfill the maxim “Carpe Veritas” is to subscribe to Liberty Classroom and take advantage of everything such a subscription provides.

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From Value to Voting

Today’s post is a far cry from my original podcast episode (and most popular post to-date). As far as I can tell, all of the points I raised on both sides of that dialogue still apply, but I have had about four years to think about it and have some more ideas to throw around.

Earlier this year, I had a surprising revelation which was earth-shattering for me, but would probably come across to my readers as obvious as the revelation I had in my post concerning surprises, themselves. That revelation is that not only is value subjective, but value is ordinal, not cardinal. Half of you are probably saying “I don’t even know what that means” and the other half are saying “Well, duh.” Cardinality, with regards to numbers, is essentially numbering: “one, two, three…” Ordinality, essentially means that something is ordered; with regards to lists of things, it would mean that rather than using numbers, one would use superlatives and relationships: “This more than that, that more than the other thing, etc.”

This is one of those things that usually goes unexamined by just about everyone, myself included. The reason this comes as a surprise to me is a result of my Marxist and Classical roots. One of the pipe-dreams of the communists is the idea of a scientifically-engineered economy; for a prime example of this pipe-dream, one need only look as far as Keynesian (or mainstream) economics and the arch-Keynesian, Paul Krugman. The only way this fiction could appear remotely possible is if one is capable of empirically evaluating individuals’ subjective preferences. Empirical studies require numbers and raw data, which one cannot acquire if value is ordinal, not cardinal. Therefore cardinal value is taken by Marxists as a given, and usually only unconsciously.

If anyone has worked in engineering in any capacity, they can understand that if one changes something even very minor and unobserved in the design of a building, machine, or piece of software one of two possibilities are likely to occur: either the general design can continue operation unaffected, or the whole system will fail horribly and unexpectedly, resulting in all sorts of confusion and hair-pulling. In this case, I knew intuitively that as I realized this minor difference, it would impact my philosophical comprehension concerning all sorts of things, including but not limited to my reductivist understanding of reality, the psychology of man, linguistic quirks, and the ethics of voting.

I have been careful in my use of language concerning preferences already: pointing out that certain options were “not preferable” or “least bad”, in order to not leave the impression that I would endorse such an option. If I recall correctly, a good example of this quirk is lurking in my post on crime and vice but I could be mistaken. Upon examination, though, I’m not so sure that such a linguistic turn is appropriate. In reality, with value being subjective and ordinal, there really is no such thing as “not preferable” or even “less bad”; instead, there’s simply varying degrees of preference, relative between options that are available. At this moment, I prefer sleep to food and working on this blog post to sleep. When one looks at action in the context of consequences, I generally prefer working my job and getting paid to sleeping at my desk and getting fired. When one looks at general principles, I prefer verisimilitude to fantasy and moral action to immoral action.

I’ve thus far demonstrated a preference for living over dying, pleasure over pain, quality over quantity, etc. At any given moment, given a particular context, I may act in contradistinction to these general preferences: acting in such a way so as to cause pain in the immediate future for pleasure in the long run, for example. If I were starving to death in a desert and the only prospect for food in any redemptive about of time were a bowl of cyanide-laced curry, I may choose to act against my preference for remaining alive given the morbid prospects on all sides. These are just examples, but I think you get the point.

These examples are not examples of a violation of some sort of principle or character trait but are, instead, examples of the subjectivity of human action. Action requires an assessment of the facts at hand, a desire for a particular outcome, and the possibility of that outcome being achieved; it’s a uniquely human activity. As such, even though I have a general preference for such things, the facts on the ground may disallow certain possible outcomes, limiting the opportunities for action to options that are, in the abstract, less preferable than the options usually available.

This, in a way, is informed by my description of ethics. If ethics is the rational investigation of actionable goals, ethics is really the source of a framework by which to determine preferences and actions to be taken to achieve said preferences. It is also informed by my description of responsibilities in my discussion of intellectual property. If one cannot be responsible for the ideas that others concoct from available sense experience, one is not endorsing a particular course of action on a moral basis by expressing a preference by way of action or word. In other words, I would not be endorsing suicide as a moral maxim in the case of a desert with poisoned curry; I would merely be acting on a preference specific to myself and the particular context in which I found myself. Sorry Kant, Aquinas, and other positivists, you’re wrong in this case.

I’m sure most of my readers have played some variation of “would your rather?” In most variations of this game, there is a set of options (usually two) offered with no context. “Would you rather die of exposure to heat or exposure to cold?” or, “Would you rather make out with a movie star or drive a sweet car?” are good examples of such options. Most normal people simply weigh the options based either on immediate circumstances: “Well, right now I’m hot, so it would be a sort of relief and cruel irony all at once to die of cold…” or they weigh the options based on a self-assessment of character, “Well, one set of lips is more or less the same as any other (to me), but I’m never gonna get to drive something like a Formula 1 if I don’t take this chance…” The sophomoric philosophical types (myself included) more often answer with nonsense responses which try to contextualize the options or point out that “Neither option is preferable, so I’d just let whichever one happens first to happen.” I’ve since learned the error of my ways and I’m trying to navigate this new understanding of subjective value.

So, today, I find myself in a convoluted and Kafkaesque context for certain actions and opportunities (or lack thereof) to express my preferences. Any of my readers are likely aware of my default list of complaints, so I don’t need to rehash them today. The reason that list of complaints becomes pertinent today is this: when one is faced with a hyper-inclusive mass-democracy which possesses a monopoly on violence and perceived legitimacy, one is forced to either roll over and take whatever abuse comes one’s way, engage in one-tenth measures to perform damage control, or to fight or flee.

There’s several popular analogies and limit-cases anarchists and statists alike like to appeal to in order to demonstrate some aspect or another of voting. There’s also a lot of cases people throw around concerning whether one has an obligation to vote, whether voting is a violation of the NAP, whether a vote is an endorsement of a particular candidate and everything he will do, whether voting is an act of self-defense or an act of legitimizing the crimes of the state, and so much more; it’s an insane rabbit-hole that I’ve been spelunking in for a while, now.

At the end of the day, though, only individuals act and one doesn’t bear responsibility for the actions of other individuals. As such, the moral and ethical status of voting relies entirely on the nature of communication and preferences. Is voting a means by which one endorses another individual or delegates authority? Or, alternatively, is voting nothing more than a voicing of a preference. If it is voicing a preference, is it voicing a preference in the context of availability, like in a game of “would you rather”, where you have only choice A or choice B? Or is it voicing a preference in the abstract, where you’re offered choice A or B, but you could just say “I’m gonna look for better options”?

For four years, I have been a principled anarchist non-voter. For those four years, my conscience has been clean. This has probably been for a number of reasons: the most primary of which is that, given the ontological framework I was working with, voting was both unethical and immoral. This position was best described, in writing, in my initial post on voting. During that time, I still had a lot of Marxist predispositions I hadn’t yet analyzed or even come to be aware of, most notable of which is the fact that I was an expressivist as opposed to a realist and that value is ordinal not cardinal.

I would love to take my time and sort out all of the answers in as long a timeline as is needed, but this year’s ballot is coming due in a matter of days and I am doing what I can to be as virtuous and as moral as I can be despite access to the truth of the matter. It doesn’t help that previous elections have been presented as a choice between socialism and socialism-lite while this election, if my understanding is accurate, can easily play out to be the choice between real war versus proxy war, full-blown self-destruction and merely bad economic choices, and socialists propagating versus socialists killing themselves or moving away. Really, I’d almost sell my soul just to see the Clintons in prison, anyway.

The way I see it right now, if I fill out a ballot and turn it in, all I have done is draw some lines on paper and send that paper to some socialist who’s going to pretend to interpret those lines in accordance with my preferences. If I’m doing so to voice a preference between one candidate or another, or raising versus maintaining taxes, or using the violent apparatus of the state to force people to by things they don’t want and sell to people they don’t like or to let people mind their own business, I’m simply playing a game of “would you rather” in the context of a world in which there is a violent gang that is going to pretend to be acting on my preferences.

If they actually did act on my preferences in the abstract, they would systematically shut down all operations and auction off assets to make bankruptcy payments to those that own US Federal debt. In more contextualized circumstances, I’d rather use tax dollars to build walls and reduce the flood of welfare-seekers as opposed to subsidizing the importation of the same and I’d rather use the bully-pulpit of the presidency to promote masculinity, productivity, and competitiveness as opposed to death, destruction, terrorism, and weakness.

Admittedly, this looks more like a personal aesthetic choice to me than a moral one. The current opportunity-cost associated with filling out a ballot, for me, is the 45 minutes it would take to consider the options, google a few judges and local representatives, and drop it off on my way to work. Seeing as how those 45 minutes would probably be spent playing DOOM or watching anime, I think I can spare them. I hope, in the future to be so productive so as to be unable to afford that cost. Then I can go back to being a non-voter because I’m going the ethically-superior route for expressing my preferences, a-la Assange.

Yes, I know that the rampant voter and election fraud swamp my singular vote and that the electoral college doesn’t give a damn about the popular vote. Yes, I know that democracy is the least legitimate of all the forms of government (of which, all are illegitimate) and that I’ve said in the past that killing voters might not be a violation of the NAP. Yes, I know that the group of individuals calling themselves “the state” will continue to murder and rape at more-or-less the same rate. All this considered, it doesn’t change the fact that the one-tenth measure of simply saying “I’d rather you rape me a little more gently” would be preferable to just rolling over and taking it.

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TL;DR: I’ve recently discovered the fact that value is ordinal, not cardinal. Where that would normally mean very little to most people, it has altered my ontology sufficiently so as to make me reconsider a great many things. Most pertinent to this fall is the moral status of voting. I’m writing this blog post to follow up on one of my first posts concerning voting and to kick around some newer considerations I have concerning moral, ethical, and aesthetically appealing action. As always, this is intended to be a setpiece for conversation, not some doctrine to which anyone must hold fast.

Oh, and P.S. I’m going to try and actually make a follow-up post showing exactly how I’m going to vote and to encourage you to do as I do. Spoiler alert: Hilary is evil incarnate and all of the third-party candidates are almost as bad for various reasons.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to support this project on Patreon!

Coffee and Capitalism

This post is actually brought to you by a sponsor! Coffee By Gillespie is a great site for meeting your coffee needs. If you use Coupon Code “madphilosopher”, you can get 10% off, and it sure beats Starbucks.

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For all of my “complaining” about our sorry state of affairs in today’s statist and war-driven global society, I really wouldn’t choose to live in any other time in history. I kinda’ brought this up in my post righting Robert Reich’s horrifying mistakes and propaganda, but it bears repeating. Just today, I rode my personal self-powered chariot to my climate-controlled workplace, pooped indoors, performed ancient and arcane rituals off of printed media while wearing fine silks, ate foods imported from around the world, listened to several academicians and musicians performing for my satisfaction, and now I’m sipping on a beverage that 10th century kings murdered people over (and my version is infinitely better-tasting than theirs could ever hope to be). In just one day, I’ve accomplished nearly everything that King Louis the 14th had in his entire life… and I managed to do it on a shoestring budget.

That’s right, this post is another love-letter to capitalism. But this one, in particular, is brought to you by that most popular of drugs: coffee. Those of you familiar with the Tuttle Twins or Leonard Read will likely recognize what I’m about to say about this most amazing beverage.

As far as I can tell, coffee has the same origin story most of my favorite foods has: some people were hungry and decided to eat something they probably shouldn’t have… and after a few tries, found a way to eat it that didn’t result in a painful and sudden death. In this case, burning the seeds of a certain berry tree and making a tea out of the burned seeds. Between the caffeine in the seeds, the appetite-suppressing qualities of the beverage, and the fact that it tastes better than the nasty water and ales that the people of the time had to drink, it caught on pretty quickly. I can’t blame them.

Of course, unless you lived in Ethiopia at the time, you’d have to buy coffee from merchants who had the foresight to bring something like burned seeds up to Europe or wherever you happened to live at the time. That type of service would take a long time and it was fairly expensive. Ultimately, only the aristocracy had the ability to pony up the cash to buy the beverage, and only those with the social connections to the proper merchants even had access to a supply of these burned seeds. The workers (peasants) were relegated to drinking the fermented sewage which passed as ale at the time and had very little variety in what was available. This wasn’t a failure of capitalism, mind you, it was merely the stage of development Europe was at in it’s long, slow, climb out of the natural state of man (that is to say, abject poverty).

Of course, if someone wants something and someone else has it, a deal can always be struck. In this case, the demand for coffee was realized as quickly as something could be realized with old-school trade caravans. The fact that certain “brands” of coffee were in higher demand than others, as well as the fact that the demand of coffee relative to other commodities, encouraged farmers in areas able to grow coffee to make more and better coffee. Due to the profit margin associated with the supply and demand, people produce more and better coffee and, as it begins to meet the needs of foreign consumers, the price of this precious beverage actually decreases… until, in the 20th century, the phrase “that and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee” became commonplace. If that phrase doesn’t make sense or if you’re too young to remember it, it means that the “that” being referred to is worthless. Oh, and coffee is super cheap.

Of course, the coffee that was typically priced at a nickel was the cheap American swill that companies like Folgers produced. As a matter of fact, when American soldiers were in Europe during the World War, the coffee makers in Europe were astounded when the soldiers would take their delicious Turkish espresso and add a bunch of water and cream to it to essentially ruin the coffee to the point that it resembled the stuff they were used to back home. With the sudden boom in consumer communication technology following the fall of Berlin, the markets became much more efficient, and Europeans began drinking American swill and Americans began drinking espresso.

In my lifetime, this intercommunication of markets and shifting demands has created what I consider to be one of the “seven (consumer) wonders of the market”. The beverage I’m contentedly and lovingly sipping while writing this post is not your granddaddy’s coffee, just like the weed your stoner cousin is smoking isn’t your granddaddy’s weed. The market has produced a wide array of incredibly potent and delicious (mostly) harmless drugs at a reasonably affordable price, due entirely to the price-finding mechanisms and consumer demand. If it weren’t for capitalism, none of us would have tasted coffee, let alone, created the awesome stuff I’m drinking right now.

As anyone familiar with the marketplace will tell you, there’s always certain trade-offs one can (and even must) make when making an exchange. In this case, if you want convenience, you go to Starbucks (or the state-monopolized dispensary if you’re looking for weed) and pay a convenience premium. If you want the good stuff, you have to know the right people, whether it be the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop or that one stoner who sells pot out of the back entrance of a warehouse, which is a little less convenient, but it’s got much better bang for the buck.

After drinking Coffee By Gillespie and taking a look at their website, I’m comfortable claiming that this is a place that you can get both the convenience (and trustworthiness) of a Starbucks and the quality of that hard-to-find word-of-mouth shop without paying a premium. So far, my favorite roast/source is the “Tanzania Mbeya Highlands Peaberry”, but I haven’t tried all of the samples yet. Of course, my favorite type of coffee is the high-altitude, wet-washed, dark roasts, so this is likely to be my favorite of all the samples, anyway. It’s not as dark as some of the other roasts I like, but it’s got a certain sweetness and acidity to it that you can’t get in a darker roast.

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Anyway, now that I’ve got my coffee-snobbishness out of my system, I want to encourage you to support yourself, the economy, the coffea arabica, and this site all at once by going to Coffee By Gillespie and ordering your own bag of ecstasy (the sensation, not the drug) and using coupon code “madphilosopher” at checkout.

Before I let you go, though, I want to just do a quick rundown of the process by which this coffee gets to your door, because it’s a miracle of the market. There’s a guy in Tanzania or Ethiopia, or some other high-altitude tropical region who gets hired to tend some plants and harvest their fruits periodically. The guy paying him has also hired some people to soak the berries in water or lay them out in the sun until the seeds are easily removed. This guy then sells the seeds to a different guy. The guys growing and washing the coffee beans don’t need to know where the seeds are going or why, all they need is to ply their trade and get paid in order to elevate themselves out of poverty.

The guy who buys the seeds hires a crew to roast the seeds. Again, the employees don’t have to know all the intricacies of the market, only that they are getting paid to roast the beans. Then the guy with the roaster sells the beans to a distributor in a first-world country, somewhere. In order to get the beans from the opposite side of the globe, this distributor pays someone else to ship the beans from one side of the planet to the other. Then the distributor distributes the beans either directly to the customer or to a retail outfit. Either way, you then pay the distributor for these irreplaceable beans and consume them.

Looking at that long chain of laborers, and how much money it cost to get it from the dirt in Ethiopia to your stomach, it’s a wonder that it’s only about twenty bucks. Think about the shipping alone! $20 of gas can get my Prizm from one end of the state to the other on a good day… but this giant-ass ship gets your beans across the ocean for far less. It’s like magic! I’ll get into how that can be the case, later. For now, I want to explore even more intricacies. For example, the tools that the coffee farmers use are produced via similar means: from raw materials to finished product, the tool passes through several stages of laborers and exchanges. And the tools used by the roasters, and the shippers, and the distributors. It’s literally impossible, with the current tools at mankind’s’ disposal, to map out every single one of these relationships required to get coffee beans into your stomach and that caffeine into your blood… and that same complexity applies to just about everything else you use and consume, as well.

So, if no one can map out all of these relationships, how can it even happen? Well, that requires us to backtrack through that entire chain I indicated before. You pay a distributor for a particular batch of coffee, whether it be a $7 bucket of Folgers or a $16 package of “Ethiopia Organic Tencho Cooperative” deliciousness (10% off if you use my link and code). This sends a market signal (along with everyone else making these purchases) that there is money to be made in importing these products for less than that price per unit. Someone with enough money to purchase the roasted beans and pay for importation can then make such an investment. Making that investment sends a market signal to the roaster that there is money to be made in buying and roasting the beans for less than the distributor will pay per unit. Again, the roaster and grower see similar signals. At this stage, the grower needs employees. This sends a market signal to employees that there is a certain amount of money to be made for investing the time and work required to grow the beans, which may be a better option than what else is on the employment market.

As before, it’s not just a single channel of communication through the market, either. All the previously mentioned complexity still applies. Either the grower or his employer must purchase tools, which send those signals all they way back to the miners and lumberjacks, for example. This is where entrepreneurs, such as Coffee by Gillespie come in. What an entrepreneur is, at his heart, is someone who sees different resources available on the market and finds a way to mix them together in a new way that provides more value to others than the individual parts would. To (mis)quote Aristotle: “This whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

All this is only possible, specifically the bag of coffee for $20 despite all of the costs associated with making it and transporting it across the globe, due to economies of scale. It would be impossible to make only one bag of coffee and get it across the globe for less than $2,000, let alone $20. Fortunately, one laborer’s worth of beans produces several hundred bags of coffee and one set of tools can be used by multiple laborers. Ships can carry millions of bags of coffee, and if there isn’t enough coffee to fill the ship, they can fill up the space with other products from other distributors. This profitable sharing of resources is something that’s also too complex to leave up to one central plan or map, it can only happen by individual shipping companies looking at market signals and making the choices that are most profitable for themselves. It just so happens that the efficiency of everyone making such decisions with such information results in all of the amazing products we have at our disposal every day. And the best part is, that guy in Ethiopia whom you’ve never met and never will, would likely have been left to starve to death in the highlands, but has now found employment and a method of survival due to your desire to drink coffee.

I could write and talk all day about all the little details involved in this process, and I sometimes do. I don’t think I’m crazy for that, though, seeing as how Rothabrd and many others have lived their entire lives doing little else than studying and admiring this phenomenon.

Vivat Forum! and Carpe Veritas.

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Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

In 1969, two significant libertarians wrote articles for the Libertarian Forum Volume 1. One Karl Hess published a list of questions he felt needed concrete answers from the libertarian community and Murray Rothbard dutifully stepped up to the plate and answered those questions from a principled, pragmatic, and economically-minded stance. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, though, this work of Rothbard’s has been excised from the libertarian consciousness and left to the AnComs to champion.

Rothbard is widely recognized as the arch-AnCap and rightly so. Without too much geeking out, I want it to be known that Rothbard, with nothing but a pen, brain, and lectures, has done more for humanity’s sake than nearly any other individual. Of course, he used that brain, pen, and lecturing gig towards such an end for fifty-or-so years and, understandably, made some mistakes along the way. The most significant of those mistakes, which he admitted to being an unmitigated disaster , was the time he spent on the political left.

Between the left-friendly rhetoric and the apparent inability for most to contextualize and dispassionately read material, “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle” has gone overlooked despite its presentation of what amounts to, simultaneously, the most principled and most actionable solution concerning the problem of de-socializing state property. Admittedly, this is not entirely Rothbard’s fault, as he was answering the questions of Mr. Hess, a bleeding-heart liberal lacking any solid grasp of libertarianism’s philosophical commitments. Instead of shredding Hess’ article for it’s numerous errors, though, Rothbard attempted to address it on its own terms.

Hess was clearly unaware of the inherent “right-wing” nature of libertarianism/anarchism, openly denigrating “the right” in favor for “left-libertarian” (AKA Marxist) presumptions. The most philosophically criminal of which being his overturning of the ontological hierarchy of human activities, claiming that conceptions of rights and property are derived from some goal of human activity as opposed to the other way around. Such an argument is nothing short of a performative contradiction. Additionally, he lifts openly Marxist revolutionary rhetoric and terminology while also demanding that specifics be given concerning environmental agendas, the revolutionary takeover of General Motors, and egalitarian nonsense such as racially-motivated “reparations” programs in the context of libertarianism.

Given the stage of development Rothbard was at and the stage set by Hess, it isn’t surprising how Marxist Rothbard’s response sounds. Despite all the garbage concerning answers to Hess’ stupid questions, Rothbard still produced a gem which demands legitimate attention. Instead of doing what Rothbard ought to have done and devoting my energy to destroying Hess, what I want to do here is mine out the gem Rothbard created using his later, more AnCap material to inform this activity.

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

It can be taken for granted in anarchist circles that the dichotomy most central to libertarian discourse is that between the state (socialists) and the individual (anarchists). Another, less equivocal, way to name that dichotomy would be that between the criminal (outlaw) and the non-criminal. In order to appropriately understand this dichotomy, one must first come to an appropriate, if basic, understanding of property.

In the tradition of John Locke, property comes into being by way of homesteading. The simplest conception of homesteading is that unowned property enters into private ownership by virtue of an individual investing one’s own property into it, whether it be labor or materials or by way of occupying or otherwise adding value to it. After a certain property is homesteaded, it can easily pass from one owner to another by way of voluntary trade or donation. This is the basis of all forms of human interaction and that which is commonly referred to as “rights”.

For the sake of clarity, a definition of “property” ought to be proffered here. I use the term to mean “any discrete object to which one has access, control over, and a legitimate claim by virtue of homestead or acquisition from the previous owner with the owner’s assent”. Incidentally, I’ve also addressed the concept of “theft” as applies to property before, and recommend that others read the post centered on the issue. In lieu of reading the whole post, one should at least be aware that theft, in this conception, is the unauthorized use, consumption, or acquisition of another’s property.

In such a case that one steals another’s property, one is engaged in crime and is, therefore, deserving of the title and status of “outlaw”. The unfortunate etymology of the term notwithstanding, all it means is that one such individual is not likely to be welcome in polite, cooperative society, so much so that they are likely to, themselves, have property taken from them and be the recipient of violence. Ideally, this circumstance would lead to the outlaw seeking reconciliation with his victims, making the victim whole. Even if reconciliation is impossible, it would still be morally and economically preferable for the outlaw’s stolen property to be confiscated by literally any private individual who can invest it back into cooperative society. Not only should the stolen property be re-appropriated by the market, but also any (formerly) legitimate property belonging to the outlaw which was utilized for that theft.

The clear example of this principle would be a back-alley mugging. Say I take a shortcut down the wrong alley in Denver and find myself held at gunpoint. My assailant demands my wallet. For the sake of discussion, I either hand over my wallet or have it forced from me. It would clearly be justified if I were to promptly re-appropriate my wallet from him. Not only would it be tactically sound, but it would also be morally justified for me to confiscate his firearm and maybe even his getaway vehicle as well. If I am overpowered and some honorable bystander witnesses this event, he would be equally justified in intervening and doing so on my behalf.

This action is preferable and just for three reasons. Firstly, it makes the victim of a crime closer to being made whole and increases the opportunity for justice to take place. Secondly, it decreases the opportunity of the outlaw to continue committing crimes. Thirdly, it sends a market signal that there are externalities and risks associated with committing crimes, thereby reducing the likelihood of others taking such a course of action.

A crime which has only recently been acknowledged as such, historically speaking, is that of slavery. Ultimately, slavery is little more than institutionalized coercion and theft. The (largely fictional) account of slavery in the American South is an easy example of this reality: individuals compelled by the use of force to perform tasks and refrain from others while also being robbed of the fruits of their labor. This description may sound reductionist, but no one could argue that it is not the heart of the matter. The only change that may be warranted would be the addition of some description of scale, but that is superfluous to this discussion.

Given the above description of homesteading, theft, and confiscation along with the popular sentiment concerning slavery, I imagine it would be largely non-controversial to claim that a slave rebellion in such a climate would be morally justified. At a minimum, one who believes the American Revolution was justified would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of a slave rebellion in the South.

Such a fictional rebellion could take several forms. One, unfortunately impractical, instance would be an entire plantation or county witnessing its slave populations simply standing tall and walking off the plantation. I imagine most can see why that would be impossible; given the surrounding environment, it would likely turn out much like emancipation really did. More likely to succeed and more in-line with the first part of this post would be the confiscation or re-homestead of the plantations. Rather than remaining complicit with their slavery (horizontal enforcement, complying with orders, etc.), the slaves could act in self-defense, thereby exiling or executing their masters and confiscating or re-homesteading the products of their forced labor and the instruments by which that theft occurred.

This is where Rothbard’s application of the homestead principle comes into play. How ought the slave re-appropriate the plantation? What options are available? By way of the nature of homesteading, each slave who remains on the plantation and continues to work would naturally come into ownership of his tools and the immediate fruits of his labor. While the theory is simple and broad, the application could be messy and case-specific.

One possibility would be an extreme individualist approach, whereby the individual plants on the plantation would be divided among the farmhands while the individual household appliances and rooms would be divided among the house servants and a micro-economy could emerge whereby the cooks could prepare meals in exchange for the fruits of the field and as rent for staying in the house… but this solution is likely to result in friction: petty squabbles over bits and pieces of the plantation and personal disputes.

An other option would be to collectivize ownership of the plantation whereby a communist micro-state could be formed. Each former slave would continue doing the very things they were before the rebellion, only replacing the masters’ directions with weekly meetings to determine how the plantation ought to be run. Presumably, these meetings would also serve to manage how wealth ought to be distributed amongst the former slaves who choose to stay. Of course, this solution looks far too similar to an Orwell novel and is likely to go as well as the Bolshevik revolution.

A more likely to succeed option would be a sort of middle-ground by which the confiscated plantation would be incorporated, for lack of a more accurate term. It would take a certain degree of commitment and foresight, but the former slaves could divide the plantation into a number of shares equal to the number of remaining former slaves, essentially granting virtual ownership of the plantation to those who re-homesteaded it. This creates an economic incentive to remain and invest labor and play nice with others in order to increase the value of the shares one owns in the plantation. Such activities would increase the dividends and resale value of the share as well as increasing the security of one’s livelihood. However, if one desired to leave, they could, using the dividends or resale of the share to serve as compensation for one’s participation in the labor and rebellion preceding his departure.

Admittedly, this is all hypothetical. To my knowledge, no such rebellion occurred in actual history, which leads me to believe that slavery, writ large, wasn’t as bad as I was told in elementary school. Even so, I only presented three out of a literal infinitude of resolutions of a slave rebellion. Given my more pessimistic views of human genetics, the most likely outcome would be something similar to that which exists in sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to Iceland. However, this hypothetical would be far more likely to end well in the following example.

Before moving further, it is important to draw attention to the basics of this hypothetical. The justification for and the means of achieving this slave rebellion is a combination of self-defense and confiscation in conjunction with the homestead principle, as indicated at the beginning of this post. Self-defense from criminal acts is eminently justifiable, this applies to theft and coercion and, therefore, to slavery. In the case of self-defense, confiscation of the implements of crime-in-progress as well as stolen property is justified as well. Stolen property is, in practice, unowned due to the outlaw effect and the lack of legitimate claim in conjunction with access to the property. Even if that weren’t the case, an executed or exiled criminal’s former property (legitimate or otherwise) is effectively unowned and, therefore, open to homestead.

With this argument in mind, we turn our attention to other instances of slavery. Most widespread, historically and today, is the case of slavery known as the state. By way of regulation, taxation, enforcement, and other euphemistically-named criminal activities, the state coerces specific behaviors, steals and destroys property, and engages in all manner of murderous, coercive, and thieving activities. It is impossible to define slavery in a manner consistent with its historical referents while excluding government in a manner consistent with its historical referents. In Rothbard’s words, “The state is a giant gang of organized criminals, who live off the theft called ‘taxation’ and use the proceeds to kill, enslave, and generally push people around.”

In the case of state-slavery “All taxpayers, all draftees, all victims of the State have been mulcted… Any person or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty.” In the spirit of the earlier example, “How to go about returning all this property to the taxpayers? What proportions should be used in this terrific tangle of robbery and injustice that we have all suffered at the hands of the State? Often, the most practical method of de-statizing is simply to grant the moral right of ownership on the person or group who seizes the property from the State. Of this group, the most morally deserving are the ones who are already using the property but who have no moral complicity in the State’s act of aggression. These people then become the “homesteaders” of the stolen property and hence the rightful owners.”

The specific examples are largely straightforward: police can take their armor, guns, and vehicles home and take advantage of a sudden demand for private security personnel in the absence of the state. Lawyers and judges can establish arbitration firms. Educators can take control of the facilities and implements of education and continue to teach in a competitive market. Those currently providing non-marketable “services”, such as DMV employees, bureaucrats, union thugs, and military will likely have to find a way to re-brand their respective talents of race poverty. Of course, the slave-holders themselves, the politicians, executive officers, representatives, and lobbyists will face exile or execution. Unfortunately, not everything is that straightforward. What of corporatist entities? General Motors, Haliburton, Koch, MSNBC, the Post Office, and “private” colleges are wholly indistinguishable from the state, itself.

“As a result of zealous lobbying on behalf of the recipient… The same principle applies… they deserve a similar fate of virtuous homesteading and confiscation.” In the case of corporations and organizations that receive half or more of their funds though government institutions, they are effectively inseparable from the state and must suffer the same fate. The military industrial complex, especially, ought to be confiscated from the criminal band known as the state, not only for its complicity in theft but also its open endorsement of globalized murder. Important note: this is a wholly different issue that the legal abuse suffered by firearms and alcohol manufacturers and distributors when their products are abused.

Speaking of these absurdly regulated industries, many of a communist persuasion will argue that all industry is a beneficiary of government and ought to be re-homesteaded. I disagree. Whereas Haliburton is a direct recipient of welfare, most other corporations are merely indirect beneficiaries of the state’s criminal activities by way of limited competition, externalized expenses, and coercing purchase of goods and services. These corporations will be forced, in the absence of the state, to either adapt to the ensuing market correction or fold and sell their assets. Besides, it is morally suspect and quite inefficient to try and homestead every regulated industry. Those that manage to adapt to market correction were clearly sufficiently virtuous enough to deserve protection from re-homestead, whereas those that fold and sell out were vicious enough to deserve such a fate and homesteading becomes superfluous, as those entities are peaceably re-introduced into the free market.

TL;DR: What is required to de-socialize the state and appropriately pursue the abolition of slavery is nothing short of a slave rebellion. Such a slave rebellion must be conducted in accordance with the moral principles of self-defense, confiscation, and homestead. Otherwise, such activities are likely to end in the establishment of an even-less preferable state of affairs, such as that of communism. In the words of Rothbard, “Libertarians have misled themselves by making their main dichotomy “government” vs. “private” with the former bad and the latter good. Government, [Alan Milchman] pointed out, is after all not a mystical entity but a group of individuals, “private” individuals if you will, acting in the manner of an organized criminal gang. But this means that there may also be “private” criminals as well as people directly affiliated with the government. What we libertarians object to, then, is not government per se but crime, what we object to is unjust or criminal property titles; what we are for is not “private” property per se but just, innocent, non-criminal private property. It is justice vs. injustice, innocence vs. criminality that must be our major libertarian focus.”

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Leaving the Cave, An Amiable Introduction to Anarchy: A Free Market Manifesto

At Ave Maria University, the college I attended, James Chillemi recently presented a solid introduction to Anarcho-Capitalism for his senior thesis. Despite some degree of opposition from the professors and administrators at the school (not surprisingly), he did so for his senior thesis.
I recommend reading this to everyone. Many people have a tremendous blind spot in their education. Even economics majors often have no concept of the foundation principles of economic theory. It is crucial to fill this blind spot before beginning to discuss questions like “Who will build the roads?” and “What about education?” James does a great job of starting that process.
Those that already know the foundations of economics can find some useful rhetorical tools in explaining it to the uneducated. It’s also useful to have a refresher course on the basics, every so often.
It’s not a long read, a couple smoke breaks or a lunch break can handle this paper.

For those who would rather listen than read, his presentation is on youtube. I recommend reading the paper over the video, almost entirely due to the fact that the audio is a little rough. I think it was recorded on a cell phone.
The conspiracy-theorist in me wonders why they didn’t do his thesis in the lecture hall, which is equipped for better audio and actual recording of video and audio. His thesis was the only one that was not allowed to have open attendance, the audience was limited to economics and law students only… but, it’s equally likely that the administrators just still suck at their jobs instead of some sort of attempted censorship (which was also prevalent at Ave).

Robber Barons are your Friends

I will eventually write a full review of “How Capitalism Saved America“, but for now, I just want to encourage people to read Chapter 7 “The Truth About the ‘Robber Barons‘” as today’s resource suggestion.

There isn’t much to say, despite the length of the text I’m suggesting.  This chapter explores the revisionism applied primarily to the railroads of the pre-FED american landscape and teases apart fact from fiction.  It’s no surprise, really, that public education would try to paint capitalism as evil, even when examining one of the greatest successes of capitalism itself; it’s all a matter of financial incentives, given that “public” school is funded by the same institution that is a competitor against capitalism…

Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

The term “fair” comes up a lot these days.  I have only a limited chronological sample (26 years), and I have not always been as aware of its use as I could have been, but it would seem that my generation (unlike preceding generations) never learned to stop using that word.  When I was five, things being fair was a big deal.  Of course, “fair” meant something different to each person, even grown-ups.  The more conservative (RE: less-socialist) parents would try to make each instance one of desert: “who earned what?” while the egalitarian lefty parents would try to implement some form of social justice: “Your brother is younger and smaller than you, so he always gets to go first and gets more candy.”

Of course, when one grows up, a part of that process is the realization that “life isn’t fair”.  This is because “fair” doesn’t exist, and it’s a self-contradictory concept, no matter how one defines it, much like common conceptions of justice.

Today’s resource suggestion is more Rothbard.  This time, it’s the essay “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature“.  This is a scathing reductio ad absurdum of the very premise of any sort of “equality-oriented” philosophy (feminism, egalitarianism, socialism, progressivism, statism…).

You can read the text or listen to the audio for free, courtesy of the Mises Institute.

Collectivism: the Bald-Faced Lie

Today, rather than harping on issues in the science community, or pointing out all the irrationality surrounding Paris (I wrote a whole diatribe, several pages in length, and will likely never share it with anyone), I figured I should focus on something more important and more universally applicable (one which applies to both issues, if indirectly).

Rather than discussing the book in its entirety, I would like to suggest reading/listening to the chapter on “The State” from “For a New Liberty

You can also download the full text of “For a New Liberty” here:

For a New Liberty The Libertarian Manifesto

Feudal AnCapistan

This week, we’ve got another audio-only post.  I was asked to refute a very simple claim that anarchism is synonymous with feudalism.  While such a claim demonstrates a lack of economic literacy (which I made a conscious effort to avoid getting into today), I thought it would be worth at least beginning a conversation about, given that I’ve heard it multiple times.  Not only have I heard it multiple times, but it was the argument which I presented in defense of Objectivism against anarchism during my 6-moth conversion from neoconservatism to anarchism.

In this recording, I address a few different reasons why it’s unlikely that feudalism would be the result of anarchism (I ignored the fact that feudalism and anarchism are antonyms and could not therefore be synonymous) and allow for one historical interpretation which could allow for feudalism to emerge, which also effectively explains how we got ourselves into the mess we’re in.

I feel compelled to point out, though, that feudalism is, in many ways, superior to the current situation in most of the globe (Empire included).  Additionally, in the argument presented in the OP (presumably off 4chan) there is an implication that AnCaps don’t care about the poor.  While *some* AnCaps may not, it is not inherent to the belief system of anarchism.  As a matter of fact, I recently addressed just how an anarchist is often more concerned about the poor and more willing to do what it takes to help them.
However, in a truly anarchist (AnCap) society, the only people that wind up poor are those that are unwilling to work (RE: provide a valuable good or service to others) and/or unwilling to maintain healthy relationships with other human beings.  In which case, there is little reason for one to be concerned for the poor, as it is a free choice to be such.

http://anarcho-capitalist.org/wp-content/pdfs/Rothbard%20(Murray)%20-%20The%20Ethics%20of%20Liberty.pdf

Towards a Definition of Property

 

Before I can argue about intellectual property, we must first have a working definition of property at large.

 Property, like the other concepts I’ve tried to define in this blog, is an idea that nearly everyone uses daily without much self-awareness. Of course, the precedent set by previous posts will be upheld here; my definition is going to be functionally approximate to common use, but counter-intuitive. A good starting place would be to identify the common understanding of what property is and what function it serves.

Property, in its common conceptualization, is simply an item, process, idea, or region of space to which one lays claim and society acknowledges said claim. Usually this claim comes in the form of a title, deed, or bill of sale (receipt) issued by the seller or government and the acknowledgment takes the form of deference to property and licensure laws (and all the violence inherent therein). Of course, an anarchist would be disinclined to use such a convention. Before throwing it out, though, we ought to explore the function of such a convention.

What function does property convention serve in contemporary culture? Ostensibly, it is a determining factor in the acknowledgment of rights and liabilities. If some thing is one’s property, one has the right to do with it what one will; if said thing is not one’s property, one can only do with it that which is permitted by the acknowledged owner. Of course, if this rhetoric is to be used as a definition of property, the state is the owner of all property by virtue of laws concerning what uses are allowed for all property. As a function, though, this idea serves as an excellent starting place for defining property.

What could be necessary and sufficient conditions for an item to be considered property, with an eye to producing a functionality similar to that mentioned above? I am not confident that I could fully formulate them here, but I must at least begin the discussion.

One such condition I believe to necessary is the discrete nature of the object in question. This is both a practical and a definitional concern. Where one could indicate a clearly defined object and lay claim to that specific object, it would be nonsense to indicate something nebulous or unconstrained and lay claim to it. For example, I could lay claim to a specific apple as my property and the claim could be easily constrained to the perceptible material boundary of the apple’s flesh, but it would be practically and conceptually impossible for me to crop-dust the line at the DMV and then lay claim to the fart cloud permeating the room and everyone’s nostrils. Another possible example would be for me to fence-in a distinct and limited area of land and lay claim to it and it may be a legitimate claim. Barring that being a legitimate claim, I can at least claim that the fence is my property…. which, given the basics of property rights, would be more or less functionally equivalent to claiming the land inside the fence.

However, laying claim to “all the land between this ocean and the next” or “from sea to shining sea” would be as absurd as, and logically equivalent to, claiming “all the apples”. It may be possible that, by way of trade (purchase) or labor, I may successfully acquire all of the known apples or all of the known land, but this is a circumstantial quality of that claim, not an essential or necessary one. What this means is that an apple or piece of land could be discovered to which I have not yet laid legitimate claim and I would then no longer own all of the apples or land, whereas, a categorical claim to “all the things” would mean that if a new “thing” were discovered, it would automatically be incorporated into my property.

In addition to being a discrete object, one must claim it in order for it to become property. A rock in a forest, unseen by man, may as well be a planet in the Andromeda galaxy: undiscovered, unowned, unimportant. A rock in my hand, though, is mine (unless the rightful owner has handed it to me… whatever). Of course, if two parties lay claim to an object, there must be some principle by which to determine whose claim is legitimate, but that problem should be explored later.

There are those who claim that whatever object is claimed, it must be a limited resource in order to become property. I hear AnCaps assent to that claim, but only because they believe it to be a tautology; all resources are scarce, only the degree to which they are scarce is in question. I also hear liberals and liberal-leaning individuals assenting to this claim. However, I believe this claim is assented to solely because it can serve the liberal agenda of eliminating property; in a post-scarcity world, property couldn’t exist. I am inclined to agree that such a condition for property is tautological, but for a different reason than the AnCaps. In laying claim to portion of even a non-scarce resource (such as a bucket of seawater or a fistful of sand at a beach), one creates a particular type of scarcity. The sand owned by the individual in question is scarce by virtue of being his sand. It can be argued that such a distinction is meaningless, that his sand is indistinguishable from any other which is non-scarce… but the industry of religious and cultural relics would argue otherwise. Of course, this scarcity only exists so long as one cannot lay claim to the entirety of a resource, scarce or not, as I addressed above.

The next condition is complex and may be considered the deciding factor by which property is defined. Property could be considered an object to which one has the most full control over and access to. While this principle sounds straightforward and implies a Hobbesian brutality, it is far more nuanced and just than it sounds. Some examples really are simple and Hobbesian. If I wander into the woods and find our previously undiscovered rock from before, I can pick it up and claim it as my own. It is mine by virtue of being in my hand. If I bring it home and place it in my yard or home, it is mine by virtue of being on my property and in my control. If I were to claim it as mine, drop it in the woods where I found it and walk away, never to return again, anyone could claim the rock because I have forsaken control over and access to said rock.

This is where simplicity breaks down. What happens if I loan said rock to my neighbor, or rent it to a client? I abdicate physical control and access to someone else, how is it different from simply having gifted or sold it to someone else? An easy answer, which I reject, is “contracts”. Contracts, as readers of this blog will know, are as fictitious as the law in my mind. A lease or renter’s contract amounts to nothing more than a promise with a written reminder of that promise. Which, incidentally, serves as an excellent launching point for my suggested solution. So long as my neighbor honors my wishes regarding the rock (contractually state or not), I still exert control over the rock, if indirectly. I may lack access to said rock, depending on the nature of my agreement with my neighbor, but insofar as the nature of that lack is temporary, my control of the rock serves as a substitute.

If my neighbor decides he values my rock more than his friendship with me, he may decide to violate our agreement and claim the rock as his own. In which case, he takes control of the rock and renders my lack of access to it permanent. These two factors being the determining factors of property would render the rock as his property. At this point, the Leviathan of social acknowledgment reawakens and rears it’s many ugly heads. One method by which I could prevent or mitigate such an event would be to publicly establish my claim to the rock before lending it to my neighbor. At which point, if my neighbor steals the rock, I can call upon our community to place social pressure on him to return my property. I could also alert the community that I intend to retrieve my property at any cost, in order to dissuade the virtuous men of my community from interceding on my neighbor’s behalf if such an attempt were to escalate to violence. In this way, the social forces I can bring to bear could still be considered “control”.

There are many technologies that lend themselves to this solution, though. Branding, titles/deeds, third-party records-keepers, smart property, remote bricking, social conventions, etc. have all come from the long-standing intuition of social acknowledgment. Even with such technologies, as a principled anarchist, I believe the utility of such solutions may be insufficient justification in light of the potential for abuse. One can turn to fictitious accounts of the wild west for examples of abuse of the contract/social acknowledgment solution to theft. These flaws are sufficient to encourage me to look for a better resolution, but this is one stopgap measure that seems to parallel the average person’s intuition and lend itself to marketability. Other options have been explored and are in use today. I believe that a small enough community would have no need for such technologies, especially a community centered on anarchist principles. In the case of larger communities, I recommend reading Spooner, Rothbard, or (oddly enough) Proudhon for alternatives. Again, I believe in letting a thousand flowers bloom and seeing what works, but this particular issue and resolution is raised this time for definitional purposes.

The issue of theft gives rise to the last condition I have found to be necessary for a thing to be considered property; legitimacy of claim. My neighbor claiming the rock he borrowed from me as his own is considered an illegitimate claim and, therefore, theft. There is an overabundance of issues and theories concerning legitimacy of claim. Most straightforward of these issues and solutions is that of homesteading. It’s a very involved discussion that I will explore further at a later date. A quick overview, though, is essentially thus: the first person to use or add value to an unowned object has a legitimate claim of ownership. After one establishes such a claim, one may give or sell it to whomever one so desires.

By extension, then, if one purchases property from someone else, one then has a legitimate claim to it. Of course, if the seller has stolen said property, there remains the issue of whether the original owner’s claim or that of the unwitting purchaser is (more) legitimate. Thus far, I have not read or synthesized a categorical answer to this particular problem. Perhaps discussions with you, the readers, will help me to do so. In the mean time, I’m inclined to give the pragmatic case: don’t let your stuff get stolen. If it does get stolen, get it back before the thief sells it. If you fail to do so, there’s little cause to steal it from someone uninvolved in the crime. Maybe, if you ask nicely, you and the new owner can work something out.

This answer is clearly unsatisfying, so I will venture two cases that each have their own flaws, but may prompt appropriate discussion. If ownership is some metaphysical attribute that a person or piece of property has, then the claim of ownership that the original owner makes would be more legitimate than that of the thief or the unwitting purchaser of stolen goods, as theft would not transfer the metaphysical ownership from oneself to a thief… or we wouldn’t call it theft and expect the thief to return the stolen property or equivalent goods. If, in fact, ownership is merely a term we use to describe a practical state of affairs, the purchaser of stolen goods has a legitimate claim to the property by virtue of having engaged in a voluntary exchange of goods, trading something of approximate value for something else of approximate value.

There also arises the issue of homesteading abandoned property, which closely parallels the limit cases of theft. I feel I’ve taken enough of your time this time around, and I believe any satisfying answers would have to be informed by the limit cases of theft and their resolutions, so we’ll save that issue for later. For now, titles, records, blockchains, receipts, deeds, etc. are useful tools to try and avoid finding oneself embroiled in such an issue.

TL;DR; My working definition of “property” is, “any discrete object to which one has access, control over, and a legitimate claim by virtue of homestead or acquisition from the previous owner with the owner’s assent.” This definition needs improvement and exploration, especially in establishing a principled resolution of theft and homesteading abandoned property.

 

LibPar: Utopia, Utilitarianism, Ethics

 

“So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.” Hunter S Thompson

Rothbard mentioned “Button Pushers” in his work “Do you Hate the State?” If there were an “abolish all government” button, I would push it with such fervor and force I would likely injure myself and those around me. I believe, with a fair degree of certainty, that what would follow would be a relatively peaceful and gradual shift in peoples’ behavior and attitudes such that a culture of responsibility and respect would slowly grow out of our current slavery. However, even if I knew that the result would be an immediate collapse into “the Purge” or “Mad Max”, I would still push the button without hesitation.

You see, I’m a deontologist of sorts. It’s no mistake that my last post was about ethics. Deontology, at least my particular brand of it, is an ethical framework centered on moral absolutes and individual action. In other words, I believe that, regardless of circumstance or outcome, murder, coercion, and theft are categorically immoral. I believe that the ends never justify the means and that ethical reasoning applies exclusively to the decision at hand and not the past or the future. Considerations of goals, intentions, consequences, etc. only enter the picture after the moral absolutes sort out the morally justified and the unjust actions available. Alternatively, after one determines the most desirable course of action based on such considerations, one must verify that it does not violate moral absolutes. This is all a direct result of my broader philosophy, but that discussion is best left to another place and time.

If Deontology Man were a superhero (he’d be Rorschach), he would need an arch-nemesis. This arch-nemesis would be (Ozymandias) The Utilitarian and his sidekick/son, Consequentialist. Utilitarianism is a sterile, mathematical approach to life and ethics. Its goal is to maximize quantifiable pleasure for the maximum number of people. Imagine giving Spock or the T-800 the keys to the kingdom and the directive of maximizing everyone’s pleasure. Best case scenario, you’ll find yourself in a Peter Singer (advocate of murdering retarded kids and granting whales constitutional rights) book; worst case, scenario, you get “The Matrix”, but with more robot sex slaves and limitless cocaine.

What does deontology and utilitarianism have to do with LibPar and utopia? You’ll see, but we mustn’t forget Consequentialist. Consequentialism is a form of utilitarianism which uses the results of an action to retroactively determine whether or not it was a morally good or bad action. In the example of the miraculous “abolish government” button: if my guess were correct, it would be good to push the button and if we wound up with Mad Max, it would have been bad. A lot of people are sympathetic to this line of reasoning; a law can be called a good law or a bad law based on whether we think it improved or detracted from people’s quality of life… but, by that logic, if someone were to have brutally murdered Maria Schicklgruber in the 1700s, it would have been a morally good act, by way of preventing Hitler from ever existing: ignoring, of course, the impossibility of knowing about the possibility of Hitler in a world where his grandmother was murdered. As a matter of fact, I will milk Godwin’s law even further: modern medicine and space travel, invented by Nazis, have saved and improved more lives than those lost or ruined in the Holocaust, so Hitler was a good guy.

Now we have arrived at anarchy and LibPar. I tend to avoid discussions about Liberty Paradise, except behind closed doors with close friends. People like to (incorrectly) brand anarchism as a utopian philosophy and ridicule it as such. Way back in “Towards a Definition of Anarchy”, I explained that anarchism is not a positive, goal-oriented philosophy but instead is a proscriptive moral claim against criminal institutions. Due to the nature of anarchism and my deontological leanings, discussions as to “the ends in mind” when discussing anarchism vs. statism is inappropriate; such discussions distract from the importance of the issue at hand, namely, “How ought I conduct my affairs in this moment?”

That said, I can engage in a discussion of what I expect LibPar to look like, so long as we keep in mind this important principle: the rest of this post is not a discussion of the necessary result of people behaving in accordance with the principles of anarchy, it is an assessment of a likely possibility, based on my understanding of the human condition and experience. LibPar is a fairy tale that, like the utopian visions of democracy, have no influence on the daily actions of anarchists.

LibPar:
In an ideal state of affairs, I would have the “abolish government” button handed to me from on high and I would make every institution proscribed against in “Towards a Definition of Anarchy” vanish overnight. Yes, the world may be rendered chaotic and in a state of violent upheaval. Some, less domesticated, places would likely continue operations as if nothing had changed, while others may burn to the ground… Of course, that’s what’s happening right now, just on a longer timetable. In a less ideal, but more realistic, state of affairs, the message of freedom and responsibility may reach a sufficient number of people and technology may progress to a point so as to enable the widespread adoption of these beliefs in action. Regardless of the specific events which would lead to the formation of LibPar, what would it look like?

Markets:
Firstly, unlike utopian outlooks, I have no specific design for how the entire world ought to work. I expect, in the open market of ideas and philosophies, that a plethora of societies will form worldwide, each with their own distinct features; some will be better suited for perpetuity while others will not. Such is the way of things; without governments to artificially sustain bad ideas, some societies will collapse under their own weight, while others will flourish if genuinely allowed to compete.

This will likely result in different economic models, such as pure capitalism and pure socialism (think first century Catholics, not USSR or USA), being granted opportunities to succeed without the interference of government guns. So will various alternative markets: gift economies, barter and service, token economies, “smart” economies (think blockchains), honor markets… the theoretical options are limitless. Without global market manipulations and capture, we would actually get a chance to see if any of them work in practice. I have a couple that I’m rooting for, but that’s unimportant.

Dunbar Number:
The human condition is such that we have the capacity for a limited number of meaningful human relationships that one person can maintain at any given time. Anarchist societies will have to reflect this reality in some way. I expect the most likely way the Dunbar Number will be expressed is that such societies will consist of a few hundred or a maximum of one or two thousand. Such a small population also helps prevent the rise of criminal institutions and most considerations delegated to the state in slave societies will simply not be present in a small enough population. Additionally, genuine human interaction becomes essentially unavoidable, the inverse case of urban environments. The essential quality of the Dunbar Number is that, in a community of appropriate size and density so as to promote human flourishing, you would know everyone by name.

Recently, a friend asked me how a small community marketplace could solve moral issues that people generally turn to law to rectify. The example in question was that of strip clubs, which we both find morally objectionable, but not criminal. The Dunbar number, and small community is the way I think the issue naturally gets solved. Stripper Stacy becomes a lot less fun when you know her parents, she lives down the street, and she knows you and the three other dudes that visit the strip club outside of the club. Also, statistically speaking, Stacy is likely to be the only one in the community that would be willing to be a stripper, which would make it more of a small-business-out-of-your-basement kind of operation, which resembles a strip club solely by way of the vicious nature of the specific service. It does not necessarily mean that the service goes away, but it certainly mitigates the impact on the community as well as making a coercive and violent law regarding it superfluous.

Intentionality:
With a population so small, such a community can be centered around a common goal or ideal. Closely tied to the market of markets, there is an infinite number of possible intentional communities: Catholic parishes, hippie communes, AnCap fiefdoms and marketplaces, farming co-ops, tech outfits, brony conventions, and Amish fellowships all come to mind as possibilities. Some may last longer than others, but as long as people are wiling to experiment there will always be a diversity of intentional communities. These societies already exist around the globe, they land all along the anarchist/statist scale, but as a proof-of-concept, they have demonstrated that such a community can flourish over an extended period of time. Ideally, I would like to live in a familial tribe centered around a certain philosophical bent, pursuit of virtue, and self-sufficiency, but that is neither here nor there.

Mobility and Intercommunication:
Simply put, communities of such small populations and of diverse ideas could only be sustainable themselves if mobility from one community to another and the ability to form new ones is a possibility. Additionally, if a community consists of only a few hundred people, the gene pool may get a little shallow without exchange of populations between different communities. Of course, such migration is inevitable if people trade with, communicate with, and travel to other communities. This will rely on technologies similar to the internet, if not the internet itself and technologies like trucks and boats and such… but we’ve had such technologies for a while now. It’s not too much a concern. Really, freedom needs to be open-source, which would allow for exchanging good ideas between communities and the opportunity to copy what works and improve on what is available.

Security:
There are a multitude of ways that an individual can render themselves “secure”. One such manner is with the proper tools and training (AKA guns and the ability to shoot them), another would be a nomadic lifestyle, another would be remoteness (if no one can be bothered to seek you out, they can’t bother you), another would be to position your hippie commune such that it is surrounded by radically isolationist militia-type communities… the list of possibilities is longer than I can come up with on my own. What is important is the ability for individuals within an intentional community to defend themselves from others in their community and those around them.

Sustainability:
I don’t mean the liberal socialist environmental bullshit, but instead focusing on options which are either cost-neutral or renewable. An example would be making sure one does not deplete the surrounding ecosystem or raw materials (growing hemp permaculture rather than resorting to deforestation and mass agriculture for paper, textiles, construction materials, etc.) or carefully managed hatcheries separate from the native population of fish, or nuclear/passive power generation as opposed to fossil fuels. Not for any pie-in-the-sky theories about preventing global warming or whatever, but because reliance on sustainable resources and infrastructures eliminates the spectre of “the tragedy of the commons” as well as eliminating the need for state institutions built for subsidizing irresponsible industrial practices.

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Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of moral action and personal responsibility, not some utopian attempt at a global Galt’s Gulch.  If you think it is, you’ve confused anarchy with the Libertarian Party.  The point of this post is to assuage those who find anarchy to be too short-sighted and not utilitarian enough, to tell them that there is consideration applied to an ultimate goal, even if it is secondary to simply doing the right thing.  The goal isn’t to eliminate struggle or conflict, but to mitigate the damage that the human condition can do to human flourishing at large.

 

Do You Hate The State?

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.