Rothbard on ’68
[cross-posted on Mises Blog]
A student recently asked me what was known of “Rothbard’s opinion on the events of early May, 1968 in France.” I turned to Joe Stromberg, Jedi Master of the Rothbard Archives, who kindly dug out for me two columns Rothbard wrote for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph in 1968: “The Student Revolution” and “French Revolution – 1968.”
For anyone curious about the results, here’s a brief summary:
Rothbard celebrates the French student revolt as a refutation of “the widespread myth that revolutions, whether or not desirable, are simply impossible in the modern, complex, highly technological world.” He describes the revolt as an instance of “that famous revolutionary weapon never until now successfully used: the general strike,” which he thinks has become more viable now that “complex technology requires skilled people to work it.”
Rothbard points to the “decade of near-dictatorship by Charles deGaulle,” an “archaic, bureaucratic” state education system, and “massive police brutality” as the chief causes of the revolt. While the students’ “aims are vague and confused,” they are “instinctive libertarians” with the right enemies if not yet the right goals. Contrary to those who describe the student rebels as Communists, Rothbard replies that the students in fact “tend to be anarchists” who “correctly regard the Communist Party as a pillar of the existing Establishment.” Students who revere Mao and Che Guevara do so not because these men are Communists (since the students have no great affection for Brezhnev) but because they showed that in our “modern, complex, and militarized world” people are still “able to make revolution.”
Posted March 31st, 2004
The Unspeakable Logos
In Theism and Atheism Reconciled, I argued that “the disagreement between theism and atheism is in a certain sense illusory,” since the atheist is committed to recognising the existence of, while theists are committed to identifying God with, the logical structure of reality.
Fellow Molinarian Charles Johnson sends me some questions about this:
But if (1) God is the logical order of the Universe, and (2) logical thought does not, as it were, run on rails, then doesn’t this mean that, in an important sense, God is nothing at all? Is this how God dies – not with a bang, but a whimper?Charles is referring to Wittgenstein’s view (which I accept) that logic should not be thought of as a set of external constraints to which our thoughts are answerable: “in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought).” Or as I summarise Wittgenstein’s view in my forthcoming book:
To think of logic as constraining something is to imagine, or try to imagine, how things would be without the constraint. Since neither talk of an illogical world nor talk of illogical thought can be made sense of, the whole question cannot be meaningfully asked and so may be dismissed in good conscience.Thus it’s true that, in one sense, the logical structure of reality is “nothing at all” – and it’s in that sense that theological logicism counts as a kind of atheism. But in another sense the logical structure of reality is a very peculiar sort of nothing-at-all. To quote from my book manuscript once more:
One wants to say that there already exists, somehow, an ethereal pattern to which any use of signs must conform if that use is to constitute thinking, speaking, acting, etc.; the possibility of logic seems like a kind of logic already. ... Yet, as Wittgenstein insists, when we try to describe that pattern, we end up babbling tautologies – “things are what they are,” “if we do something then we do it” – and the pattern seems to exercise no constraint, since we can’t identify anything that it rules out. ... So we vacillate between seeing the logical structure of the universe as a highly articulated metaphysical schema, and seeing it as nothing at all. ... Is Wittgenstein plumping for the latter option? We might put it that way. But we might equally say: of course this metaphysical schema exists, the Platonists weren’t groping entirely in vain, but its existence consists in – is nothing more than – the difference between making sense and not making sense (rather than being something behind that difference, explaining it). ...This notion of God as a kind of nothing-that-is-everything, about which it is in some sense impossible to speak straightforwardly, is by no means alien to the theistic tradition; and Plato of course maintained that the Form of the Good, the cause of all being, is not itself a being, but is “beyond being,” possessing no properties in its own right and capable of being characterised only in relation to other things. (To paraphrase Heraclitus, the Logos is both willing and unwilling to be called God – or indeed anything.) Part of the attractiveness of theological logicism is precisely that it explains what would otherwise be a remarkable and puzzling coincidence: namely, the close similarity between the odd-sounding mystical things that theologians find themselves driven to say about God, and the equally odd-sounding mystical things that logicians like Frege and Wittgenstein find themselves driven to say about logic. And this adds weight to my claim that a God who was not identical with the logical structure of reality would fall short of God as traditionally conceived. (Those who think this conception of God necessarily involves a watered-down conception of divine power should re-read the Eddy quote, and my discussion of thereof, in my original post.)
In a way, this position is as much a concession to as it is a rebuke of Platonism. Platonists have always thought of logic as being basic and irreducible; and Wittgenstein agrees. But the Platonists’ mistake was to treat logic as some sort of mysterious metaphysical entity, or realm of entities, about which more could be said – whereas in fact there is nothing to say about logic except what we say in and with logic. The framework of logic itself belongs to the realm of showables, not sayables. (Frege comes close to recognising this in his famous debate with Benno Kerry, where Frege denies the possibility of predicating anything of concepts, since to do so one would have, incoherently, to place a predicate-term in subject position.) “The logical structure of reality is nothing at all” is as unsayable as “The logical structure of reality is something in its own right.”
Of course, one way to motivate such a picture would be to dispense with all the alternatives. So here’s one horn of the destructive dilemma that you use against (conventional Christian) theist accounts of what they mean by “God”:The reason I reject option (4) is that I think the prospect of showing God to be a logically necessary being is hopeless unless God is the logical structure of reality.The other is that God stands within that structure, along with everything else. But this option, as Wittgenstein observed, would downgrade God to the status of being merely one object among others, one more fragment of contingency – and he would no longer be the greatest of all beings, since there would be something greater: the logical structure itself.But surely this consequent doesn’t quite follow from the antecedent. If God is taken to be a being within the logical structure of reality it doesn't follow from that that He is taken to be a contingent being, does it? The alternatives you seem to be presenting here are: (1) God exists, but outside of all possible worlds; or (2) God exists, but in some possible worlds and not in others; or (3) God is the logical structure of all possible worlds. (1) is clearly unintelligible, and (2) is theologically unattractive. But why not adopt (4) God exists as a being in all possible worlds?
Of course, this would raise the question of why God exists in all possible worlds whereas tables and chairs and so on do not; but the obvious answer to appeal to would be that God is necessary in this sense: for there to be a world, God must be; tables and chairs and so on could not exist without God, but God could exist without tables and chairs. But that is just to say: God is the Creator of any world that could be. I may think that’s a funky doctrine to hold, but it seems perfectly reasonable for a Christian to come to that understanding of their faith.
This would also preserve God’s ontological distance from His creation; of course, it would still mean that God is a particular being among other particulars in His various possible abodes. But I don’t see why any Christian should object to that. Unless, of course, you are right that this leaves YHVH as a sort of Demiurge, beneath something higher (viz. the logical structure of reality). But on that, see above.
Posted March 30th, 2004
No Pity, No Praise – Part 2
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
In a previous post I expressed ambivalence about the conflict between the villainous Microsoft and the still more villainous E.U. Now it turns out that the E.U.’s regulatory policies may actually benefit Microsoft more than they hurt it; thanks to Charles Johnson for sending me a link to this story. As is so often the case (e.g. antitrust), government policies advertised as adverse to corporate interests turn out to be corporate welfare in disguise.
No ambivalence necessary – they’re all in it together.
Posted March 30th, 2004
So the U.S. is setting up a commission in Iraq to regulate the media in order to ensure freedom of the press.
Okay, whatever. I give up. There’s no way to parody that.
Posted March 29th, 2004
On Moderation in Politics
Those in the political “middle” often pride themselves on their sensible moderation, as though taking the middle course were itself a sign of superior wisdom. This attitude borrows some colour of plausibility from Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean. But that doctrine is often misunderstood.
As Aristotle makes clear in Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, by the virtuous mean he meant not “that which is equidistant from each of the extremes” but rather “that which is neither too much nor too little.” The right amount may well be, not exactly halfway between the extremes, but considerably closer to one side than to the other; as Aristotle puts it, often “one extreme is nearer and liker to the intermediate,” as for example the virtue of courage is closer to the vice of rashness than it is to the vice of cowardice. Moreover, in some cases the right amount is all the way to one side; the only right amount of “spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft, murder” is zero, “nor does goodness or badness with regard to such things depend on committing adultery with the right woman, at the right time, and in the right way, but simply to do any of them is to go wrong.” That is because those actions are in themselves excesses in relation to the virtuous mean, and “in general there is neither a mean of excess and deficiency, nor excess and deficiency of a mean.”
The Aristotelean position was later summarised more pithily by whoever it was who first said “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” (Barry Goldwater attributed it to Cicero, but I haven’t found it there yet. Harry Jaffa claims to have invented it. A similar saying – “Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice” – is attributed to Thomas Paine, but I haven’t been able to find it in his works either.)
In short, there is nothing inherently virtuous about holding a position in the “middle.” What is virtuous is holding the correct position, which will be found, depending on the case, sometimes in the middle, sometimes closer to one of the extremes, and sometimes all the way over to one of the extremes.
Perhaps advocates of a middle position will try to draw support from a different Aristotelean position: namely, the presumption in favour of common beliefs. Actually Aristotle’s presumption is in favour of whatever best preserves as many as possible of the beliefs of “the many and the wise” (see my book about this), but even that might be thought to give a certain weight to the “average position.”
I agree that in general this gives some (defeasible) weight to “middling” positions in general. But there special features of the political middle in particular that should give us cause to doubt the applicability of counsels of moderation precisely here.
Aftrr all, the existence of pervasive social and political problems is itself a datum of common sense. Yet such problems cast doubt on the adequacy of the prevailing political institutions. On the other hand, such institutions enjoy wide support (otherwise they would not be “prevailing”) and so are themselves endorsed, at least roughly, by “the middle.” Hence what we need to estimate is not the absolute likelihood of the middling position’s being right about politics, but rather the likelihood of its being right given that by its own admission the institutions it favours appear to be inadequate to the solution of pervasive social and political problems. (Of course there might simply be no way to solve such problems – but that is not the middling view either. The middling view instead advises spending more time and money on whatever it is that our institutions have been doing already.)
As individualist anarchist John Beverley Robinson wrote in 1897:
On general principles, when we are looking for a solution of a social problem, we must expect to reach conclusions quite opposed to the usual opinions on the subject; otherwise it would be no problem. We must expect to have to attack, not what is commonly regarded as objectionable, but what is commonly regarded as entirely proper and normal.Moreover, in a democracy the “middle” is precisely the group that is most likely to be in power, and thus most likely to be the cause of whatever problems currently beset us. As Murray Rothbard wrote in 1967:
[T]he Old Left is always looking to revive a very broad domestic coalition against the menace of the Ultra-Right .... It is the same worry that the Ultra-Right suffers from in its perpetual worry about a Communist menace lurking under the bed and around the corner. [The] problem is that while the eye is fixed on some far-off, tenuous, and insignificant Menace, the real Menace is right here, and running the whole show. In short, the real problem is not some far-off Threat, but the people who are ruling and oppressing us right here and now. ...
[T]he realities of the present day more and more require a coalition, even a fusing, of these two “extremes” [of Ultra-Left and Ultra-Right]. For both of these extremes have caught hold of part of the total truth about our society, and both of them can blend, far more easily than is generally believed, into a common assault upon the Totalitarian Center, upon that “menace” that is not, like the bogeys of the Ultra-Left and Ultra-Right, a phantom potential of some far-off future, but the group that is oppressing all of us, right here and now.
Posted March 29th, 2004
This Land Is Mine
There have always been those, even (or perhaps especially) within the libertarian movement, who have argued that land is a legitimate exception to the liberal presumption in favour of unencumbered private property.
A number of different grounds, varying in cogency, have been advanced on behalf of this claim (the best one is Herbert Spencer’s, though it doesn’t persuade me – I’ll explain why in a future post). But the most common argument is that because we do not create land, but merely transform it, we are entitled only to the improvements we make on the land, and not to the land itself; hence our claim to exclusive control, based on the improvements we have introduced, must be tempered in light of our lack of exclusive claim to the underlying raw land provided by nature.
The first thing to notice about this argument is that, contrary to what its proponents suppose, it would apply, if sound, to all physical property and not to land alone. Every physical product of our labour, from a comb to a car, is composed of material particles that we did not produce. Here too, we merely make improvements in what nature has provided; production is never creation ex nihilo. [Fun though irrelevant fact: ex nihilo is not strictly proper Latin; ex usually becomes e before a consonant, and more importantly nihil, as a non-declining word, should always stay nihil in the ablative rather than becoming nihilo. Now you know.]
Rather than conclude that all property rights must now be “moderated,” let’s start at the other end, with the basic libertarian principle of self-ownership. Your right to control your own body surely includes the right to control the particles currently composing your body. (You didn’t create them, but then you didn’t create yourself either.) Now most of the particles in your body are not particles you were born with (since if you’re like most of us, your body was much smaller at birth than it is now); instead you gradually incorporated pre-existing particles into your body by eating, drinking, and inhaling. In effect, what you are is mainly a series of improvements you have introduced into this shifting mass of raw material.
But no libertarian would conclude that your exclusive claim to control those particles, once they are in your body, must be limited on the grounds that you did not create the particles. We are embodied beings, and self-ownership is meaningless unless it extends to the materials of which the self is composed.
Now the process by which we acquire external property is simply an extension of the process by which we incorporate material into our bodies. As Wolowski and Levasseur point out, “it is by labor that man impresses his personality upon matter,” thus giving rise to property, which is a “prolongation of the faculties of man acting upon external nature” and “participates in the rights of the person whose emanation it is.” Our relation to the products of our labour is simply an extension of our relation to our bodies; indeed, our bodies themselves are to a large extent the product of our labour (though the particles composing them are not), just as cultivated land is the product of our labour (though again the particles composing it are not). Not for nothing does Molinari speak of the “production of land.”
Thus one cannot consistently affirm self-ownership and yet cite the fact that we have not created land ex nihilo as a reason for denying or moderating property rights in land.
Posted March 28th, 2004
The Great Divorce, Part 2
In The Great Divorce, Part 1, I criticised Tibor Machan’s position that the difference between minarchism and Market Anarchism is “only apparent.”
Dr. Machan has now posted two replies: Some Initial Replies to Dr. Long’s Critique of “Anarchism and Minarchism: A Rapprochement” and ‘Government’ vs. ‘State’. In what follows I quote excerpts from Dr. Machan’s posts along with my replies:
This is confusing: “he would be justified in using coercive measures to eject these trespassers...” What it should say is that “he would be justified in using forcible measures to eject these trespassers....” Coercion is by definition the use of force that violates rights, especially within the framework of libertarianism. Force, on the other hand, may or may not.Not in my dictionary (or any dictionary I’ve ever looked at). The word “coercion” means any kind of force or compulsion, whether initiatory or not. The word for initiatory force is “aggression” or “invasion,” not “coercion.”
Along similar lines, then, “justified coercion” is an oxymoron – it means “justified initiated force against another.”
Dr. Long says, “In other words, the idea seems to be that competing protection agencies are likely to violate rights in the course of offering their protection, and so government is justified in prohibiting them.” That is wrong; he is jumping to conclusions I did not endorse, that government may ban other governments. My point is that a bunch of us have good, ethical reasons for instituting government qua due-process-observing-agency. There is no mention here about banning anything, none at all.I take it, then, that Dr. Machan’s position is this: the agency he calls “government” should not prohibit competition, but it will not need to; because government is a natural monopoly, no competitors – except in a few unusual situations – will in fact be able to compete with it for long (within the same geographical territory).
Since however such an agency must have geographical contiguity – which is the nature-based option – so as not to generate routine (though at times in human history temporarily and luckily avoidable) problems of border crossing, such a government as one bunch shall institute will naturally – not only as a matter of consumer preference – involve a sort of monopoly within a given area. But those not liking it can always go next door, just as those who don't like the services offered by, say, the local electrical company can move to the one serving the other neighborhood. (The big difference is that electrical companies do not go around rounding up people called criminals!)
Dr. Long writes: “But of course we know historically that the answer to that question [whether legal jurisdictions can overlap] is yes. Surely the existence, and therefore a fortiori the possibility, of competing jurisdictions within the same territory is an established historical fact. (See Tom Bell’s bibliographic essay Polycentric Law, as well as the various links on the Molinari Institute’s anarchist resources page.)”I suspect few readers of the sagas would be inclined to describe the inhabitants of medieval Ireland or Iceland as “unusually cooperative people”; on the contrary, they seem an unusually ornery and contentious people whose combative instincts were gradually tamed and disciplined by semi-anarchistic institutions.
This I take to be the kind of argument that states, “Look here and there in the world criminals turn around and confess their crimes and turn themselves in, so there really is no need for arresting officers in the criminal law system.” One swallow – or even a few them – do not a springtime make, to quote a favorite philosopher of both of us!
In other words, some cases of maintaining, administering and protecting law exist that are dispersed over a crisscross region. I call this good fortune – the result of unusually cooperative people who do not have the misfortune of a lot of resistance to the operations of the law. But in most cases this would be unlikely, given the vast difference between people from different religions, cultures, philosophical orientations. That such a smooth operation existed in ancient Ireland and a few other places does not demonstrate that that is what most places would enjoy. Much more reasonable is it to assume that there will be ample recalcitrance and so homogeneity is a more efficient approach to uphold the law than the crisscross alternative.
It is interesting that when Roy A. Childs, Jr., witnessed the debacle of competing governments within the same territory in Afghanistan, he gave up his Rothbardian beliefs. I believe he saw the practical, routine, results of competing legal orders within the same territory.Here again I invoke tu quoque: if Afghanistan counts as an argument against anarchy, why doesn’t Nazi Germany count as an argument against government? Ayn Rand once write that “the root of all philosophical errors” is “to substitute for an abstraction one of the concrete applications of that abstraction, and at the same time make that concrete contradict and invalidate the abstraction.” (Journals of Ayn Rand, p. 640.) Discrediting the abstraction anarchy by equating it with its undesirable instance Afghanistan is no more legitimate than discrediting the abstraction government by equating it with its undesirable instance Nazi Germany.
At the end of his comment Dr. Long puts the following questions to me:I find this response odd, for two reasons. First, if Dr. Machan doesn’t say what he means by “state,” on what grounds can he object to having his favoured form of government called one? Second, I don’t see anything especially Hegelian or Marxist about the term “state”; the term is widely used by writers of all political persuasions, including libertarians (of both the anarchist and the minarchist variety). In political theory, the closest thing to a canonical definition of “state” is Max Weber’s, and that definition is hardly Marxist or Hegelian.
Here are my answers:
What is your precise definition of “state”? What is your precise definition of “government”? Do you think the competitive provision of legal services wihin a single territory is impossible? or possible but unjust? or possible and just but otherwise undesirable? Do you think [your] ideal minarchic government should or should not attempt to ban any attempt to compete with it (within the same territory)?
Since I do not use the term “state” (and if I ever did in the distant past I meant by it no more than “government”), and since the form of government I consider justified is non-coercive although possibly a natural monopoly by natural (but not logical) necessity, I do not want to respond to this request. Perhaps Dr. Long ought to ask a Marxist and Hegelian, not a libertarian.
Government is the institution in human communities that administers, maintains and protects the legal order. A just government does all this without any coercion (use of rights-violating force). (Like marriage or medicine, the concept of government does not preclude malpractice – in this case, unjust operations. Neither does it require that all governments be unjust.)This definition is ambiguous. Does the phrase “the institution” have to mean a single agency, or could it apply equally to a plurality of agencies?
I think that, as a rule, competitive provision of legal services within a single territory is impossible on a long term basis, with some exceptions due to very similar people involved in both the provision and the demand for those services. As noted, just because here and there such a system can function, it doesn’t follow that it is a generally functional system. Mostly, when powerful disagreements reign between the citizens of different providers (governments), then crisscrossing services will be unstable, although not for every single instance of adjudication.This is true as far as it goes – but it’s a mistake to think of these disagreements as purely exogenous. We both shape our institutions and are shaped by them. Since neighbouring territories, under conditions of free trade and free migration, are likely to undergo considerable cultural assimilation to one another, these “powerful disagreements” are likely to decrease over time. In any case, I maintain that such political disagreements as do exist are far more intractable under a monopoly than under a competitive system, because under the latter system customers must themselves foot the bill for their favoured laws.
No one should attempt to ban any peaceful activity. However, where borders have been voluntarily established, and contracts (constitutions) establish the relationship between provider and recipient, entry past those borders would amount to invasion from outside. Jurisdictional regions may not be intruded upon by those with whom no contract for services are in force.Here I begin to worry. On libertarian principles as I understand them (see here and here), service contracts may legitimately be enforced only via money damages and not specific performance. Hence the customers of Dr. Machan’s monopoly agency must be free to discontinue their relationship with that agency without relocating to a different territory. (If they are not so free, then Dr. Machan’s monopoly is a coercive one after all.) They may have to pay a fee for early termination of service, but they cannot be held as customers against their will. But if they are free to change service, then a rival service provider may legitimately step in as soon as its services are requested. Hence these “borders” are not and cannot be analogous to the borders of a coercively monopolistic state, which can be changed only with the state’s permission. The only case where the borders could not be altered at the decision of the customer would be in a proprietary community where the provider of legal services is also the owner (or under contract to the owner) of the community’s entire territory; this approach, while consistent with libertarian principles, has certain drawbacks which I’ve discussed previously.
Within libertarianism ... the concept “government” is still unstable. Anarcho-libertarians, who argue for something they dub “competing legal systems” “or competing defense organizations,” claim that the concept “government” means, essentially, “a monopoly of legal services over a given territory.” This isn’t as clear cut as one might wish. Are they talking about legally protected monopolies or monopolies plain and simple, which could mean very competitive organizations, indeed – for example, a department store sitting on a large piece of private property that has no competitor right then and there but is amply competed with by stores in the nearby vicinity? Yet where it stands, it’s a monopoly, in a sense. Or an apartment house – it too stands alone and to rent a competitor’s dwellings, one needs to move.Dr. Machan writes as though the department store and the apartment house are “monopolies plain and simple” rather than “legally protected monopolies.” This puzzles me. The reason that these cases are territorial monopolies is that they are private property. The absence of competitors is neither a consumer choice nor a fact of nature; rather, competitors are kept out by force of law, and rightly so. This is a case of justified coercion (by which I mean force per se, not necessarily initiatory force).
There are libertarians called minarchists, with whom I am usually linked – along with Ayn Rand, John Hospers, the late Robert Nozick and during the last few years of his life, Roy A. Childs, Jr. (although he also penned a famous piece, “The Contradiction in Objectivism,” back in 1968, for Rampart Journal, in which he announced his dissent from Rand’s minarchist position). I disagree that governments may not compete and may coerce anyone. To be fair, neither did Ayn Rand agree that governments may coerce anyone – she, for example, denied that taxation is permissible while also claiming government is, thus disowning the characterization of government by perhaps the most famous anarcho-libertarian, Murray N. Rothbard.It’s true that Rand’s ideal government lacks the power to tax. But I don’t think it’s true that Rand’s ideal government is non-coercive; I don’t see any way to read her essay “The Nature of Government” except as calling for a prohibition of competitors in legal services.
But as Gallie’s point makes clear, this debate as to what is the most sensible, reasonable definition of “government” is likely to continue for a long time, if not indefinitely. In my own view, for example, the institutions anarcho-libertarians support are governments in every important respect – they are administrators, maintainers, and protectors of bona fide law within human communities. What critics claim is that such administration, maintenance and protection do not require contiguous spheres of jurisdiction but could work as a sort of crisscross system.If we mean by “government” what Dr. Machan means by it, yes. But I think his use of that term is far more idiosyncratic than he realises.
From a few historical cases, in which such a system had been in place – in ancient Iceland, for example – these disputants conclude that as a general rule governments could operate quite happily, smoothly, with no judicial failures – such as inability to arrest prosecute criminals or to render effective service when citizens (or clients) seek police protection – serving crisscross localities. OK, so this is an interesting debate and worthy of pursuit. Either way we could get to government, however.
My one beef with many who reject this idea is that they refuse to admit that “government” need not involve coercion at all. They could just as easily dispute that the crisscross system involves law, properly understood, only, perhaps, various rules or edicts or policies. And even more problematic is their all too frequent use of the concept “state” as a substitute for government.In my response to Bruce Ramsey I used “state” and “government” interchangeably because that is what Ramsey did in his original letter. According to Ramsey, chaos ensues when “the state absents itself.” He is clearly using “state” as the name for a kind of institution he favours – as do most minarchists. Robert Nozick, after all, defended the “minimal state.” Charles Dunoyer and Frédéric Bastiat used the term “état” for the libertarian political order they advocated. Ayn Rand spoke interchangeably of “the government – the state” and described capitalism as “a limitation on the power of the state.” Ludwig von Mises and Leonard Peikoff both use “state” and “government” interchangeably (and both incidentally describe their favoured agency as holding a monopoly of coercion). While there are exceptions, it is simply a fact that most minarchists would happily describe themselves as favouring the existence of a state (as did I, during my twelve years as a minarchist).
For example, in a recent letter to Liberty magazine, Professor Roderick Long of Auburn University sets out to take issue with Bruce Ramsey’s claim that Hernando “de Soto’s work ... shows that a healthy economy crucially depends on property titles, identity records, and other institutions of formal law” and is thus “a standing refutation of libertarian anarchism.”
As Long proceeds in his letter, however, an interesting switch takes place. He contends that “as the research of scholars like Bruce Benson, Tom Bell, and others has shown, history is filled with examples of legal systems that were perfectly formal – complete with official procedures, court records, and the rest – and yet private, competitive, and non-governmental.” He states that “in late medieval Europe ... the commercial law known as the Law Merchant outcompeted the government legal system ....” And then, from this, he jumps to the following conclusion: “Hence the state is not necessary for formal law.”
I don’t know about Bruce Ramsey, but I certainly would not conclude from de Soto’s work that the state is necessary for anything, although I would agree that governments may well be. Because what Long and all those other scholars show, as far as I am able to discern, is that in medieval Europe there were different kinds of governments, some of them coercive and others not.
OK, so what’s wrong with this conclusion? I assume critics would now claim that I am twisting the concept “government” to suit my goals, namely, to defend governments as quite possibly a just institution administering, maintaining and protecting bona fide law. I dispute this – I claim that they are wrongly claiming that governments must be unjust and so the concept ought to be abandoned by all right thinking folks. But one way they support this is by equivocating between “government” and “state.”I don’t think it can possibly be “well known” that state and government differ, since, as we’ve seen, most libertarians – be they minarchists or anarchists – do use the terms equivalently. And so, for the most part, do non-libertarian political therists, particularly in response to Weber’s influence. When the concepts do differ, the difference is fairly slight: government means an institution possessing a coercive territorial monopoly of force, and state means a society governed by such an institution. Most people certainly do not use the terms “state” and “totalitarian state” interchangeably.
It is well known that the concept “state,” especially as it figured in the writings of Hegel and Marx, is not the same as “government.” It is, instead, the entire organized community, akin to what Aristotle meant by “polis.” The state does, then, call to mind, quite sensibly, a fully coercive leviathan, a pyramid-shaped, top down system of coercive regimentation of nearly all facets of human community life (apart from those deemed not essential, although even those would be subject to regimentation if the agents of the state so chose).
Now I am not going to resolve any of the main disputes here but I wish to make just one little final point. To equivocate between “government” and “state” is wrong and even dirty pool. It would be similar dirty pool if those critical of anarcho-libertarians referred to what the latter advocate as “chaos,” recalling not the arguably esoteric conception of anarchy individualist and libertarian anarchists have been developing but the position of those old fashioned, classical anarchists who meant by the term “lawless society.”If most anarchists called themselves proponents of chaos, it would not be unfair for their critics to call them proponents of chaos too. But most minarchists do call themselves proponents of a state; hence I see nothing unfair about calling minarchists proponents of a state. The use of “state” and “government” as equivalent or near-equivalent terms is not a clever rhetorical device the anarchists cooked up; it is common usage among nearly all parties to this debate. (As for the “old fashioned, classical anarchists,” I don’t think it’s fair to describe most of them as advocates of a “lawless society.” Who does Dr. Machan have in mind?)
Of course, when emotions run high – as they tend to be in discussions among people who are nearly in full agreement and know that they are more likely to be able to land a blow at those in close range than at those who don’t even pay attention to their views – it’s tempting to engage in hyperbole.I would not ordinarily call minarchists “statists.” But I would certainly call them “advocates of a state,” because that is what nearly all of them call themselves – and given what nearly everybody means by “state,” that is indeed what they are.
Labeling an allegedly “near pure” libertarian opponent a “supporter of the state” or “a statist” does carry a painful sting. One would hope, however, that just this temptation is resisted by serious scholars.
PS: After I have penned the above and informed Dr. Rod Long that I did, he proceeded to pen yet another missive on his blog using the term “state” instead of “government” to characterize what folks such as I support. So, just to be very clear, I do not champion any kind of state whatever but I believe a non-coercive, limited government in the Lockean classical liberal tradition is a good idea.The post Dr. Machan is referring to was simply my original response to Bruce Ramsey. This was not something new I “penned,” since I had written it months earlier; I posted it as soon as it appeared in Liberty. In that letter I used the term “state” to characterise, not what Dr. Machan supports (for reasons explained above, I remain unsure what exactly he supports), but what Bruce Ramsey supports. And I was surely justified in doing so, because, as I’ve mentioned, Ramsey uses the term “state” himself.
Posted March 26th, 2004
No Pity, No Praise
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
It’s hard for me not to have mixed feelings about the E.U.’s decision to hit Microsoft with a $600 million fine.
On the one hand, as an opponent of the concept of “intellectual property” I can’t buy the portrayal of Bill Gates as purely a heroic entrepreneur being persecuted for engaging in voluntary exchange; as I see it, Microsoft’s market share does rest in large part on an unjust monopoly. (For an anti-IP libertarian analysis of Microsoft, see François-René Rideau’s piece here.)
On the other hand, Bill Gates’ enemies often turn out to be far worse rights-violators than he is – like Janet Reno, or the creators of Microsoft-targeting internet viruses and worms. It certainly seems so again in this case; as a continent-gobbling super-state in the making, the E.U. is a much more invasive monopoly than Microsoft, and transferring $600 million from the lesser to the greater evil is nothing to cheer about. It’s a bit like the difference between the Postal Service – which, like Microsoft, at least provides a genuine and worthwhile service, albeit in an unjust and inefficient monopolistic manner – and, say, the DEA or IRS, whose “services” should not be performed by anybody, whether monopolistically or otherwise. They’re all criminal organisations, but some criminal organisations are surely worse than others. (For example, I’d rather live under the Mafia than under the Taliban.)
My attitude to the whole affair, then, is – to paraphrase Benjamin Tucker – No pity for Microsoft, no praise for the E.U.
Posted March 24th, 2004
Yet Another Molinari Institute Update
One of the Molinari Institute’s many goals is to promote interest in, and provide convenient access to, the radical libertarian literature of the19th century – e.g., the Spencerians, the économistes of the Say school, and the individualist anarchists.
Since our December 10th update, 27 works have been added to the Molinari Institute’s online library. See the news & announcements page for details.
More anarcho-goodness to follow!
Posted March 23rd, 2004
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Now that Israel has blown to bits the leader of Hamas (and various people in his vicinity), Palestinian militants are vowing revenge – against Israel’s enabler, the United States.
O fortunate Spain, which was in the enviable position of being able to sever its ties with the United States’ “war on terror,” and which has finally, sanely, done so. If only we could do likewise.
Back in the days when Spain’s imperialist career was ending and ours beginning, William Graham Sumner defended the virtues of “isolation” in his famous essay The Conquest of the United States by Spain:
When the rest are all in a quiver of anxiety, lest at a day’s notice they may be involved in a social cataclysm, who would not be isolated out of reach of the disaster? What we are doing is that we are abandoning this blessed isolation to run after a share in the trouble.As I argued a year ago, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the option that Spain has recently exercised is not strictly closed to us:
Terrorists are, by their nature, collectivist-minded. Only a collectivist would slaughter the innocent members of a group in order to punish the guilty members. The terrorists’ quarrel is with a political entity known as the United States of America. Let us withdraw from association with that entity and repudiate the actions of its leaders.A century ago, Sumner warned Americans not to take Spain as our model. Today, I suspect he would be urging the opposite.
This may sound like an unrealistic proposal right now. Given what it would take to make it a realistic proposal, there’s a sense in which I hope it remains unrealistic. But if Bush’s war results in the kind of massive wave of terrorism on U.S. soil that I fear is all too likely, we libertarians should stand ready to point to secession as an increasingly viable and attractive solution. ...
In his 1796 Farewell Address, President George Washington asked: “Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?” In every region of the U.S., American citizens should now be asking themselves: Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of the United States, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of American ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?
Posted March 22nd, 2004
Dialectical Feminism: The Unknown Ideal
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Robert Campbell invites us to consider feminists as falling into two groups. (It’s not clear whether the division is meant to be exhaustive.) One group, the “individualist feminists” or “libertarian feminists,” hold that “equality of rights is getting close to being consistently recognized in countries like the United States,” and that “further feminist efforts, in this part of the world, should be narrowly targeted at those remaining areas where the legal and political systems privilege men over women.” The other group, which he calls “collectivist feminists” (his target is roughly equivalent to “radical feminism,” broadly understood), maintain that “men are the oppressor class; women are the victim class; and women are consequently entitled to take over the oppressor role, at least for the next few thousand years.” (This last is a sarcastic caricature on his part, but presumably it could be rewritten, less tendentiously, as something like: “men are largely an oppressor class; women are largely a victim class; and women are consequently entitled to employ the power of the state to enact legislation specially favouring women’s interests.”)
What bothers me about this way of slicing up the political terrain is not that it is inaccurate; on the contrary, I think it is depressingly accurate in its characterisation both of libertarian feminists and of radical feminists. Rather, what concerns me is the implicit suggestion that to regard something as a legitimate object of feminist concern is ipso facto to regard it as an appropriate object of legislation. On this view, radical feminists see lots of issues as meriting feminist attention, so naturally they favour lots of legislation; libertarian feminists prefer minimal legislation, and so they must think that relatively few issues merit feminist attention. Now this is descriptively all too true; most radical feminists do spend a great deal of time working to increase the power of the state, and most libertarian feminists do spend a great deal of time telling radical feminists to “get over it.” But as I see it, both sides are making the same mistake: they both think of feminist concerns and legislative activity as going together.
One reason I keep pointing to the individualist anarchists of the 19th century (henceforth “the anarchists” for short) as the proper model for feminism is that they did not make this mistake. They were both libertarian feminists and radical feminists.
What is radical feminism? I pick, more or less at random, two characterisations from the web. Here’s one from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_feminism:
Radical feminism views women’s oppression as a fundamental element in human society and seeks to challenge that standard by broadly rejecting standard gender roles.And this one is from students.washington.edu/intemann/radical.html:
Many radical feminists believe that society forces an oppressive patriarchy on women (some masculists claim that patriarchy oppresses men also) and seek to abolish this patriarchal influence. Because of this, some observers believe that radical feminism [should] focus on the gender oppression of patriarchy as the first and foremost fundamental oppression that women face. However, critiques of the above view have resulted in a different perspective on radical feminism held by some which acknowledges the simultaneity or intersectionality of different types of oppression which may include, but are not limited to the following: gender, race, class, sexualist, ability, whilst still affirming the recognition of patriarchy.
Main Tenets of Radical FeminismTwo related facts ought to strike us in these characterisations:
1. Women are oppressed by patriarchy.
2. Patriarchy is a hierarchical system of domination and subordination of women by men. It consists in, and is maintained by, one or more of the following:
3. To end the oppression of women, we must abolish patriarchy. This will potentially involve:
- Compulsory motherhood and constraints on reproductive freedom
- Compulsory heterosexuality
- The social construction of femininity and female sexuality as that which is “dominated”
- Violence towards women
- Institutions which encourage the domination of women by men, such as the church, and traditional models of the family
- Challenging and rejecting traditional gender roles and the ways in which women are represented/constructed in language, media, as well as in women’s personal lives.
- Fighting patriarchal constructions of women’s sexuality by banning pornography, and rejecting traditional heterosexual relationships.
- Achieving reproductive freedom
- Separation from patriarchal society?
It may be objected that postmodernists complain not only about legal, governmental barriers to such participation, but private, economic-cultural barriers as well. This is true; according to postmodernism, harmful power relations permeate not only the governmental sphere but the private sphere as well. But isn’t this true? Don’t Objectivists, too, regard cultural forces as formidable obstacles to personal achievement, even when they are not codified in law? Weren’t most of Howard Roark’s battles in The Fountainhead fought against private power? Don’t many of Rand’s stories – Ideal, Think Twice, The Little Street – dramatise the soul-destroying effects of non-governmental cultural forces? Didn’t The Objectivist give Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique a positive review?Robert Campbell is correct in noting a tendency for radical feminists to believe a) that there are pervasive non-governmental forces oppressing women, and b) that these forces must be fought by state violence. He is also correct in noting a tendency for libertarian feminists to believe c) that there are no, or few, such forces, and d) that women should not resort to state violence to promote their interests. My point, however, is that while (a) is essential to radical feminism, (b) is not, and likewise that while (d) is essential to libertarian feminism, (c) is not. (Opposition to state power is definitive of libertarianism, while resort to state power, as we’ve seen, is accidental to rather than definitive of radical feminism.) Hence the form of feminism I favour, like that favoured by the 19th-century individualist anarchists, is both libertarian and radical, embracing (a) and (d) while rejecting (b) and (c).
Of course postmodernists regard the free market as the cause of such problems, and increased government control as the cure. On this point Objectivists must part company with them. But just as Objectivists can agree with religious conservatives in condemning relativism, without regarding government programs inculcating morality as the proper response to the problem, so Objectivists can agree with academic leftists in condemning various forms of non-governmental oppression, without signing on to the Left’s political agenda.
Posted March 22nd, 2004
Xenophon on Law and Violence
The Greek philosopher Xenophon, pupil of Socrates, was certainly no libertarian; but his writings contain a number of delightful passages pointing in a libertarian direction. Two of the best follow.
In his Memorabilia, or Recollections of Socrates, Xenophon reports what scholars generally agree is his own invented conversation between the complacent democratic politician Pericles and his youthful ward Alcibiades. Xenophon shows, through Alcibiades’ words, how the democratic case against oligarchy and tyranny is an equally good case against democracy itself:
Thus the story is told of Alcibiades – how before the age of twenty he engaged his own guardian, Pericles, at that time prime minister of the state, in a discussion concerning laws.Xenophon returns to the subject of lawfulness versus violence in The Education of Cyrus, arguably the first historical novel, which presents a fictionalised account of the upbringing of the young Persian prince who will grow up to be Cyrus the Great. In the following passage, Xenophon has Cyrus describe his training in judicial arbitration; the passage is a telling anticipatory reply to the Coase-Posner approach to law, which recommends rendering verdicts in accordance with social utility rather than antecedent rights:
Alcibiades: Please, Pericles, can you teach me what a law is?
Pericles: To be sure I can.
Alcibiades: I should be so much obliged if you would do so. One so often hears the epithet “law-abiding” applied in a complimentary sense; yet, it strikes me, one hardly deserves the compliment, if one does not know what a law is.
Pericles: Fortunately there is a ready answer to your difficulty. You wish to know what a law is? Well, those are laws which the majority, being met together in conclave, approve and enact as to what it is right to do, and what it is right to abstain from doing.
Alcibiades: Enact on the hypothesis that it is right to do what is good? or to do what is bad?
Pericles: What is good, to be sure, young sir, not what is bad.
Alcibiades: Supposing it is not the majority, but, as in the case of an oligarchy, the minority, who meet and enact the rules of conduct, what are these?
Pericles: Whatever the ruling power of the state after deliberation enacts as our duty to do, goes by the name of laws.
Alcibiades: Then if a tyrant, holding the chief power in the state, enacts rules of conduct for the citizens, are these enactments law?
Pericles: Yes, anything which a tyrant as head of the state enacts, also goes by the name of law.
Alcibiades: But, Pericles, violence and lawlessness – how do we define them? Is it not when a stronger man forces a weaker to do what seems right to him – not by persuasion but by compulsion?
Pericles: I should say so.
Alcibiades: It would seem to follow that if a tyrant, without persuading the citizens, drives them by enactment to do certain things – that is lawlessness?
Pericles: You are right; and I retract the statement that measures passed by a tyrant without persuasion of the citizens are law.
Alcibiades: And what of measures passed by a minority, not by persuasion of the majority, but in the exercise of its power only? Are we, or are we not, to apply the term violence to these?
Pericles: I think that anything which any one forces another to do without persuasion, whether by enactment or not, is violence rather than law.
Alcibiades: It would seem that everything which the majority, in the exercise of its power over the possessors of wealth, and without persuading them, chooses to enact, is of the nature of violence rather than of law?
To be sure (answered Pericles), adding: At your age we were clever hands at such quibbles ourselves. It was just such subtleties which we used to practise our wits upon; as you do now, if I mistake not.
To which Alcibiades replied: Ah, Pericles, I do wish we could have met in those days when you were at your cleverest in such matters.
(Xenophon, Memorabilia, trans. H. G. Dakyns (New York: Macmillan, 1897).)
Then said his mother, ‘But justice and righteousness, my son, how can you learn them here when your teachers are at home?’ ‘Oh,’ said Cyrus, ‘I know all about them already.’ ‘How do you know that you do?’ asked Mandane. ‘Because,’ answered the boy, ‘before I left home my master thought I had learnt enough to decide the cases, and he set me to try the suits. Yes! and I remember once,’ said he, ‘I got a whipping for misjudgment. I will tell you about that case. There were two boys, a big boy and a little boy, and the big boy’s coat was small and the small boy’s coat was huge. So the big boy stripped the little boy and gave him his own small coat, while he put on the big one himself. Now in giving judgment I decided that it was better for both parties that each should have the coat that fitted him best. But I never got any further in my sentence, because the master thrashed me here, and said that the verdict would have been excellent if I had been appointed to say what fitted and what did not, but I had been called in to decide to whom the coat belonged, and the point to consider was, who had a right to it: Was he who took a thing by violence to keep it, or he who had had it made and bought it for his own? And the master taught me that what is lawful is just and what is in the teeth of the law is based on violence, and therefore, he said, the judge must alwayts see that his verdict tallies with the law. So you see, mother, I have the whole of justice at my fingers’ ends already. ...’This passage could be read either as an outright rejection of utilitarianism, or else as a rejection of direct utilitarianism in favour of indirect utilitarianism. David Hume reads it in the latter way:
(Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus, trans. H. G. Dakyns (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1914), pp. 15-16.)
Cyrus, young and unexperienced, considered only the individual case before him, and reflected on a limited fitness and convenience, when he assigned the long coat to the tall boy, and the short coat to the other of smaller size. His governor instructed him better, while he pointed out more enlarged views and consequences, and informed his pupil of the general, inflexible rules, necessary to support general peace and order in society.Hume’s Xenophon thus sounds rather like Hayek. But Xenophon’s original text says nothing about “consequences” or “general peace and order,” so it’s unclear whether Hayek or Rothbard is the better comparison.
(David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Appendix III.)
Posted March 21st, 2004
The Absent State?
The following letter appears in the April 2004 issue of Liberty magazine:
To the Editor:
Bruce Ramsey is mistaken in regarding Hernando de Soto’s work as “a standing refutation of libertarian anarchism.”
As Ramsey correctly points out, what de Soto’s work shows is that a healthy economy crucially depends on property titles, identity records, and other institutions of formal law.
But this is no critique of anarchism, because libertarian anarchists do not advocate dispensing with formal law. Rather, they advocate dispensing with state-monopoly law – and the distinction between formal law and informal law does not line up with the distinction between state-monopoly law and competitive market law.
As the research of scholars like Bruce Benson, Tom Bell, and others has shown [here Liberty deleted the line: see my website Praxeology.net for an online bibliography], history is filled with examples of legal systems that were perfectly formal – complete with official procedures, court records, and the rest – and yet private, competitive, and non-governmental. In late medieval Europe, for example, the private system of commercial law known as the Law Merchant outcompeted the government legal system because the private system was the more “formal” of the two: more consistent and predictable, and more widely accepted.
Hence the state is not necessary for formal law.
Nor is it sufficient. Ramsey describes de Soto’s horror stories as cases “where the state absents itself.” But Peru, India, and Egypt are not anarchist societies. They are societies in which a powerful and oppressive state not only fails to protect property rights but also prevents the rise of any formal legal institution that would do so.
Roderick T. Long
Posted March 16th, 2004
Truth in Advertising
I’m glad to see that the Bush campaign is getting back on message:
Posted March 16th, 2004
Rise of the Empire
For the past year and a half, the message at the top of this page has read: “If, technically, a blog has to be updated daily, or nearly daily, then this isn’t a blog. But it’s a lot like one.”
That caveat made sense back in the early days, when I might blog only a few times each month. (Last spring I posted just twice in as many months.) But I post frequently enough now (29 posts in as many days, last month!) that the message is outdated; and so is the name “In a Blog’s Stead.”
As I originally explained back in September 2002, the title “In a Blog’s Stead” was originally intended partly as an homage to Benjamin Tucker’s Instead of a Book, partly because I knew I would initially be updating the blog only intermittently, and partly “to stress the lofty intellectual superiority of my online commentary in comparison with that of lesser mortals.” But pretending my blog isn’t a blog just doesn’t have the cachet it once did, now that the web is bursting with sites titled Instead of a Blog, Not a Blog, Unblog, Nonblog, and Antiblog. (I recommend the first two sites; I don’t know anything about the others.)
Hence, as of today – the Ides of March, appropriately enough – I’m changing the title of my blog from “In a Blog’s Stead” to “Austro-Athenian Empire.” (For the historically clueless, should any such have wandered onto this page: the name is a pun on “Austro-Hungarian Empire,” an outfit of some prominence at the beginning of the last century.) Much of my work in philosophy and social theory draws on and attempts to synthesise the Austrian tradition in philosophy (Wittgenstein) and social thought (Mises, Hayek, etc.) with the Athenian tradition in philosophy (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc.), so the label “Austro-Athenian” seems appropriate. (For more about the way I see these traditions interacting, click here and here.) “Empire” might seem less suitable, especially for a weblog of the anti-war, anti-state persuasion; but just as Augustine championed the civitas dei against the civitas hominis, so the Austro-Athenians champion the empire of the enlightened mind against the empire of unreasoning force.
Posted March 15th, 2004
The Great Divorce
As readers of this web journal know, I have long defended the anarchist version of libertarianism against its minarchist critics. Tibor Machan, however, has recently argued (in “Anarchism and Minarchism: A Rapprochement,” Journal des Économistes et des Études Humaines 12, no. 4 (December 2002), pp. 569-588) that the opposition between anarchism and minarchism represents a false dichotomy. Dr. Machan maintains that both “the individualist anarchists and the so-called minarchists – those who support a properly limited government – are right and their differences are only apparent.” In this post I assess Dr. Machan’s arguments.
Dr. Machan’s strategy is to argue that while government does indeed represent a monopoly, just as anarchists claim, it does not represent the sort of monopoly that anarchists justly complain of, and so the general libertarian critique of monopolies does not apply to government.
I have some difficulty determining exactly what sort of monopoly Dr. Machan takes government to be, however. His remarks appears susceptible of three different interpretations. These are:
a) Government’s monopoly rests not on coercion but on consumer preferences. (Call this view Market-Based Monopoly.)Dr. Machan suggests Market-Based Monopoly when he writes as though government is merely a de facto monopoly, existing not by force but by “overwhelming customer support.” (He here draws an analogy with Microsoft, claiming that “Microsoft’s dominance in the software industry is not coercive.” I think this is an unfortunate analogy, since by my lights Microsoft’s dominance does stem in large part from governmental injustice; see François-René Rideau’s analysis in Government and Microsoft: A Libertarian View on Monopolies. But that’s an issue for another day.) Of course if government were that sort of monopoly, no free-market anarchist would have any objection to it. Suppose a single protection agency permitted competitors to enter the field, but any who tried to do so immediately failed because customers voluntarily continued to support the one protection agency. That would be just fine with the anarchists; under Austrian economic theory, competition exists so long as rivals are permitted to enter the market, whether or not they do so.
b) Government’s monopoly rests neither on coercion nor on consumer preferences, but on facts of nature outside of anyone’s control. (Call this view Nature-Based Monopoly.)
c) Government’s monopoly does indeed rest on coercion, but the coercion is justified. (Call this view Justice-Based Monopoly.)
A privately owned apartment house is a de facto monopoly in the same way as any particular ownership constitutes such a monopoly, especially to someone else who wants just that item but cannot have it since it is now owned by another.Now since there are limits to how many people can physically occupy the same dwelling, a private residence is in part a Nature-Based Monopoly. But only in part. Most buildings can hold more people than they actually hold; a gang of armed thugs could in principle burst their way in Dr. Machan’s home and take up residence there. But he would be justified in using coercive measures to eject these trespassers, because he has a right to defend his monopolistic control over his private property. Coercive monopoly is always justified when what someone is “monopolising” is her own property.
would be ethical to establish government instead of leaving the task of rights-protection to individuals and businesses that lack the training to protect rights properly, that is, via due process, without violating rights in the process of this protection.In other words, the idea seems to be that competing protection agencies are likely to violate rights in the course of offering their protection, and so government is justified in prohibiting them. This is essentially Robert Nozick’s argument against anarchy. But forbidding an enterprise to operate because it might violate rights seems to run afoul of the principle “innocent until proven guilty.” (Anarchists argue not merely that governments are likely to violate rights – though they do make this argument inter alia, for familiar informational and incentival reasons – but rather that governments, understood as coercive monopolies, are essentially rights-violating.)
One might put the question another way: Could there be legal service provisions without countries? Could legal service provisions overlap, be delivered to citizens without their having to move and even divided into various parts where some agency offers police service, another prisons, and yet another adjudication?But of course we know historically that the answer to that question is yes. Surely the existence, and therefore a fortiori the possibility, of competing jurisdictions within the same territory is an established historical fact. (See Tom Bell’s bibliographic essay Polycentric Law, as well as the various links on the Molinari Institute’s anarchist resources page.)
the type of service being provided involves a long term commitment to having one’s rights protected and innumerable activities conducted within the framework of such protection, something that requires on-going mutual access to courts, police services, and so on.Dr. Machan is aware, of course, that there is a standard anarchist answer to this worry: namely, that market incentives would lead competing agencies to set up mutual agreements as to how to handle such cases. To this he responds:
This answer disputes the viability, at least until the availability of transporter type machines familiar from Star Track [sic], of crisscrossing jurisdictions in criminal law, that is, the predominantly Swiss-cheese conception of governments. It is arguable that such a way of providing legal services runs the serious risk of generating in principle irresolvable legal conflicts. For example, a criminal could run off to a more favorable competing court after being convicted by one. Such a prospect would defeat the very point of law, namely, the resolution of a dispute.
Even if in time the various courts would see the utility of adhering to common standards, at any given time they may well not do so, and this would be an obstacle to justice that is supposed to be swift and efficient for individual citizens.Certainly competing agencies might not provide adequate justice at all times. But likewise a governmental monopoly, even one that was designed to be a minarchy, might not provide adequate justice at all times. The question then becomes: which one is more likely to go wrong – a justice system that is subject to the discipline of market incentives, or one that is insulated from them? If anything we know about economics is right, the answer is surely the latter.
Different countries hold different standards of justice and reciprocity is often resisted. … And these are only the more visible cases. Thousands of others where international cooperation in criminal adjudication is absent understandably go unnoticed. Those, I think, may be deemed failures of the enterprise of law or at least the model of law as a sort of competitive enterprise.The point Dr. Machan neglects here, however, is that the examples he points to are failures of successful cooperation between territorial monopolies. If you’re a citizen of Ruritania and you don’t like the way your nation handles international agreements, you can’t switch to a different service provider without physically relocating, which is rarely worth the effort. Hence the government of Ruritania enjoys an effective monopoly, and does its job – including international arbitration – about as well as one would expect a monopoly to do anything.
I dispute that this [= abuse of power] is a necessary feature of public service in any type of political order. It is, of course, typical behavior of public servants in what economists call a “rent seeking” welfare state. However, in a free, libertarian government such servants may well carry out their oath of office to defend the constitution because the constitution does not sanction special interest legislation and regulation.In other words, Dr. Machan’s solution to the incentive problem, apparently, is to write prohibitions on “special interest legislation and regulation” into the government’s constitution. In light of the history of the United States, this seems optimistic. Who’s going to be in charge of interpreting those constitutional requirements, if not the “public servants” themselves? The way to prevent abuse of power is not to insert more paper prohibitions, but to have a legal system of checks and balances that gives the providers of legal services an incentive to restrain one another’s ambition; and as I’ve argued in my debate with Bidinotto, anarchy is the logical conclusion of the checks-and-balances approach.
What is his precise definition of “state”? What is his precise definition of “government”? Does he think the competitive provision of legal services wihin a single territory is impossible? or possible but unjust? or possible and just but otherwise undesirable? Does he think his ideal minarchic government should or should not attempt to ban any attempt to compete with it (within the same territory)?
Posted March 14th, 2004
|Previous Theological Posts|
God So Loved the World that He Did What?|
Why Jesus is Not God
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Jesus
Theism and Atheism Reconciled
Confessions of the Antichrist: A Reply to Bob Murphy
|Other (too hard to classify):||10|
Before I get going, let me say that there are several minor issues where I think Long was confused. For example, he thought that I was unfairly imputing certain positions to him, and spends time in his latest article showing that he does not in fact hold those positions. But in truth, I never did impute those positions to him at all. However, these are rather trivial details and I won’t spend further time on them.Since Dr. Murphy doesn’t say which passages in my post he’s referring to, I can’t tell whether he has correctly or mistakenly imputed to me the mistaken imputing to him of previous mistaken imputings to me. But if I can be assumed innocent until proven guilty, presumably I can a fortiori be presumed innocent until specifically indicted, so that’s how I’ll plead.
One area of confusion that I probably should address is my (apparently incorrect) assumption that Long was one of the countless libertarians who are hostile to Christianity. Long writes that he was “surprised to find [Murphy] counting me among their number.” I apologize for my rash judgment. In the future, to avoid such misunderstandings, I recommend that Long stop writing things like, “This bizarre doctrine [of Christ’s atonement for our sins], which casts God in the role of a sado-masochistic psycho, is believed by millions of people....”Note: the passage in brackets is Dr. Murphy’s paraphrase, not mine. What I was condemning as “bizarre” and “sado-masochistic” is not the Christian doctrine of the atonement per se but the mainstream interpretation of that doctrine. Once again Dr. Murphy writes as though any criticism of his version of Christianity is a criticism of Christianity as such.
What I can do is argue that the importance of the crucifixion is indeed “in the Bible,” contrary to Long’s blog post.I won’t discuss Dr. Murphy’s textual arguments here, since I never denied that “the importance of the crucifixion is indeed ‘in the Bible’” in the first place. What I denied was a certain interpretation of the crucifixion’s importance. (Incidentally, it’s still not clear to me whether Dr. Murphy has read any of my theological blog posts other than the first one. )
Later on, Long goes on to challenge my analogy of the feuding clans. He says that the benevolent master of my analogy doesn’t have a more efficient means of ending the crimes than to send his son. But this isn’t true: I stipulated that the master could have wiped out the neighboring (criminal) clan, but found this unacceptable.Obviously, I meant a more efficient non-homicidal solution. Remember, this is supposed to be an omnipotent being we’re talking about. Is there really nothing an omnipotent being could manage to do besides killing either his enemies or his son? (He could certainly protect the good guys from the bad guys by, say, putting impenetrable force fields around the good guys whenever the bad guys approach with harmful intent.)
Long also argues that the actual death of the wise son (in my analogy) wasn’t crucial; it was merely his teachings and example that were supposed to turn the tide. But no, this isn’t true: I specifically stipulated that criminals were converted when they reflected on the fact that their way of life required the murder of the wisest, gentlest man to walk in their midst. Had the neighbor’s son just wandered over and uttered some nice pearls of wisdom, people wouldn’t have taken him as seriously. But when this person was willing to die on their behalf, some people sat up and took notice.Again, this involves only an instrumental means, and so by definition wasn’t necessary for God’s goal. Admittedly God couldn’t just will that his enemies become virtuous, since their choosing the good freely is presumably a constitutive means to God’s goal. But why couldn’t he have, say, presented everyone with really convincing evidence of his existence?
Switching arguments, Long then asks, “[S]uppose that Jesus hadn’t been able to find anyone willing to execute him?...Would this have ruined Jesus’ whole mission? It seems that on the orthodox view, the answer has to be yes...”I don’t see how anyone, even God, could know ahead of time what people are freely going to do. By definition, if I am free to do something or not to do it, then it’s not yet settled whether I am going to do it or not, and if it’s not yet settled, then it’s logically impossible for anybody to know it because, as yet, there’s nothing to know. (Placing God outside of time doesn’t help; a being outside of time cannot intervene in time.)
I’m not sure what to say to this. Suppose Adam and Eve had obeyed God. Would that have ruined God’s plan? The question is in some ways nonsensical; because He’s omniscient, God knew exactly what humans would freely choose to do when He designed His plan in the first place.
Now then, imagine that you die an unbeliever, and much to your shock, you find that you are still conscious! Death is not the end of existence as you had suspected during your final days. You would realize – to your absolute horror, and again that word is very inadequate to truly capture what your feelings would be – that Jesus Christ, the man who was very clear on who He was and what people needed to do, wasn’t a liar or lunatic after all.Just realising you’ve survived death is hardly sufficient for deciding Jesus must have been right; Christianity is not the only religion that teaches belief in an afterlife. As for the “liar or lunatic” business, I’ve already explained why I don’t think that’s relevant. (Here again I suspect Dr. Murphy read only my first post.)
In this respect, Hell is the ultimate disciplinary “time-out,” where you have all of eternity to “think about what you did.”The point of giving someone time to think about what she did is to give her a chance to repent and reform. To give her eternity is sadistic and pointless. And remember, on the mainstream Christian view God isn’t just doing this to Hitler and Stalin and Jack the Ripper; he’s doing it to every non-Christian – or at least to every non-Christian who was aware of the Christian doctrine and rejected it. I assume that Dr. Murphy, as an Austro-libertarian, thinks highly of at least some of the following thinkers: François Voltaire, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick. Each of these thinkers was either an atheist or a deist. None of them was a Christian; none of them “accepted Christ.” How can anyone who admires these thinkers consign them all blithely to an eternal “time-out” with no possibility of redemption?
Now as for the question, is this fair? Well, what exactly does Jesus say we have to do for salvation? We need to accept Him, or “believe on” Him. (I realize certain people, e.g. Calvinists, will find my argument here rather incomplete.) So if we agree that (whatever other aspects they may possess) Hell means spending eternity without God, while Heaven means spending eternity with God, then “the rule” boils down to this: If you accept Jesus, then you can spend eternity with Him. If you reject Jesus, then He will respect your free choice and you can spend eternity without Him.Since the people who reject Jesus generally do not regard him as God (and, as I’ve argued, have good reasons for not so regarding him), rejecting Jesus hardly counts as a free choice to reject God.
That seems pretty fair to me.
Posted March 14th, 2004
Pi in the Sky
[cross-posted on Liberty & Power]
Three news items that caught my eye today:
Police recently found a house in Fresno with a pile of butchered corpses and, nearby, a pile of coffins. According to the AP report: “Authorities did not know why the coffins were there and said it might be a coincidence.”
A coincidence? Jeez, d’ya think?
Today’s Opelika-Auburn News quotes Alabama Governor Bob Riley on the subject of the state’s social services: “We can tell you how many people we serve. We can tell you how much we spend. But we can’t tell you whether it’s effective.”
For a moment I thought Riley might be experiencing a glimmer of economic understanding. But no, he was calling for (what else?) more studies.
In fact Alabama’s state government, as a monopoly insulated from the price system, is inevitably going to be deprived of any way to assess its own effectiveness – as Mises and Hayek explained long ago. But the Governor has already shown through his past actions that he is far from understanding this lesson.
The third item, also in the Opelika-Auburn News, was a remark by Bob Cloud, math teacher at Auburn’s Drake Middle School and organiser of “Pi Day.” “The students deal with circles every day in the real world,” he explained. “They need to know the attributes and properties of circles.”
As a justification of geometry this is weak. The likelihood that the average person will have a burning practical need to calculate the area or circumference of a circle is actually fairly slim – and most kids are too savvy to be fooled into thinking otherwise.
The real reason one should know geometry is not for some further pragmatic purpose but for its own intrinsic nobility and beauty, and because it is inherently shameful for a rational being to be ignorant of the basic principles of reality. As Aristotle writes in the Metaphysics:
All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves ... not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything .... Of the sciences, also, that which is desirable on its own account and for the sake of knowing it is more of the nature of wisdom than that which is desirable on account of its results. ... For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize ... Evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end ... for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another’s, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake.Or as Ælfric put it more succinctly in his Colloquy, we should be “eager for learning” in order not to be “like stupid cattle that know only grass and water.” This is the original notion of a liberal education – an education befitting a free human being.
Our students deserve to hear the truth: the life of the mind is not a means to some higher practical end; it is itself the highest practical end.
Posted March 13th, 2004
[cross-posted on Liberty & Power]
This year marks the 60th anniversary of three classic works warning about the rise of fascism in the United States and other Western democracies. Check out my article on LRC today: Roads to Fascism: Sixty Years Later.
Posted March 13th, 2004
The group that claimed responsibility for the recent train bombing in Madrid offered the following justification for their actions:
We at the Abu Hafs Brigades have not felt sad for the so-called civilians. Is it OK for you to kill our children, women, old people and youth in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir? And is it forbidden to us to kill yours?Terrorist manifestoes are of course not the place to look for rigorous logical argument. But this reasoning is especially egregious. The Abu Hafs terrorists are attempting to justify their actions by appealing to the following principle: If it is morally permissible for countries allied with the United States to bomb innocent civilians in Islamic countries, then it is morally permissible for people from Islamic countries to bomb innocent civilians in countries allied with the United States.
I once paid attention to a priest who was being interviewed on television. He was asked whether he himself was willing to “condemn” the violent tactics of the IRA. His answer was remarkable:If there’s anything comforting about these cases, it’s that they show just how hard it is to justify evil without transgressing the canons of logical reasoning. Such cases thereby cast doubt on the Humean notion of reason as merely instrumental, an end-neutral tool as useful for wicked causes as for righteous ones. Maybe Socrates was right all along?
How can we, he said, bring ourselves to condemn the violence of a few individuals unless we first condemn the official and much greater violence of mighty nations? How can we call “evil” the terrorism of some men, until we have denounced as evil the hideous and inhuman terrorism of the arms race, far more threatening than the bombs of the IRA? He spoke solemnly and sincerely, a deep pain in his look. His questioner was satisfied. He paused a long moment, reverently, and went on to talk about the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The discussion was over.
I wondered a lot about that priest’s inner kingdom. What voices were shouting in him, and which had fallen silent? Where was his nagging counselor, or for that matter, the official nagging counselor of his persuasion – Aquinas, who held that there was only one Reason, and that it pertained to all that we could know? Mine, had I made such an answer, would at least have asked me about the strange fact that when asked what judgment I had made, I answered by talking about some judgment that we could not make, as though I were somehow licensed to speak for every person in the world. Most of all, my counselor would ask some reconsideration of my truly astonishing contradiction. I can easily imagine the conversation that would follow, the quietly asking and answering in turn for which television does not have time.
You have just said, have you not, that anyone who would condemn the violent tactics of a few individuals would first have to pass a test, a test that would require some prior condemnation of other violent tactics?
Well, yes, that is what I have said.
Did you also intend to give the impression that you yourself had already passed that test, that you were indeed ready to condemn what you describe as the greater evil? Or are you disqualifying yourself as one who would condemn the lesser because you have not condemned the greater?
I must admit, nay, affirm, that I have condemned the greater evil, and I can hardly imagine how Reason might demonstrate me wrong in doing that.
So you have passed the test. Why don’t you just go ahead and condemn that “lesser evil”?
What can I say to that, except to admit that I hadn’t been making sense. So my questioner would want to consider further the possibility that I had been irrational not by oversight, but because certain voices in me were shouting.
In itself the irrationality was quite outrageous, but all the more so because it was committed in what seemed a studied pretense of rationality. It was worded as though it were logic. You ask me if I can say Y? Well, no one can say Y without having said X. I do, of course, say X, but I will still not say Y, thus suggesting that saying Y is not enough to bring me to say X, and revealing that something else must be necessary for the saying of X, and that the relationship between X and Y is not quite as direct and “logical” as I have implied. But it did sound logical, didn’t it? What was the need of such pretense? What factions required it?
Posted March 12th, 2004
Soak the Poor
In the name of sparing our nation’s children further traumatic incidents like the scarring realisation that Janet Jackson is a mammal, the Reichskongreßhaus has just passed a bill raising the fines for broadcast indecency to $500,000 per “indecent incident.” (That’s a big hike up from the earlier figures: $27,500 for broadcasters and $11,000 for individuals.) Only one Republican (you can guess who – blessings upon him!) and 21 Democrats opposed the bill.
That this is typical statist thought control is obvious. That this is typical statist plutocracy is less obvious; but think about it. Large, wealthy broadcasting companies can survive being hit with a half-million-dollar fine; smaller, less affluent broadcasters cannot. Like most such laws, this bill entrenches the power of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
Posted March 11th, 2004
Fire the State
“Anarchy in San Francisco!!!” That’s how Bill O’Reilly and his ilk have been describing the peaceful and civilised process of gays getting married in San Francisco. Now the state supreme court has shut the process down. Well, fine. Let’s see some real anarchy in San Francisco: let’s get a movement going for San Francisco to secede from California.
What’s more, secession isn’t even illegal. (I realise that will take the fun out of it for some people, but ....) Article I, Section I of the California State Constitution proclaims that all people “are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights,” including “enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.” If that doesn’t authorise secession, what does? (Plus, the Tenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, by specifying that the “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” are “reserved to the states,” clearly authorises California to authorise its own inhabitants’ secession from itself or indeed from the entire Union.)
So why shouldn’t San Franciscans shake the dust of the homophobic Leviathan off their feet, “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” and go their own way? What’s Monaco got that San Francisco hasn’t?
Posted March 11th, 2004
The Pretense of Knowledge
I usually order books through Amazon.com, but Barnes & Noble was offering the book I wanted at a discount compared to Amazon’s price, so I ordered it from Barnes & Noble. And so the following saga unfolded:
18 February 2004: from me to B&NIt might have been exciting to engage in further experiments with B&N’s Customer Service Department. But I decided to order the book from Amazon.
On February 8th I ordered from you a book by Bruce Caldwell titled Hayek’s Challenge. Today in the mail I received a book from you that I did not order, Wooden Boat Renovation by Jim Trefethen. The enclosed packing slip said Hayek’s Challenge, but the book did not match the slip. The packing slip contains information about how to return the book for a refund, but I do not want a refund – I want the book I originally ordered. Please advise me as to how I should proceed.
18 February 2004: from B&N to me
We have received your email regarding the item that was sent to you in error from order # -----. Please accept our apology.
We are sending you a prepaid Merchandise Return Label via U.S. Mail, so that you can return the incorrect item at no expense. You can expect to receive this label in about five business days.
Upon receipt of the incorrect item, we will process a credit to you. If you paid for your order with a credit card, kindly expect to see this credit in one to two billing statements following the merchandise return.
If you would like a replacement, you can place a new order at www.bn.com. If you wish, we are happy to do this for you. Simply respond to this email with your permission to re-charge your credit card for the replacement. We will upgrade your shipping for faster delivery, and waive the shipping charges for the new order.
Visit www.bn.com and click on the options that appear in the upper right-hand corner to view information about your order.
We look forward to your next visit.
20 February 2004: from me to B&N
> If you would like a replacement, you can place a new order at
> www.bn.com. If you wish, we are happy to do this for you. Simply
> respond to this email with your permission to re-charge your credit
> card for the replacement.
Yes please – I give permission. Thank you.
20 February 2004: from B&N to me
Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to replace your order. As you requested, we are replacing the item(s) Hayek’s Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F. A. Hayek from your order # -----. You will receive an email confirmation of the replacement order.
We are sending your replacement with faster shipping, and will waive all shipping charges. Please disregard the shipping information and charges noted on the confirmation email. You will not be billed for shipping costs.
We appreciate your patience while you are waiting for your replacement.
Visit www.bn.com and click on the options that appear in the upper right-hand corner to view information about your order.
We look forward to your next visit.
24 February 2004: from B&N to me
Thank you for shopping with us.
Your order is now packed and ready to leave our warehouse. The details of your order appear below.
Hayek’s Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F. A. HayekWe appreciate your business and look forward to you visiting us again soon at http://www.bn.com.
26 February 2004: from B&N to me
You’ll be pleased to know we’ve received your items.
The following items were received:
Hayek’s Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F. A. HayekYou have been credited $38.50. This credit will be reflected in a subsequent billing statement.
We appreciate your business and look forward to you visiting us again soon at http://www.bn.com.
26 February 2004: from me to B&N
I’m worried about this email you’ve sent me; it sounds as though you’re making another mistake. The book I ordered was Hayek’s Challenge, but you never sent it to me. Instead you sent me a book on boat repair. I contacted you; you suggested I re-order the Hayek book (which I did) and that I send back the boat repair book (which I will, as soon as I receive the free-mail label you said you’re sending me). Now it sounds as though you think I’ve sent back the Hayek book and you’re giving me a credit for it.
But I don’t want the credit, I want the Hayek book I originally ordered, which you still haven’t sent me. I haven’t sent the Hayek book back because I’ve never gotten it in the first place. And I haven’t sent the boat repair book back because I’m still waiting for the label. So what exactly are you giving me a credit for?
27 February 2004: from B&N to me
Despite our efforts, we are having difficulty completing your order # -----. It was shipped from our warehouse, but was returned to us as undeliverable for an unknown reason. We are issuing an immediate credit to the payment method you used to place the order. If you used a credit card, please expect to see verification of the credit in your next 1-2 billing statements.
If you would like a replacement, we invite you to place a new order at www.bn.com. If you wish, we are happy to do this for you. Simply respond to this email with your permission to recharge your original payment method for the replacement.
Also, we are forwarding another pre-paid merchandise return label to you. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience that this may have caused.
Visit www.bn.com and click on the options that appear in the upper right-hand corner to view information about your order.
We look forward to your next visit.
Posted March 10th, 2004
Wolf Fight II
A follow-up to last month’s post Wolf Fight: the debate over the Naomi Wolf flap on L&P has evolved into a broader debate about libertarianism and the left. Here are some links to the latest installments. Share and enjoy, as they say on Sirius:
Robert Campbell’s Who’s relying on right-wing culture warriors? Gene Healy’s Re: Who’s relying on right-wing culture warriors? Gus diZerega’s Re: Coulter David Beito’s Raimondo, Horowitz, and the Academic Bill of Rights Steve Horwitz’s Re: Raimondo, Horowitz, and the Academic Bill of Rights Robert Campbell’s I Thought Libertarians Were Neither Left Nor Right Steve Horwitz’s More on Libertarianism, Left or Right? David Beito’s A Lament for the Decline of the Family Steve Horwitz’s A Defense of the Evolution of the Family Roderick Long’s Bastiat Sat on the Left David Beito’s Families, Welfare, and Shrinkage Gene Healy’s Weary of Wolf Roderick Long’s Wearier of Young Charles Johnson’s Who’s Complaining About Wolf? Robert Campbell’s Should Libertarians Suspend Critical Examination of Left-Wing Concerns? Roderick Long’s Huh? Gus di Zerega’s Libertarians and the Left Charles Johnson’s Re: Libertarians and the Left
Posted March 9th, 2004
Keeping It Real
My paper for the upcoming Austrian Scholars Conference is now available online: Realism and Abstraction in Economics: Aristotle and Mises versus Friedman.
It’s an Austro-Athenian critique of Milton Friedman’s Essays in Positive Economics (which F. A. Hayek called one of the most dangerous economics books of the 20th century).
Friedman argues that economic theories don’t have to be realistic; indeed, the more useful a theory is, the more wildly inaccurate its assumptions need to be. I argue the contrary. Check out the rock-em-sock-em action here.
Posted March 9th, 2004
In a recent LRC column, titled God So Loved the World, That He Gave His Only Begotten Son, libertarian economist Bob Murphy (who is a cool guy, apart from the tragic character defect of sometimes disagreeing with me) criticises my recent blog posts on Christianity. I reply to his criticisms in Confessions of the Antichrist: A Reply to Bob Murphy. Tolle, lege.
Posted March 3rd, 2004
Theism and Atheism Reconciled
Since my blog has wandered into theological territory lately, I thought it might be worth saying something about the existence of God.
When I’m asked whether I believe in God, I usually don’t know what to say – not because I’m unsure of my view, but because I’m unsure how to describe my view. But here’s a try.
I think the disagreement between theism and atheism is in a certain sense illusory – that when one tries to sort out precisely what theists are committed to and precisely what atheists are committed to, the two positions come to essentially the same thing, and their respective proponents have been fighting over two sides of the same shield.
Let’s start with the atheist. Is there any sense in which even the atheist is committed to recognising the existence of some sort of supreme, eternal, non-material reality that transcends and underlies everything else? Yes, there is: namely, the logical structure of reality itself.
Thus so long as the theist means no more than this by “God,” the theist and the atheist don’t really disagree.
Now the theist may think that by God she means something more than this. But likewise, before people knew that whales were mammals they thought that by “whale” they meant a kind of fish. What is the theist actually committed to meaning?
Well, suppose that God is not the logical structure of the universe. Then we may ask: in what relation does God stand to that structure, if not identity? There would seem to be two possibilities.
One is that God stands outside that structure, as its creator. But this “possibility” is unintelligible. Logic is a necessary condition of significant discourse; thus one cannot meaningfully speak of a being unconstrained by logic, or a time when logic’s constraints were not yet in place.
The other is that God stands within that structure, along with everything else. But this option, as Wittgenstein observed, would downgrade God to the status of being merely one object among others, one more fragment of contingency – and he would no longer be the greatest of all beings, since there would be something greater: the logical structure itself. (This may be part of what Plato meant in describing the Form of the Good as “beyond being.”)
The only viable option for the theist, then, is to identify God with the logical structure of reality. (Call this “theological logicism.”) But in that case the disagreement between the theist and the atheist dissolves.
It may be objected that the “reconciliation” I offer really favours the atheist over the theist. After all, what theist could be satisfied with a deity who is merely the logical structure of the universe? Yet in fact there is a venerable tradition of theists who proclaim precisely this. Thomas Aquinas, for example, proposed to solve the age-old questions “could God violate the laws of logic?” and “could God command something immoral?” by identifying God with Being and Goodness personified. Thus God is constrained by the laws of logic and morality, not because he is subject to them as to a higher power, but because they express his own nature, and he could not violate or alter them without ceasing to be God. Aquinas’ solution is, essentially, theological logicism; yet few would accuse Aquinas of having a watered-down or crypto-atheistic conception of deity. Why, then, shouldn’t theological logicism be acceptable to the theist?
A further objection may be raised: Aquinas of course did not stop at the identification of God with Being and Goodness, but went on to attribute to God various attributes not obviously compatible with this identification, such as personality and will. But if the logical structure of reality has personality and will, it will not be acceptable to the atheist; and if it does not have personality and will, then it will not be acceptable to the theist. So doesn’t my reconciliation collapse?
I don’t think so. After all, Aquinas always took care to insist that in attributing these qualities to God we are speaking analogically. God does not literally possess personality and will, at least if by those attributes we mean the same attributes that we humans possess; rather he possesses attributes analogous to ours. The atheist too can grant that the logical structure of reality possesses properties analogous to personality and will. It is only at the literal ascription of those attributes that the atheist must balk. No conflict here.
Yet doesn’t God, as understood by theists, have to create and sustain the universe? Perhaps so. But atheists too can grant that the existence of the universe depends on its logical structure and couldn’t exist for so much as an instant without it. So where’s the disagreement?
But doesn’t God have to be worthy of worship? Sure. But atheists, while they cannot conceive of worshipping a person, are generally much more open to the idea of worshipping a principle. Again theological logicism allows us to transcend the opposition between theists and atheists.
But what about prayer? Is the logical structure of reality something one could sensibly pray to? If so, it might seem, victory goes to the theist; and if not, to the atheist. Yet it depends what counts as prayer. Obviously it makes no sense to petition the logical structure of reality for favours; but this is not the only conception of prayer extant. In Science and Health, for example, theologian M. B. Eddy describes the activity of praying not as petitioning a principle but as applying a principle:
Who would stand before a blackboard, and pray the principle of mathematics to solve the problem? The rule is already established, and it is our task to work out the solution. Shall we ask the divine Principle of all goodness to do His own work? His work is done, and we have only to avail ourselves of God’s rule in order to receive His blessing, which enables us to work out our own salvation.Is this a watered-down or “naturalistic” conception of prayer? It need hardly be so; as the founder of Christian Science, Eddy could scarcely be accused of underestimating the power of prayer! And similar conceptions of prayer are found in many eastern religions. Once again, theological logicism’s theistic credentials are as impeccable as its atheistic credentials.
Posted March 2nd, 2004
In Culture and Value Wittgenstein offers the following assessment of Francis Bacon:
Bacon, in my view, was not a precise thinker. He has large-scale and, as it were, wide-ranging visions. But if this is all someone has, he is bound to be generous with his promises and inadequate when it comes to keeping them.I think this judgment on Bacon is excessively harsh (for a more positive evaluation see Collingwood’s Idea of History), but there is certainly something to it. And Wittgenstein’s portrait of Bacon puts me irresistibly in mind of Ayn Rand.
Someone might dream up a flying machine without being precise about its details. He might imagine it as looking externally very much like a real aeroplane and describe its function graphically. Neither is it obvious that a phantasy like this must be worthless. Perhaps it will stimulate work of a different sort in others. – So while these others make preparations, a long time in advance as it were, to build an aeroplane that will really fly, he occupies himself with dreaming about what such an aeroplane will have to look like and what it will be capable of doing. ...
For this he needed to have an inkling of the method of construction, but no talent whatever for building. But the bad thing about it was that he launched polemical attacks on the real builders and did not recognize his own limitations, or else did not want to.
Posted March 1st, 2004