Roderick T. Long

Archives: May 2004

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Thanks for Dying

Memorial Day is supposed to honour soldiers who died in our nation’s military adventures, just as Veterans’ Day is supposed to honour those who survived. Today we have the privilege of watching our rulers give earnest speeches expressing their “gratitude” to the victims of past policy even as they send thousands more to their deaths today.

As Dunoyer, Spencer, Molinari, and Oppenheimer have taught us, war and the state are two sides of the same phenomenon – and the only true Memorial Day will be the day of their joint funeral.

I’ve blogged relatively little about the Iraq war lately; outrage fatigue, I guess. But Arthur Silber’s blog usually does a pretty good job of analysing the current insanity.

Posted May 31st, 2004



Convention Newsflash

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I’ve just finished watching C-span’s coverage of the Libertarian Party convention. The three-way race for the top spot was the closest I’ve seen; most observers had been predicting a final showdown between Aaron Russo and Gary Nolan, but in a last-minute upset, Michael Badnarik squeaked through with the nomination. (A vice-presidential candidate had not yet been chosen when C-span’s coverage ended.)

While none of the three contenders has the glibness or the gravitas of Harry Browne, I had grown increasingly disenchanted with Russo, and Badnarik seems fine (a bit weak on abortion – perhaps he needs to read today’s post from Charles Johnson – but acceptable), so I am reasonably content with the outcome.

Badnarik for President!


The VP choice has now been announced: existentialist guru and liberhawk Richard Campagna. Oh well.

Posted May 30th, 2004



Libertarianism in One Sentence

David Bergland once offered Libertarianism in One Lesson. I would like to offer libertarianism in one sentence.

The most succinct formulation of libertarianism I can think of is this:

Other people are not your property.

In other words: They are not yours to boss around. Their lives are not yours to micromanage. The fruits of their labour are not yours to dispose of.

It doesn’t matter how wise or marvelous or useful it would be for other people to do whatever it is you’d like them to do. It is none of your business whether they wear their seatbelts, worship the right god, have sex with the wrong people, or engage in market transactions that irritate you. Their choices are not yours to direct. They are human beings like yourself, your equals under Natural Law. You possess no legitimate authority over them. As long as they do not themselves step over the line and start treating other people as their property, you have no moral basis for initiating violence against them – nor for authorising anyone else to do so on your behalf.

The basic principle of civilised social intercourse was stated in 1646 by Richard Overton:

To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any. For every one, as he is himself, so he has a self-propriety, else could he not be himself; and of this no second may presume to deprive any of without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature and of the rules of equity and justice between man and man. .... No man has power over my rights and liberties, and I over no man’s. I may be but an individual, enjoy my self and my self-propriety and may write myself no more than my self, or presume any further; if I do, I am an encroacher and an invader upon another man’s right .... every man by nature being a king, priest and prophet in his own natural circuit and compass, whereof no second may partake but by deputation, commission, and free consent from him whose natural right and freedom it is.
Nor is this requirement lifted merely because you happen to be a police officer, or an elected legislator, or a member of a majority of citizens casting their votes. As Voltairine de Cleyre pointed out in 1890:

[A] body of voters can not give into your charge any rights but their own; by no possible jugglery of logic can they delegate the exercise of any function which they themselves do not control. If any individual on earth has a right to delegate his powers to whomsoever he chooses, then every other individual has an equal right; and if each has an equal right, then none can choose an agent for another, without that other’s consent. Therefore, if the power of government resides in the whole people, and out of that whole all but one elected you as their agent, you would still have no authority whatever to act for the one. The individuals composing the minority who did not appoint you have just the same rights and powers as those composing the majority who did; and if they prefer not to delegate them at all, then neither you, nor any one, has any authority whatever to coerce them into accepting you, or any one, as their agent ....
I suggest that the phrase “Other people are not your property,” and variations thereon, might be a more useful tool of intellectual debate than some of the other slogans we more commonly use. Why not meet every new proposal to force people to do this or that with the protest “But you don’t own them,” “But they’re not your property”? At least this would reduce the issue to its essence.

Posted May 29th, 2004



Towards Standards of Criticism

It is often said that a purely aesthetic or critical appraisal of a work of art should in no way turn on an evaluation of the artist’s ideas, values, and commitments, but should take into account only the artist’s success in embodying those ideas, values, and commitments, whatever they may happen to be, in artistic form.

 Ayn Rand Even Rand, in The Romantic Manifesto, endorses what we may call the Neutrality Rule:

The fact that one agrees or disagrees with an artist’s philosophy is irrelevant to an esthetic appraisal of his work qua art. One does not have to agree with an artist (nor even to enjoy him) in order to evaluate his work. In essence, an objective evaluation requires that one identify the artist’s theme, the abstract meaning of his work (exclusively by identifying the evidence contained in the work and allowing no other, outside considerations), then evaluate the means by which he conveys it – i.e., taking his theme as criterion, evaluate the purely esthetic elements of the work, the technical mastery (or lack of it) with which he projects (or fails to project) his view of life.
Of course Rand’s critical practice does not actually conform to this rule; within a few pages of the above quotation, for example, one finds her saying that when an artist “demand[s] sympathy for his monsters,” he thereby “crawl[s] outside the limits of the realm of values, including esthetic ones” – a judgment flatly inconsistent with the Neutrality Rule. Indeed, I would venture to affirm that scarcely any critic who advocates adherence to this rule actually succeeds in abiding by it with any great constancy.

We are left, then, with a double mystery: Why do so many critics feel compelled to embrace the Neutrality Rule in theory? And why do so many of them nevertheless feel compelled to violate it in practice?

Let me offer an hypothesis. What attracts critics to the Neutrality Rule, I suspect, is the thought – not an explicit thought, to be sure, since it is a thought no sooner made explicit than rendered doubtful – that the artistic value of a work is the sum of the artistic value of its parts or aspects. Now simply having a correct or insightful view of life cannot win one any artistic points; after all, one might have such a view without being any sort of artist whatever. Thus the mere possession of worthy ideas and values, apart from their expression in artistic form, has zero artistic weight; and so, the implicit inference runs, the artistic contribution such ideas and values make to the work’s overall value must likewise be zero. On the other hand, the successful expression of one’s ideas and values in artistic form surely has some sort of artistic merit, at least ceteris paribus, regardless of the content of those ideas and values. So if an artist’s worldview has no artistic merit apart from its expression, while the expression has some artistic merit regardless of what worldview is being expressed, one can easily be seduced into the inference that the value of the work as a whole must derive entirely from the expression and not from what is being expressed.

Where this inference goes astray is in its assumption that the artistic merit of a whole is some sort of arithmetical sum of the artistic merit of its parts or aspects considered separately. (For a diagnosis of a similar mistake in the “nature vs. nurture” debate, see my 31 July 2003 blog entry Peeling the Self.) And if this implicit fallacy is what drives critics to pay lip service to the Neutrality Rule, then, I submit, it is the equally implicit recognition that it is a fallacy that drives them to violate the rule in their actual critical practice.

We do, for example, often praise some novel for its “insight into human nature,” and we seem to mean this as a judgment of the novel as an artwork. Yet by the lights of the Neutrality Rule this should be nonsense; insight into human nature is not in itself any sort of artistic achievement, since plenty of people have such insight without being artists at all. So by the arithmetical approach, if insight into human nature has no artistic value in isolation, then it cannot bring any artistic value to the works in which it is expressed (though it might bring other sorts of value – educational, for example). The work’s final value must then result entirely from the means whereby the artist’s view of human nature is embodied in artistic form, and not at all from the fact of the view’s being insightful; the latter would have to be dismissed as an extraneous consideration irrelevant to criticism.

But such an approach flies in the face of actual – and indeed of any sane – critical practice. Suppose two writers do an equally skilful job of translating their understanding of human nature into novelistic form, but one writer’s understanding is subtle and profound whilst the other’s is superficial and naïve. Should this difference have no effect on our critical appraisal of the two novels? So the Neutrality Rule would seem to imply; but what critic could bend to such a requirement?

The artistic value of a work of art is not an additive sum but an organic unity. Features that have no artistic relevance by themselves may thus acquire artistic relevance, and so become subject to critical appraisal, by receiving appropriate artistic expression. It is true that if an author’s ideas and values are marvelous in their own right, but he does a lousy job of expressing them in artistic form, his mere good intentions should win him no artistic points whatsoever. Ideas and values have artistic merit only insofar as they receive successful artistic embodiment – and that is the grain of truth in the Neutrality Rule. But it is a mistake to infer that the artistic merit attaches purely to the expression and not to what is expressed. Indeed, there is no such thing as the expression apart from what is expressed; successful expression is not a separable ingredient that can be hooked up now with this expressible and now with another.

 F. R. Leavis The successful expression of a profound idea is simply a different animal from the successful expression of an insipid idea; it is not a gluing-together of two distinct and independently assessable components, an idea on the one hand and a content-neutral expressive technique on the other. Otherwise an artist who did a skilful job of expressing his own ideas and values would be equally skilful at expressing ideas and values alien to him – which is seldom true. (Rand’s story “The Simplest Thing in the World” is a good dramatisation of this fact.)

It is perhaps worth adding that the present reflections were provoked by my initial foray into Leavis’s delightful anthology Towards Standards of Criticism, which I picked up in a small Bloomsbury bookshop on my recent trip to London. I haven’t read far enough into the book to be confident that my judgment is correct, but my first impression, at any rate, is that the critics therein anthologised are embracing the Neutrality Rule in theory but flouting it in practice. It may of course turn out on further perusal that these critics have already seen and embraced the very point I’ve been trying to make. Well, all I’m laying claim to here is truth, not originality.

Posted May 28th, 2004




[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

The latest issue (Summer 2004) of the Laissez Faire Books catalogue carries, on p. 46, a condensed version of my article “Roads to Fascism: Sixty Years Later.” For the complete version, see here or here.

Lew Rockwell reminds us that while attention focuses on the Iraqi prisoners mistreated at Abu Ghraib, the thousands of Iraqi civilians slaughtered by U. S. troops pass unremarked in the press.

I’m off to London tomorrow – back in a week!

Posted May 17th, 2004



The Thin Blue Line

... that protects us from linguistic anarchy:

Maria Cobarrubias ... has built her general store into a profitable fixture in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross by catering to a growing Hispanic community.... Cobarrubias was stunned to receive a visit recently from the local marshal, who fined her for having a sign with the store’s name – Supermercado Jalisco – in Spanish. Supermercado is the Spanish word for supermarket, and Jalisco is the Mexican state where Cobarrubias was born. ...

Sgt. H. Smith, the Norcross marshal, said he has also issued citations to several Korean churches and an “Oriental beauty shop.” Some Spanish words are “acceptable,” he said, while others, such as “supermercado,” must be changed.

“The ‘super’ is English. But I don’t know what ‘mercado’ means,” he said. “If an American was out there driving by, he wouldn’t know what that was.”

Washington Post, 6 February 1999
Moral: Your right to free speech ends where some cop’s inability to understand you begins.

Posted May 17th, 2004



The Hoppriori Argument

In a number of publications (see his website), Hans-Hermann Hoppe has argued that the denial of libertarian self-ownership involves a performative contradiction. (A performative contradiction occurs whenever the act of asserting a proposition is incompatible with the truth, or justification, or both, of what is asserted; an example is the statement “Nothing is ever asserted.”)

Hoppe’s argument seems to inspire two principal sorts of reactions. Some find it an ironclad demonstration of the truth of libertarianism. Others find it a crazy, hopeless argumentative strategy that could never have had any chance of working.

My own response falls into neither category. I don’t think there’s any reason to reject out of hand the kind of argument that Hoppe tries to give; on the contrary, the idea that there might be some deep connection between libertarian rights and the requirements of rational discourse is one I find attractive and eminently plausible. (See my articles “Aristotle’s Conception of Freedom” (Review of Metaphysics 49 (June 1996), pp. 775-802), and “The Irrelevance of Responsibility” (Social Philosophy and Policy 16, no. 2 (Summer 1999), pp. 118-145).) But I am not convinced that the specific argument Hoppe gives us is successful.

Hoppe offers a number of different formulations of his argument; here is a condensed reconstruction of the argument as I understand it:

1. No position is rationally defensible unless it can be justified by argument.
2. No position can be justified by argument if it denies one or more of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange.
3. Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy exclusive control over her own body.
4. To deny the right of self-ownership is to deny exclusive control over one’s own body.
5. Therefore, the denial of the right of self-ownership is rationally indefensible.
As noted, this is my wording of the argument, not Hoppe’s. If I have misunderstood Hoppe’s argument, which is quite possible, then my criticisms will be applicable only to my reconstruction of his position, and not to his position itself. But here at any rate is a first try.

The argument appears to be logically valid; that is, the conclusion follows from the premises. Premises (3) and (4) entail that to deny the right of self-ownership is to deny one of the requirements of interpersonal argumentative exchange; premises (1) and (2) entail that no such denial is rationally defensible. Hence, (5). My worries concern the truth of the premises themselves.

Is premise (1) true? Not obviously so. It depends, I suppose, on what counts as an argument. (Does Aristotelean “negative demonstration” count? Does coherence among propositions count?) But if argument involves deriving a conclusion from premises, then (1) seems to say that no position is rationally defensible unless it can be derived from premises. But presumably the premises themselves must be rationally defensible too; deriving a conclusion from premises that are not rationally defensible is hardly going to confer rational defensibility on the conclusion. So those premises, too, must be justified by argument – and so on for the premises of that argument. Thus we are launched on an infinite regress, with the apparent upshot that no position can be rationally justified – a performatively contradictory assertion if there ever was one.

Is premise (2) true? It seems not. Consider the statement “I am the only person left alive.” One can certainly imagine circumstances in which one would be warranted in endorsing this statement on the basis of the available evidence. (The last astronaut left on the space station watches the Earth explode ....) Hence the statement could in principle be justified by argument. Yet it certainly denies one of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange – namely, the existence of other arguers.

Is premise (3) true? I don’t see why. Do you really have to have exclusive control over your entire body in order to engage in argument with me? Couldn’t I, say, have your body shackled yet leave your mouth free?

Is premise (4) true? I find it ambiguous. What does it mean for me to deny your exclusive control over your body? I might be denying the fact of your control – or the legitimacy of your control – or your right to exercise such control. These are three different things. For example, suppose you aggress against me; then I can acknowledge the fact that you are exercising control over my body, without acknowledging the legitimacy of your doing so. In the same way, then, I can acknowledge the fact that you are exercising control over your own body without committing myself to the legitimacy of your doing so. Indeed, just as I can engage in activities (e.g., self-defense) that presuppose the fact, though not the legitimacy, of your aggression against me, so I can engage in activities (e.g., argumentative exchange) that presuppose the fact, but not the legitimacy, of your control over your own body. Thus acknowledging the fact need not involve acknowledging the legitimacy.

Likewise, acknowledging the legitimacy need not involve acknowledging the right. To say that your action is legitimate is to say that you violate no moral duty in performing the action; but it doesn’t imply – as a right would – that I am morally bound not to interfere with your performance of the action. Suppose a tiger attacks me. I don’t think the tiger is doing anything immoral, since I don’t regard tigers as responsible agents. Hence I grant that the tiger’s attack is legitimate, but I still regard myself as justified in using force to defend myself. Or suppose you and I are shooting hoops, and you try to block my shot. I acknowledge the legitimacy of what you are doing, but I don’t have to let you succeed. In the same way, even if I acknowledge the legitimacy of your exercising control over your own body, that is in principle compatible with my being justified in doing my best to interfere with that control.

Premise (4) is true if denying exclusive control over one’s own body means denying the right to such control – but not if it means merely denying either the fact or the legitimacy of such control. Hence we had better interpret premise (4) as talking about the right, not the legitimacy or the fact – since that is the only interpretation that makes (4) come out true. But then, if the argument is to remain valid, premise (3) must likewise be reinterpreted to mean “Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy a right to exclusive control over her own body.” But why should we grant the truth of (3), under that interpretation? Whatever plausibility (3) had came from interpreting it as talking either about the fact or the legitimacy, not the right. When (3) is interpreted as talking about the right, it starts looking less like a premise and more like the intended conclusion.

I have two broader, Austro-Athenian worries about Hoppe’s argument. (They may actually just be two different ways of stating the same worry.) First: to defend the existence of libertarian rights is to defend a view about the content of justice – but as an Aristotelean, I’m inclined to doubt that the content of justice can be settled apart from the content of the other virtues, or of the good life generally. Second: Hoppe’s argument, if it worked, would commit us to recognising and respecting libertarian rights regardless of what our goals are – but as a praxeologist, I have trouble seeing how any practical requirement can be justified apart from a means-end structure.

As I said at the beginning, I think a Hoppe-style argument might well work; but before I could be convinced I’d want to see such an argument a) distinguish clearly whether it is the fact, the legitimacy, or the right of self-ownership whose denial is being refuted, and b) embed its normative force in a Classical Eudaimonist framework.

Posted May 15th, 2004



Faith of the Heart

What do the writers of Star Trek: Enterprise have against Vulcans?

The Vulcans used to be the coolest denizens of the Star Trek universe: aliens who, like the ancient Stoics, repressed their emotions in the name of an all-consuming devotion to rationality and logic. From an Aristotelean perspective, the notion that a commitment to reason involves the repression of emotion is of course a mistaken one; but there are worse mistakes one can make, and this one has at least a certain dignity and nobility. And that is indeed how Star Trek has always portrayed the Vulcan lifestyle: as admirable and noble, though tragically mistaken.

But the portrayal of Vulcans has taken a troubling turn on the latest Star Trek series. Vulcan repression of emotion is now presented less as a means to clarity of understanding and purpose, than as a mere response to psychological insecurity. The emphasis is all on repression and hardly at all on logic. Indeed, the Vulcans on Star Trek: Enterprise are represented as dogmatically refusing to acknowledge overwhelming evidence (e.g., of time travel) and as practising unjust discrimination against their own telepathic minority. On previous shows the Vulcans could often be arrogant and inflexible – but their conclusions were at least based on rational argument. The Vulcans also used to be scientifically curious, celebrating “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”; remember how Spock found everything “fascinating”? On the current show, however, the Vulcans display little curiosity, instead condemning the exploration of the unknown as risky and imprudent.

One might say in the show’s defense that Enterprise takes place about a century earlier than the original Star Trek; perhaps Vulcan society was (will be?) less advanced in that era. But that’s not a very plausible response; Vulcans have supposedly been following the Way of Surak more or less unchanged for centuries. I think it’s more likely that the Vulcan ideal simply doesn’t resonate at all with the current show’s writers.

This, after all, is the show whose theme song runs:

I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got faith to believe
I can do anything
I’ve got strength of the soul
no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I’ve got faith
I’ve got faith
faith of the heart
And the crew of this Enterprise are the most whim-driven, touchy-feely, emotionally undisciplined set of Starfleet officers ever inflicted on a Star Trek audience. Everything about the show suggests that its current writers have a virtually reflexive commitment to emotionalism over reason. I suspect they portray Vulcans as dogmatic, intolerant, and timid because that’s what being “rational” means to them.

It’s no wonder, then, that they have done everything possible to undercut and weaken the show’s main Vulcan character, the female science officer T’pol. Partly this seems to be misogyny; the glorious days of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, when women and minorities got to play strong Trek characters, are definitely over. (Enterprise’s other female character does nothing but whine and sulk; the show’s one black character does nothing, period. Admittedly, most of the show’s white male characters are boring as hell too – and Captain Archer bears a creepy resemblance, in both face and voice, to the current U. S. President.) But I think it’s misovulcany as well.

Actress Jolene Blalock, despite sometimes seeming to be on the verge of narcolepsy, has done a good job of continuing to project an aura of dignity for T’pol – but despite the scripts, not because of them. The writers seem determined to break down her Vulcan strength and reserve, and turn her into another rudderless neurotic like everyone else on the show. The contrast between the self-controlled way that Spock was allowed to handle his pon farr (the onset of the cyclical Vulcan mating urge) on the original series and the utter lack of self-control displayed by T’pol during hers was striking. (Here too of course misovulcany was abetted by misogyny.)

If there ever was a show for George W. Bush’s America, this is it. The fact that this past season has been about folksy, lovable, earnest, rudderless Captain Archer blithely committing theft and torture in order to defend Earth against terrorist attack is chillingly appropriate.

Posted May 14th, 2004



Are We All Consequentialists Now?

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

The current (June 2004) issue of Reason magazine carries the following letter to the editor. (I’ve restored my original formatting, plus a section – marked in brackets – that Reason deleted for space.)

To the Editor:

In “Coercion vs. Consent” (March), Randy Barnett writes that “there are very few libertarians today for whom consequences are not ultimately the reason why they believe in liberty,” while Richard Epstein cheerfully agrees that libertarians are “all consequentialists now.”

Fortunately, it is not true that we libertarians are all consequentialists now. I say “fortunately,” because consequentialism is philosophically indefensible as a normative theory.

The basic problem with consequentialism is that it recognizes no limit in principle on what can be done to people in order to promote good consequences.

Now consequentialists insist that in the vast majority of cases, killing, torturing, or enslaving innocent people is not the best way to get good results. And of course they are right about that. But by the logic of their position the consistent consequentialist (happily a rara avis) must always be open to the possibility that killing, torturing, or enslaving the innocent might be called for under special circumstances, and this recognition necessarily taints the character of even one’s ordinary relations to other people.

[If the only reason I do not steal is that I’m afraid of being caught, then how am I morally superior to the thief? Likewise, if the only reason I don’t slaughter my neighbors is that doing so happens not to maximize social utility at the moment, then how am I morally superior to a mass murderer?]

As Immanuel Kant pointed out more than two centuries ago, to subordinate – or even to be prepared to subordinate – one’s fellow human beings to some end they do not share is to treat them as slaves, thereby denying both their inherent dignity and one’s own.

 Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804 Many consequentialists will say that they too can accommodate ironclad prohibitions on certain actions, on the grounds that utility will be maximized in the long run if people internalize such prohibitions. This is true, but it misses the point. Once one has internalized an ironclad prohibition, one is by definition no longer a consequentialist. One cannot treat certain values as absolute in practice and still meaningfully deny their absoluteness in theory; a belief that is not allowed to influence one's actions is no real belief. Most consequentialists are morally superior to their theory and, thankfully, pay it only lip service.

David Friedman is quite right to point out, in the same issue, that “concepts such as rights, property, and coercion” are complicated and not always susceptible to clear and easy rules. But this is not an argument for making consequences the sole test of right action. What it does mean is that non-consequentialist moral considerations establish only certain broad parameters, leaving it to consequences, custom, and context to make them more specific.

The parameters are not infinitely broad, however; and I do not see how they could be broad enough to license one group of people, called the government, to reassign title to the fruits of another group's labor at the first group’s sole discretion. Hence even if taxation and eminent domain had good results – which in the long term they rarely do – they would stand condemned on non-consequentialist grounds as slavery and plunder.

Roderick T. Long
Department of Philosophy
Auburn University
Auburn AL
One clarification: while I agree with Kant’s indictment of the consequentialist conception of morality as an instrumental strategy for promoting human welfare, I disagree with his remedy. For Kant, the solution is to sever the connection between morality and human welfare entirely; I instead follow the classical Greek tradition in tying the two together more closely, making morality an essential component of human welfare rather than a mere external means to it. For details see my book Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand; my articles Egoism and Anarchy and Why Does Justice Have Good Consequences?; and my review of Leland Yeager’s Ethics As Social Science.

Posted May 10th, 2004



Tolle, Lege

This list of books has been circulating through the blogosphere. I don’t know who compiled it, but one is supposed to post it with the titles of books one has read in boldface. Since I always comply with posted signs and placards, here’s my list:

Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
Agee, James - A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
Brontë, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily - Wuthering Heights
Camus, Albert - The Stranger
Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
Dante - Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays
Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph - Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms
Homer - The Iliad
Homer - The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll’s House
James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel García - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
Morrison, Toni - Beloved
O’Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find
O’Neill, Eugene - Long Day’s Journey into Night
Orwell, George - Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel - Swann’s Way
Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
Shakespeare, William - Macbeth
Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles - Antigone
Sophocles - Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Swift, Jonathan – Gulliver’s Travels
Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire - Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard - Native Son
The titles I haven’t read fall into the following four categories (not having read them, I am of course in no position to defend this classification):

Those I feel impelled, mostly by inclination, to read eventually: The Last of the Mohicans, The Red Badge of Courage, Don Quixote, The Great Gatsby, Madame Bovary, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Portrait of a Lady, The Magic Mountain, One Hundred Years of Solitude, War and Peace.

Those I feel impelled, mostly by duty, to read eventually: As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Tom Jones, The Good Soldier, Catch 22, A Farewell to Arms, To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Catcher in the Rye, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Slaughterhouse-Five, Native Son.

Those I do not feel particularly compelled ever to read: A Death in the Family, Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Adventures of Augie March, An American Tragedy, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Doctor Zhivago [though I loved the movie], The Bell Jar, The Crying of Lot 49, Call It Sleep, The Color Purple.

Those I never heard of before this list: The Woman Warrior, Ceremony.

Posted May 8th, 2004



Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

Guess who’s to blame for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Would you believe – feminists and gays?

Yep, George Neumayr of The American Spectator explains it all for us. An evil lesbian force field, generated at the March for Women’s Lives in DC last month, traveled backwards in time and apparently hit Abu Ghraib prison like Frank N. Furter’s sonic transducer on a Saturday night.

I am not making this up.

Oddly enough, it also turns out, apparently, that the same evil lesbian force field has long been in charge of the Texas prison system. I look forward to Neumayr’s explanation of this curious turn of events.

But like the man said: it’s astounding; time is fleeting; madness takes its toll ....

Posted May 8th, 2004



No War, No State, No War Between the States

The following letter appeared in this morning’s Opelika-Auburn News:

To the Editor:

Proponents of the Union often seem to think the Civil War was almost entirely about slavery, while proponents of the Confederacy often seem to think it had almost nothing to do with slavery.

I highly recommend to both sides historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s book Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. He makes a persuasive case for what is, alas, the interpretation least flattering to both sides: the desire to extend the institution of slavery to the western territories was one of the South's chief reasons for seceding, while antislavery sentiment was not at all central to the North's reasons for trying to prevent secession.

Both sides were fond of quoting the Declaration of Independence – yet hypocritically so. The South claimed the right to secede from the Union, but denied slaves the right to secede from their masters. Abraham Lincoln for his part declared that he would hold the Southern states in the Union by force even if slavery were abolished. Neither position can be squared with the Declaration’s emphasis on the “consent of the governed.”

There certainly were people with admirable motives on both sides of the Civil War – but for the most part such folks were exploited by, rather than influential on, their respective political leaderships. It’s time we stopped romanticising a bloody conflict that was waged for largely ignoble reasons on both sides. “Lost Cause,” “Won Cause” – either way, an unjust cause.

Roderick T. Long
For more on this subject, see my blog entry Shades of Grey (and Blue) from last year.

Posted May 8th, 2004



No Thinking, Please

Just caught a clip on MSNBC of Guy Womack, attorney for one of the soldiers accused of mistreating prisoners in Iraq. He was giving the usual “just following orders” defense; when interviewer Deborah Norville raised the question of the Nuremberg Trials, he answered: “We don’t want soldiers in war to debate philosophical issues.”

Maybe we should start wanting that?

A good start would be to give each new recruit a copy of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority.

Posted May 4th, 2004



Separate But Equal?

In those days ... men were real men, women were real women, and
small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Brad Edmonds writes to object that my previous blog mischaracterises his position. Edmonds had written that “women are supposed to be pretty” while “men are supposed to be strong”; I had criticised this view as implying that “women are supposed to specialise in a trait that is primarily about being pleasing to others; men are supposed to specialise in a trait that is primarily about being useful to oneself.”

Edmonds denies that this is his view; instead, he maintains, while women should indeed be pretty for the benefit of men, men should likewise be strong for the benefit of women. As evidence that he favours no asymmetrical subordination between the sexes, he points me to his articles Should We Bury Chivalry? and The Greatest Symphony – about which more below.

Let me clarify: I never said it was Edmonds’ explicit view that women exist for the benefit of men but not vice versa; and I would be very surprised indeed if he turned out to think this. What I said was that his view implied this, and I continue to think it does. (Likewise I think statism implies the legitimacy of slavery, but I certainly don’t claim that most statists recognise this. We must distinguish between what a person says or believes, and what he is committed to.)

Admittedly I don’t find the notion that men and women exist for each other’s sake very attractive either; as Locke and Kant pointed out centuries ago, it is an affront to human dignity to treat any human being as an instrument for other’s uses – and making the relation reciprocal merely gives the notion a socialistic, Rousseauist twist.

But in any case, I think the view that Edmonds defends amounts in essence and in practice (though not in his intention) to the view that women exist for the sake of men and not vice versa. One can say that strength and attractiveness are symmetrical, but they just aren’t. Strength can be used in the service of others, but that is hardly the essence of strength; and the notion of strength has a kind of dignity to it that the merely decorative notion of attractiveness just doesn’t have.

Needless to say, I have nothing against attractiveness – or nurturing, for that matter. But in its actual operation, the patriarchal conceptualisation of these values has not affected both sexes equally; on the contrary, the emphasis on female attractiveness has inhibited women’s psychological independence, just as the ideal of the one-career family has inhibited women’s financial independence. (I think Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House is still as good a portrait of this as any.) Traditional sex roles also slight the individuality of women in comparison with men; men are offered the opportunity to choose among an enormous variety of different careers, while women are presumed to be all suited by nature to just one career, that of housewife.

The articles to which Edmonds points me do not relieve my worries about the implications of the outlook he endorses. Edmonds’ defense of chivalry seems to me to neglect the way that the “code of chivalrous conduct” has served to reinforce social perceptions of female helplessness and dependence. As individualist anarchist Victor Yarros pointed out during those glorious 1800s, the “privileges and special homage accorded by the bourgeois world to women” are really “marks of woman’s degradation and slavery.”

Edmonds also says that the code of chivalry requires men to “show courtesy, charm, and respect toward women; and courtesy and respect to men as well.” Well, that’s fine; but of course what’s at issue here is more than that. For Edmonds, chivalry involves men taking on the role of “head of household” in charge of “determin[ing] most about the material and emotional well being of the family.” And if the husband dies or becomes disabled, that’s tough luck for the stay-at-home wife who has to go out on the job market late in life without having developed career skills. Such a practice surely tilts the balance of power and dependence squarely against the wife; see Susan Okin’s Justice, Gender, and the Family. How can a woman be an equal partner in a household that has a “head”? (It’s like government bureaucrats calling themselves “public servants.”)

Edmonds grants that “women can do most things men can do, oftentimes better”; but he questions “whether women should be doing everything.” Once again “biology provides much of the answer. … When pregnant, women are exceptionally vulnerable, and they’re carrying the greatest imaginable prize.” Certainly pregnant women deserve special accommodation, just as those suffering from any form of infirmity, temporary or permanent, deserve such accommodation; but it is equally true that a genuine concern for women’s interests should lead to the inculcation of self-sufficiency rather than a culture of dependence. Why do libertarian arguments about welfare suddenly not apply to women? There’s also something creepy about the notion of a pregnant woman as receptacle for “the greatest imaginable prize”; that’s exactly what I’m talking about when I say that traditional sex roles treat women as having an essentially other-directed function.

As for the average difference in physical strength between men and women, I expect that problem to be eradicated technologically by the end of the century.

Edmonds is right, incidentally, to note that in two-career households, women still do the lion’s share of the housework and childcare, and that men are lacking in “valor” (but is that the right word?) for acquiescing in this situation. But why assume that a one-career family – rather than greater shared homemaking responsibilities – is the solution? Edmonds’ answer is that mothers are better, by “instinct,” at childcare than either fathers or daycare providers. I regard claims about “maternal instinct” as on a par with the claims of astrology; but Edmonds is certainly right that parents tend to be better at childcare than daycare providers – at least ceteris paribus. But just as marginal analysis reminds us that economic agents are never in a position to choose between water per se and diamonds per se, so parents do not choose between parental care per se and daycare per se; the choice is always between marginal units of parental care and marginal units of daycare. (That’s why in my original post I referred to Edmonds’ opposition between parental care and daycare as a “false dichotomy.”) Not all goods are compossible in all amounts. Should parents regard securing additional units of the best care for children as a non-negotiable value that must always take precedence, in any choice, over any amount of any other value? Wouldn’t this be the same mentality as that evinced by those statists who want to ban guns or cigarettes or pornography or whatever “for the sake of the children”?

In any case, when taking the interests of children into account, I would want to stress that it is in the interest of children, particularly female children, to grow up in an environment that does not reinforce traditional gender roles. As for the claim that “the one thing most male prisoners in maximum-security American lockups have in common is the absence of a strong father figure during their formative years,” could those two factors be correlated with anything else – such as poverty? (No, I don’t think poverty “causes” crime; but it certainly makes the path to crime easier.)

On the question of role models, the case can be made that “chivalry” stunts women’s moral development. (Men’s too, of course, but let’s focus on the women for now.) Think of all the movies you’ve seen in which the hero is fighting the villain while the heroine is present. In some of those movies, the heroine huddles in the corner and screams. In others, she wades in to help by shooting the villain or bashing him over the head with a blunt instrument. Two questions: a) Isn’t the woman who takes up a weapon a better exemplar of human virtue than the huddling screamer? [Given that Edmonds’ “real women” carry guns in their purses, he’s gotta say yes.] b) Which of these two exemplars is the “code of chivalry” most likely to encourage women to achieve?

With regard to Edmonds’ lengthy comparison of the creation of woman to the creation of a beautiful symphony – in the present context it hardly counts as a compliment. Isn’t it precisely the essence of a symphony that it exists to give aesthetic pleasure to an audience?

Edmonds requests that I acknowledge that it is “NOT universally accepted that traditional sex roles are evil.” Good heavens! Of course I know that’s not universally accepted! I would hardly be wasting blogspace defending something I thought was universally accepted.

One final comment: I don’t mean to be projecting a holier-than-thou tone here. I’ve argued elsewhere that libertarians shouldn’t assume an air of moral superiority over statists – first, because statism is “a form of spiritual blindness that can, and does, infect even those who are largely sincere and well-meaning,” and second, because a commitment to libertarianism is only part of virtue, not the whole of it, so that even if we “score higher” than our statist neighbours on this point, that’s no guarantee that they don’t outscore us on others. These points apply, mutatis mutandis, to the present issue. I certainly don’t claim that those who defend traditional sex roles are evil! But that traditional sex roles themselves are evil – and evil for much the same reasons that statism is evil – I continue to maintain.

Posted May 3rd, 2004



Anti-Feminism Is Anti-Liberty

Brad Edmonds has followed up his column on Real Men vs. Progressive Men (see my reply here) with a sequel, Real Women vs. Feminist Women.

I won’t go through his new list point by point, because, well, ugh. But I can’t resist responding to the accompanying commentary.

Edmonds expresses surprise that his first column was attacked for expressing “disrespect for women,” since he had “said nothing at all about women.” Now, c’mon. When someone writes that “real men” prefer one-career families to two-career families, and attacks day care to boot, it’s pretty obvious that he is defending traditional gender roles.

This time around he tells us:

Notice I included armpits and legs for women, but did not mention body parts for men. … Women are supposed to be pretty, and just about all of them can be if they want. Men are supposed to be strong, and just about all of them can be if they want.
Let’s think about what this entails. Women are supposed to specialise in a trait that is primarily about being pleasing to others; men are supposed to specialise in a trait that is primarily about being useful to oneself. It’s hard to see how it could be any more obvious that this sort of ideology can only serve to rationalise and reinforce the exploitation of one half of the human race by the other half. Just as statism perpetuates itself by inculcating the myth of the necessity and virtue of government, so patriarchy perpetuates itself by inculcating traditional sex roles.

The foundational principle of libertarianism is that human beings are ends in themselves, not mere means to the ends of others. How can Edmonds, as a libertarian, consistently endorse the view that half the human race are not ends in themselves but exist precisely to serve others? For this is precisely what is involved in saying that women’s chief task is to be attractive and nurturing: it defines the good for women as fundamentally other-directed. WHAT A REAL WOMAN LOOKS LIKE

As libertarian sociologists Charles Dunoyer and Herbert Spencer (in Industry and Morals and Principles of Sociology respectively) pointed out over a century ago, the subordination of women to the interests of men is the primordial form of oppression from which all others have arisen. Traditional gender roles are the root from which statism grew, and no libertarian can consistently defend them. (Libertarians need to recognise that sexism is fundamentally akin to statism, just as feminists need to recognise that statism is fundamentally akin to sexism.)

Edmonds, however, thinks traditional gender roles are non-optional; for him they arise either from divine decree – “God decided family sex roles, and our sudden discovery that they can be violated isn’t going to change God's mind” – or else from biological evolution: “the three million years of evolution that resulted in traditional family sex roles are not going to be undone by some sudden enlightenment to the effect that traditional sex roles should be violated.”

To begin with, since traditional gender roles serve to exploit women, they cannot have been decreed by God, since God does not will evil. As for evolution: first, the extent to which differences between the sexes are biologically based has been greatly exaggerated; the claim that gender roles are “natural” must be set against the background of the intense, systematic socialisation and brainwashing conducted on behalf of these gender roles. (See Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Myths of Gender for a thorough debunking of the pseudo-science behind many of the claims for a biological basis of sex roles.) The fact that we are products of evolution does not mean that everything we do is the product of evolution; nobody believes that 36 + 52 = 88 because that specific belief was selected for by evolution. What was selected for by evolution was a general ability to figure things out – and one thing that men figured out early on was that they could use their greater physical strength to exploit women. Traditional gender roles today are the legacy of those early decisions.

Second, regardless of the extent to which sex differences are biologically based, the results of evolution are not normative. Saying that men should specialize in strength because evolution has made men, on average, physically stronger than women is about as sensible as saying that men should specialise in baldness because evolution has made men, on average, more likely than women to go bald. (Why not say that evolution has given men a head start on strength so that they don’t need to concentrate on that?)

Edmonds points out that men and women have different hormones, and “hormones even help determine what people want and enjoy.” While I think this oversimplifies the relation between mind and body, let’s grant the point. So what? People want and enjoy all sorts of things, some good and some bad. (Statists enjoy taxing and regulating people, for example.) The question “what is good?” should not be confused with the question “what do I find it the easiest to do?” Hormonal differences between men and women might mean that men on average find it easier to acquire some virtues and women on average find it easier to acquire others. But that doesn’t mean that they should pursue different virtues; the standard of reality is reason, not hormones. Anyway, there’s something odd about Edmonds’ being willing to say, in effect, both that there’s no realistic way of getting people to deviate from traditional sex roles, and that too darn many people are deviating from traditional sex roles!

I should note that Edmonds does advise his readers to take what he says with a “pinch of salt.” But isn’t that a bit like making a move in chess but then refusing to take one’s hand off the piece?

Posted May 3rd, 2004



Finding the Brake

In his 1815 Principles of Politics, French liberal author Benjamin Constant defended the monarch’s “right to dissolve representative assemblies.”

Constant’s position might seem surprising. Wasn’t securing the independence of parliaments from the royal will one of liberalism’s hard-won victories?

 Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) His reasoning ran as follows. The “tendency of assemblies to multiply indefinitely the number of laws” is the inevitable result of “two natural inclinations in the legislators, the need to act, and the pleasure of believing themselves necessary.” Hence it is only to be expected that legislators should “share out amongst themselves human existence, by right of conquest, in the same way as Alexander’s generals shared out the world.” The function of the monarch is to serve as a check against this tendency. This is why the political executive is customarily entrusted with the power of vetoing legislation; but, Constant maintains, the veto is not enough:

The veto is precisely a direct means of repressing the indiscreet activity of representative assemblies but, when employed too often, it irritates without disarming them. Thus dissolution is the only remedy whose effectiveness is assured.
But what ensures that the monarch will use this power beneficently rather than mischievously? Here Constant’s argument becomes less compelling: as a “neutral power” rather than an “active power,” the monarch has, or should have, only the power to restrain the actions of other parts of the government, but no power to initiate action himself; as a “being apart at the summit of the pyramid,” the monarch floats serenely above the fray rather than becoming involved in partisanship, and serves only to mediate among the different branches of government.

Sounds nice, but how is this to be guaranteed? Despite the tendency among some libertarians nowadays to romanticise monarchy, this is scarcely how the institution has actually worked in history: monarchs have frequently become embroiled in faction, siding with one group against another. Thus while Constant has described the problem brilliantly, his solution is unconvincing.

What Constant neglects to take into account is a principle stressed by Isabel Paterson in her 1943 libertarian classic The God of the Machine: a constitutional function must be assigned to an agency capable of fulfilling that function. (As Aristotle put it, a form can be realised only in suitable matter; one cannot make a saw out of wool.) Paterson and Constant would agree that the mechanism of government requires a brake; but has Constant assigned the braking function to an agency well-suited to exercise it?

The monarch is but a forked animal like the rest of us, with no power of his own to compel the other branches of government to do or refrain from anything; what power he has comes from the willingness of others to support him. Hence the monarch must of necessity be involved in factions; if he were to float serenely above them as Constant recommends, he would be like a mere cork bobbing on the waves, with no power to direct events. Monarchs are not Kryptonians; they cannot rule by their own personal might, and so must rule by patronage. In his Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (read it online or buy it), Étienne de la Boétie described the process well:

It is not the troops on horseback, it is not the companies afoot, it is not arms that defend the tyrant. This does not seem credible on first thought, but it is nevertheless true that there are only four or five who maintain the dictator, four or five who keep the country in bondage to him. Five or six have always had access to his ear, and have either gone to him of their own accord, or else have been summoned by him, to be accomplices in his cruelties, companions in his pleausres, panders to his lusts, and sharers in his plunders. These six manage their chief so successfully that he comes to be held accountable not only for his own misdeeds but even for theirs. The six have six hundred who profit under them, and with the six hundred they do what they have accomplished with their tyrant. The six hundred maintain under them six thousand, whom they promote in rank, upon whom they confer the government of provinces or the direction of finances, in order that they may serve as instruments of avarice and cruelty, executing orders at the proper time and working such havoc all around that they could not last except under the shadow of the six hundred, nor be exempt from law and punishment except through their influence. ... And whoever is pleased to unwind the skein will observe that not the six thousand but a hundred thousand, and even millions, cling to the tyrant by this cord to which they are tied.
In light of La Boétie’s analysis, Constant’s ideal monarch turns out to resemble the Randian fantasy of government as a reliable, impersonal robot. The braking function cannot be assigned to the monarch, because a monarch must either participate in faction or remain aloof; but if he remains aloof he lacks the power to serve as a brake, while if he participates in faction he cannot brake the activities he is simultaneously abetting.

Paterson argues that the braking function should be assigned to the people at large. Dispersed and disorganised, the masses cannot realistically exercise the power of initiating action; hence Paterson’s rejection of democracy. But the masses do have the power to block governmental action by refusing to cooperate, and so the function of “mass inertia veto” is properly vested in them:

The property of mass is inertia. In politics, inertia is the veto. A function or factor can only be found where it is. No plan or edict can establish it where it is not. ... [In the Roman Republic] the tribunes of the people [were] invested with the formal veto power. ... At one time, the tribunes of the people ‘stopped the whole machine of government’ for a number of years, refusing to approve and thus permit any act of government whatever ... until their grievances were redressed. They were able to do so because the power they exercised did inhere in the body they represented. It was there. If the people will not move the government cannot act. Though laws are passed and orders given, if mass inertia is found opposed, the laws and orders will not be carried out. ... [T]he function of mass, which is taken for granted by mechanical engineers, and usually ignored by political theorists, was understood by the Romans. They used it where it belongs for stability, by attaching to it directly that part of the mechanism proper to the factor of inertia, the device to ‘cut’ the motor when necessary.
How is this “mass inertia veto” to be institutionally realised? Paterson maintains that by vesting the “power of the purse” in the House of Representatives, the U.S. Constitution ensures that the ability to cut off the fuel on which the government operates is assigned to the democratic element. The problem with this solution, however, is that congressional representatives are government functionaries, invested with the power of initiating legislative action and not merely of restraining the actions of other parts of government. With regard to the tendency of legislatures “to multiply indefinitely the number of laws,” the House of Representatives is obviously not the solution; it’s part of the problem.

One way to improve the situation would be to assign the representative assembly the sole task of blocking government power. (See my reflections on this here and here.) Then the “pleasure of believing themselves necessary” that leads assemblies nowadays to multiply laws in order to be seen as “doing something” might operate in reverse.

But it’s also worth noting that under Market Anarchism, the “masses” exercise their veto function quite naturally. As Ludwig von Mises points out in Bureaucracy (read it online or buy it), “the capitalist system of production is an economic democracy” in which “consumers are the sovereign people”; capitalists and entrepreneurs are “the people’s mandatories,” who “lose their office” if they “fail to produce, at the lowest possible cost, what the consumers are asking for.”

Under Market Anarchism, this economic democracy is simply extended to the production of “governmental” services; there is thus no need to rig up some constitutional mechanism to express the masses’ veto power, as the price system naturally embodies that power: a service provider who fails to satsify its customers will be “dissolved” as surely by the market as by Constant’s monarch. (And the fact that the masses have to pay for the services they desire also puts a check on the masses’ own power; economic democracy thus internalises the externalities associated with political democracy.)

Constant sought to locate the braking function in a monarch; Paterson, in a representative assembly. Both stratagems are unnecessary, since the braking function already exists in the place where the laws of praxeology have put it: in the sovereign consumer.

Posted May 2nd, 2004



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