Rhyme and Reason
Hallowe’en was originally the Celtic New Year – a brief period of chaos between the breakdown of the old year-order and the establishment of the new year-order, a time when the boundary between our world and the spirit world became especially permeable.
For libertarians, order and chaos can both be positive symbols; we can think of order in terms of Hayek’s “spontaneous order,” and chaos in terms of Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” or Postrel’s “dynamism.” Or they can be negative symbols: despotically imposed order leading to what Mises called “planned chaos.” Focusing on the positive meanings, however, we can think of Hallowe’en symbolically as follows: as a glimpse of the hidden chaos that lies beneath the surface of the world’s everyday order, Hallowe’en celebrates the creative spontaneity out of which order arises. Hence Hallowe’en, thus understood, does not reject order, since order (of the right sort) depends on chaos (of the right sort); but it celebrates chaos for its own eerie beauty and transgressive freedom, and not because it gives rise to order.
One reason I’m not a paleolibertarian is that paleolibertarianism entails impiety against the objective and sacred values represented by Hallowe’en. I’ve argued elsewhere for the indispensability of both “bourgeois” and “bohemian” virtues – the values of the Enlightenment and of Romanticism respectively, one might say – as part of the necessary cultural framework of a free society. Hallowe’en is a day to celebrate the bohemian/Romantic side of that framework.
Is there a day to celebrate the bourgeois/Enlightenment side? Well, Thanksgiving can be seen as a celebration of economic productivity. And we could always try to co-opt Labour Day. (Human Action Day?) But in the meantime:
The following letter to the editor was published in this morning’s Opelika-Auburn News. It’s a follow-up to my previous letter on the smoking ban (see “The Flame of Liberty,” below) and to my previous letter on gay marriage (which I didn’t publish here because it was substantially identical to my post “Who Defends Marriage?”). This past Tuesday, after I wrote this latest letter but before it was published, Roberta Jackel and her colleagues on the Auburn City Council voted to enact the smoking ban.
To the Editor:
Letter-to-the-editor writer Bruce Murray thinks same-sex marriage is really bad. Margaret Wright and Roberta Jackel think smoking is really bad. Ms. Wright adds that driving without a seatbelt is bad too.
Suppose they're right. Is it any of the law’s business?
Ownership is the right of use and disposal. If we claim the right to decide how other people can use their bodies and run their lives, we are, in effect, claiming to own their bodies and their lives.
But we don’t. They do.
The fact that other people might use their bodies and their lives in ways that are harmful to themselves and annoying to us is one of the facts of life of freedom. Other people practice religions and express political views that we may dislike. As long as they don't force their choices on others, that’s their business.
Ms. Wright thinks smokers force their choices on taxpayers who have to pay their medical bills. Fair enough: nobody should be forced to pay for the results of other people's mistakes. But the solution is to free both smokers and taxpayers, not to coerce both.
Ms. Jackel thinks smokers in restaurants force their choices on employees who cannot quit. But of course employees are not literally forced to work at any particular establishment. Her argument tries to justify literal force, by the armed might of the state, against smokers in order to prevent merely metaphorical force against employees.
She also thinks smoking sections in restaurants are like urination sections in swimming pools. Well, if the pool's owner announces that there’s a urination section, and the customers consent to this silliness, that’s their right – just as it is their right to marry whom they choose.
The fundamental rule of a civilized society is: other people are not your property.
Roderick T. Long
Tomorrow I’m off to Orange Beach for the Alabama Philosophical Society meetings. If you’re in the area, stop by to say hi!
To the many, many people who’ve sent me questions and comments about my post on intellectual property – thank you! I will respond here as soon as I get the time.
An End to Allegiance
The Pledge of Allegiance is in the news again, but as usual, the only part that is regarded as controversial is the reference to God. In fact the entire Pledge is a repellent statist credo (as befits its author, “Christian Socialist” Francis Bellamy, brother of the Edward Bellamy who wrote the tiresome utopian-collectivist science-fiction novels Looking Backward and Equality).
Hence it seems appropriate to reprint a letter I wrote to the Daily Tar Heel (UNC Chapel Hill’s campus newspaper) back on 21 June 1995. (This also gives me a chance to correct the Tar Heel’s typos!)
To the Editor:
Will Leonard said he can’t understand why anyone would object to laws mandating the Pledge of Allegiance in our schools. Let me suggest a few reasons.
The Pledge of Allegiance is basically a loyalty oath. Compulsory loyalty oaths to the State are an authoritarian imposition we rightly associate with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and McCarthy. They have no place in a free country.
Requiring such loyalty oaths of children, who are in no position to comprehend the obligations they are supposedly undertaking, is even more objectionable. The whole notion of swearing “allegiance” to the republic and its flag is profoundly un-American. This sort of reverence for the State, together with the prostration of the people before the symbols and tokens of its authority, belongs among the trappings of the old-world ancien régime mentality that this nation’s founders decisively rejected.
As the founders conceived it, the American republic was an administrative arrangement set up for the convenience and security of its citizens; those citizens were to be the masters of the republic, not its subjects. As American citizens, we owe no “allegiance” to the political apparatus; on the contrary, the political apparatus is our servant, and owes allegiance and obedience to us. This is the ideal for which our forebears died at Lexington and Concord.
The Pledge of Allegiance, a declaration of political idolatry first introduced in 1892, at a time when this country had begun to turn away from its founding principles in favor of a militantly nationalist ideology, was a profound betrayal of the spirit of the American Revolution. Imposing this loyalty oath through the medium of government-run, tax-funded schools creates still further problems. A truly democratic government must represent all its citizens, not just a favored elite; hence our government has no business using tax funds to shove controversial ideas down the throats of children whose taxpaying parents object to these ideas. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “To compel a man to furnish contributions for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Yet the Pledge of Allegiance is full of opinions that many parents and taxpayers “disbelieve and abhor.”
The phrase “under God” (incidentally not added to the pledge until 1954, making hash of its grammar in the process) requires schoolchildren to profess a belief in God, even if their parents are atheists.
The phrase “indivisible” requires those same schoolchildren to take a stand on the complex legal, ethical, and historical question of whether the American Union is in fact indissoluble, and whether the delegation of authority by the several states to the federal government is indeed irrevocable – propositions of which I, at least, am unconvinced.
The phrase “with liberty and justice for all,” if it means anything, must mean that schoolchildren are required to assent to the dubious proposition that the American political system in fact provides liberty and justice to all.
Mr. Leonard to the contrary notwithstanding, all this sounds more like political and religious propaganda than like any sort of “moral education.” We can pledge allegiance to the principles of freedom and equality that inspired those who first bore our flag. Or we can pledge allegiance to the flag. We can’t do both.
Roderick T. Long
The Praxeology of Cuteness
Today’s Arlo and Janis strip perfectly sums up the conflict between the a priori praxeological method of Austrian economics and the empirical method of mainstream economics:
Edwin Black Strikes Back
On LRC back in August I posted a review of Edwin Black’s book War Against the Weak, criticising Black’s misrepresentation of Herbert Spencer.
This past weekend I received a very strange email from the author, distorting the content of my review and accusing me of being part of some sort of conspiracy to defame him. I’ve posted his letter, and my reply, on LRC; click here to read them.
The Flame of Liberty
The following letter appeared in this morning’s Opelika-Auburn News. (Roberta Jackel is a member of the Auburn City Council.)
To the Editor:
Roberta Jackel says that Auburn should adopt a smoking ban because “it’s what the majority of Auburn citizens want.”
I have no idea if a smoking ban is what the majority of Auburn citizens want, but suppose it is. So what? Since when are majorities supposed to get whatever they want?
Bars and restaurants are “public places,” but they are not public property. Owners have the right to set their own smoking policies, and customers have the right to decide which restaurants to patronize. If customers don’t want to be surrounded by people who are smoking, well, no one drags customers kicking and screaming into a given establishment. The choice to smoke, like the choice to patronize places where people smoke, is a private choice about one’s own body and one's own life.
The American version of democracy is not based on the idea that majorities have the right to impose whatever they want on minorities. It’s based, instead, on the idea that individuals have the right to run their own lives. We don’t let majorities vote on what religion everyone should follow, or what newspapers everyone should read. Majority rule, under the American system, is properly confined to matters of administrative convenience. The majority does not own your lungs; you do, and what you put in them is your own business.
No, I’m not a smoker. But I’m pro-choice on smoking.
Roderick T. Long
Oops, I Heiled Again
Madonna’s decision to freedom-kiss Britney Spears during the MTV Awards was a serious error in judgment.
No, not because there’s anything wrong with women kissing women. Jeez.
And not for Bill O’Reilly’s stupid reason either. If you missed Bill O’Reilly’s stupid reason, it went like this:
Now here we have the largest MTV situation in the year, and you have a lot of children watching this. I'm – you know, that’s, again, parental whatever, but the kids are watching. So they have to kiss, do a little lesbianism thing out there. I don’t mind. I’m an adult. I don’t care. I think Madonna’s a dope, and I don’t know the other two. To me, she can do that all day long. It doesn’t – it doesn't bother me. But if I have a 10-year-old girl watching this, and then she turns to me and goes what’s that, you know, I – I don't think it should be in my living room.Note that O’Reilly claims, loudly, not to be homophobic. But if it had been a man and woman kissing, would O’Reilly be making a fuss? Would it even have gotten onto his radar screen? Duh, of course not. If that had been a heterosexual kiss, it would have seemed quick and tame.
Honestly I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.
Vienna on the Seine
The Austro-libertarian presence in France appears to be steadily growing. Yesterday’s issue of the French newspaper Le Monde contains, surprisingly enough, a pair of articles on Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Auburn’s Mises Institute. The French original is available at www.mises.org/etexts/lemonde.pdf; I’ve made an English translation and posted it on the Molinari Institute webpage at Praxeology.net/LeMonde.htm.
Vive la France! They don’t call ’em “freedom fries” for nothin’.
Children of the State
When a Kucinich supporter recently hacked the CBSNews.com website to gain more attention for the Democratic presidential candidate, Kucinich’s official campaign denied any knowledge of or responsibility for the incident. According to CBS, campaign spokesman David Swanson said, “Our campaign would never do such a thing or condone such a thing. We are not interested in taking over someone else’s Web site, I can assure you.”
He may well be telling the truth. But it is equally true that no Kucinich supporter can consistently condemn the anonymous hacker’s actions. Kucinich is a vocal proponent of political violence against private property owners, and is loudly promoting the idea that corporations have no right to exist except as lackeys of Kucinich’s political agenda. If Kucinich’s political ideals are the right ones, what did the hacker do wrong? All he or she did was divert corporate resources to a noble political end – which is what the Kucinich campaign is all about anway. It would be the height of hypocrisy for Kucinich’s campaign staff to condemn the hacker for acting on the principles they so vigorously uphold. (And, truth be told, they haven’t condemned him or her in particularly strong terms.)
There is a broader moral here. Statists like Dennis Kucinich, George W. Bush, and their ilk celebrate the violence of the State (though not in so many words – Kucinich calls it “nonviolence,” Bush calls it “freedom” and “peacekeeping”) but they generally do not call for private individuals to imitate the state in this regard. This is partly because it is generally advantageous for the State to retain its monopoly control over political violence, and partly because the mystique of the State depends on veiling its violent character in a sacramental guise, which requires de-emphasising the similarity between private and State violence.
But logically, if the State is justified in employing violence to achieve political goals, private violence for the same ends must be justified as well. Statism thus contributes to a culture of political violence that breeds not only the CBS hacker but political terrorists generally, whether of the environmentalist-left variety (the Earth Liberation Front, the Unabomber) or the religious-right variety (the folks who bomb abortion clinics, Osama bin Laden). These terrorists are the disowned children of the State coming home to roost.
Nor are they, from the State’s point of view, entirely unwelcome children. Too much private terrorism is a threat to the stability and authority of the State, of course; but a bit of it around tends to reinforce the perceived need for the State; politicians can call such terrorism “anarchy” (when of course it’s just freelance “archy”) and get away with higher taxes and more infringements of civil liberties in order to combat the threat. But however welcomes these terrorists may be, the State can never afford to acknowledge them as its offspring.
The modern State is based on a fundamental contradiction: it upholds equality as the basis of its authority, but practises a monopoly of violence. (The premodern State faced no such contradiction, since it made no pretense of upholding equality.) Private terrorists resolve the contradiction of the State by extending the use of violence from the public to the private sphere; libertarians resolve the contradiction in the opposite direction, by extending the ban on (initiatory) violence from the private sphere to the public sphere. In the end, statism turns out to be an unstable compromise between the only two consistent, diametrically opposed positions (both of which the statists, ever sowing linguistic confusion, label “anarchy”): a terroristic Hobbesian free-for-all on the one hand, versus libertarian peace and order on the other.
Thoroughly Modern Ayn?
Objectivists have long treated modernity, and more specifically the Enlightenment, as the pinnacle of human history; on their view, the transition from premodernity to modernity involved all gain and no loss, and the transition from modernity to postmodernity involves all loss and no gain. In my Free Radical article Two Cheers for Modernity, now online, I argue that the truth is more complicated; check it out.