Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Mini-Manifesto of Liberty

In the following I outline, as succinctly as possible, my principles of libertarianism.

1. Natural Morality

I feel assault, plunder, and enslavement are wrong.  Implicit in this feeling is a belief in property rights.  I don't derive this feeling from some philosophical doctrine.  It's just part of me.  It arises from my heart, not my reason.  I believe most of humanity feels the way I do.  I believe most of humanity, in spite of widespread evidence to the contrary in today's society (which I will deal with below), deep down has an intrinsic respect for property rights.  Academics often talk about the importance of the tradition of property as a factor in "how the West got rich".  But I believe property is more than just a tradition; it's an instinct.

There is a burgeoning school of thought in evolutionary biology and the cognitive sciences (led by Marc Hauser and Steven Pinker) which contends that morality is not just cultural artifice, but that it is an intrinsic feature of the human mind which evolved over the countless millennia of humans living together.  There are some needs which are common to all man.  There is an overwhelming general need in the human species for self-restraint and fellow-feeling if it is to flourish.  It only makes sense that this overwhelming general need would mean that familial groups who tend to have certain highly-functional moral feelings would end up prospering and propagating their genes, while familial groups made up of individuals who were constantly killing and plundering each other would have died out.

Economic science teaches us that the most highly-functional moral feelings are those concerning ownership (both of one's bodily self and of external objects).  I believe it is no coincidence that we find in experience and in history that these same moral feelings concerning property are, of all moral feelings, the most timeless and universal.

I believe that this is why when we take up some unused thing and begin to use it, we automatically think of it as our "ours". We take reflexive affront when our person or our property is aggressed against by others. We feel involuntary outrage when we see the person or property of others aggressed against. And we spontaneously feel guilt when, or at least after, we aggress against the person or property of others.  Of course there are exceptions (as with those suffering from neurological disorders), but these facts are true for the overwhelming preponderance of humanity.

We don't need to be taught to feel revulsion toward murder, plunder, and enslavement; it has been stamped on our hearts by nature.  And implicit in our natural revulsion toward murder, plunder, and enslavement are property rights: imperatives from one's own conscience that says, "this is mine, that is thine".  I would go so far as to say that anyone who says they don't feel such proddings of the conscience are either impaired or lying.  And the fact that a great many people every day override that revulsion and go ahead and murder, plunder, and enslave anyway is owing to two causes.  First of all, frailty is just as much a part of human nature as morality is.  Moral urges are one kind of urge among many, and sometimes they lose the tug of war over human action.  The second cause is that institution that fosters and feeds upon human frailty: the state.

2. The Lifeboat Lie

As I said, I feel assault, plunder, and enslavement are wrong; I regard them as crimes.  I don't see any reason why an act that I would consider a crime if committed by any other man should not be considered a crime simply because it is committed by a man wearing a badge, dressed in fatigues, or bearing a license.  In other words, I make no exceptions for the state.

If morality is natural, then why do others make this exception?

As I've contended thus far, there is a moral code written in our hearts.  This inherent moral code is only shoved aside when we enter conditions of extremity (known as "lifeboat situations"), in which circumstances have forced the human community to devolve into a war of all against all. In those cases, the involuntary urge for survival overwhelms the involuntary urge for moral behavior, and we therefore cast aside our communal moral feelings for the sake of extreme short-term selfishness. In other words, we allow ourselves “necessary evils”.

The state has deceived the bulk of humanity into believing that society is inherently in constant extremity: a perpetual "lifeboat situation" in which a great many "necessary evils" must be committed by the state, else the "lifeboat" of society will keel over and everybody will drown. This is a lie. Society does not require for its survival, or even for its flowering, that certain men be above natural morality. The acts of murder, plunder, and enslavement committed by the state are not necessary evils.  They're just plain evils; just as much as if you or I committed them as private individuals.

3. The Sword and The Lie

To understand how the "Lifeboat Lie" can have become so widely accepted in spite of our natural morality, one must understand the nature of the state, and nobody understood the nature of the state more than Murray N. Rothbard.  In The Ethics of Liberty Rothbard wrote:

Ideology has always been vital to the continued existence of the State, as attested by the systematic use of ideology since the ancient Oriental empires. The specific content of the ideology has, of course, changed over time, in accordance with changing conditions and cultures. In the Oriental despotisms, the Emperor was often held by the Church to be himself divine; in our more secular age, the argument runs more to “the public good” and the “general welfare.” But the purpose is always the same: to convince the public that what the State does is not, as one might think, crime on a gigantic scale, but something necessary and vital that must be supported and obeyed. The reason that ideology is so vital to the State is that it always rests, in essence, on the support of the majority of the public. This support obtains whether the State is a “democracy,” a dictatorship, or an absolute monarchy. For the support rests in the willingness of the majority (not, to repeat, of every individual) to go along with the system: to pay the taxes, to go without much complaint to fight the State’s wars, to obey the State’s rules and decrees. This support need not be active enthusiasm to be effective; it can just as well be passive resignation. But support there must be. For if the bulk of the public were really convinced of the illegitimacy of the State, if it were convinced that the State is nothing more nor less than a bandit gang writ large, then the State would soon collapse to take on no more status or breadth of existence than another Mafia gang. Hence the necessity of the State’s employment of ideologists; and hence the necessity of the State’s age-old alliance with the Court Intellectuals who weave the apologia for State rule. [...]

Particularly important in the modern world—now that an Established Church is often no longer feasible—is for the State to assume control over education, and thereby to mould the minds of its subjects. In addition to influencing the universities through all manner of financial subventions, and through state-owned universities directly, the State controls education on the lower levels through the universal institutions of the public school, through certification requirements for private schools, and through compulsory attendance laws. Add to this a virtually total control over radio and television—either through outright State ownership, as in most countries—or, as in the United States, by the nationalization of the airwaves, and by the power of a federal commission to license the right of stations to use those frequencies and channels.

Thus, the State, by its very nature, must violate the generally accepted moral laws to which most people adhere. Most people are agreed on the injustice and criminality of murder and theft. The customs, rules, and laws of all societies condemn these actions. The State, then, is always in a vulnerable position, despite its seeming age-old might. What particularly needs to be done is to enlighten the public on the State’s true nature, so that they can see that the State habitually violates the generally accepted injunctions against robbery and murder, that the State is the necessary violator of the commonly accepted moral and criminal law.

We have seen clearly why the State needs the intellectuals; but why do the intellectuals need the State? Put simply, it is because intellectuals, whose services are often not very intensively desired by the mass of consumers, can find a more secure “market” for their abilities in the arms of the State. The State can provide them with a power, status, and wealth which they often cannot obtain in voluntary exchange. For centuries, many (though, of course, not all) intellectuals have sought the goal of Power, the realization of the Platonic ideal of the “philosopher-king.” Consider, for example, the cry from the heart by the distinguished Marxist scholar, Professor Needham, in protest against the acidulous critique by Karl Wittfogel of the alliance of State-and-intellectuals in Oriental despotisms: “The civilization which Professor Wittfogel is so bitterly attacking was one which could make poets and scholars into officials.” Needham adds that “the successive [Chinese] emperors were served in all ages by a great company of profoundly humane and disinterested scholars.” Presumably, for Professor Needham, this is enough to justify the grinding despotisms of the ancient Orient.

There will always be thuggery: assault, plunder, and enslavement.  But mankind has natural safeguards to defend against thuggery: including the ability to recognize justice, and the ability to join together with other decent people to implement justice.

There will always be deceit: slander, fraud, and indoctrination.  But mankind has natural safeguards to defend against deceit as well: reason, skepticism, and the senses.

However, our defenses have been overwhelmed by a devastatingly effective partnership between thuggery and deceit.  As Rothbard explained, the state is a maleficent symbiosis of violent criminals and propagandizing intellectuals.  I call these partners in crime the Sword and the Lie. The Lie fosters the Sword through twisted sophistries which establish a false legitimacy and engineered consent to disarm our natural safeguards against thuggery. The Sword fosters the Lie through compulsory indoctrination (state religions and public schools) and through using its ill-gotten gains to corrupt the persuasive classes (state-beholden media and academia), all of which disarms our natural safeguards against deceit.

The Sword needs the Lie.  The ruled always outnumber the rulers, so a reign predicated on bald criminality (like a protection racket) would quickly be overthrown. To maintain its power, a regime must transmute murder into justice, tribute into taxation, and slavery into citizenship in the minds of its subjects. To do that, it needs intellectuals.

The Lie needs the Sword. Elaborate scams based on lies and manipulations (like cults) are difficult to maintain. Eventually some people begin to see through the lies and speak out. To keep its hold on its flock, an elite must be able to silence or coerce dissenters. To do that, it needs thugs.

The state has us in bonds, but also under a spell. The former could not hold us without the latter. In order to break our bonds, we must first break the spell.

How do we break the spell?  Libertarian intellectualism.

4. The Role of the Libertarian Intellectual

Now, if it weren’t for state propaganda, there would be no need for libertarian intellectualism, because again, morals relating to property are written on our hearts.  A man doesn’t need to understand the politics of war to know that murder is wrong; neither need he understand how markets work to know that stealing is wrong.  Again, the problem is that the state, through its false economics and false political philosophy, has convinced mankind that the world is in a constant state of extremity, such that, without some men being given the power to murder, steal, and enslave with impunity, civilization will descend into chaos. False theory can only be fought effectively with true theory. The role of a libertarian intellectual therefore is not to weave intricate theories to justify justice itself (there is no need for that); rather it is to unweave the tangled fabric of state lies. That is why we need economics and political philosophy: to show exactly how the state’s purported necessary evils aren't actually necessary, and thereby reveal to people their inner libertarian.  Were the "Lifeboat Lie" to be exposed, I strongly believe the inherent decency of man would then kick in (just as did with me once Austrian economics taught me about the natural workings of a free society).  Good men would no longer tolerate (or indulge in) "necessary evils", and evil men would have nowhere to run.


Murray Rothbard wrote the greatest libertarian manifesto ever: For a New Liberty.  Ron Paul wrote what might be the second greatest: Revolution: A Manifesto.  Not everyone has what it takes to write a great book like these two giants did.  But I think every libertarian could benefit from writing his or her own Mini-Manifesto of Liberty.  Doing so can not only inspire others, but can provide focus and clarity in helping the writer to understand what he or she is striving for and why.  I invite anyone reading this to write your own "Mini-Manifesto of Liberty" in a text file and post it here.

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