The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

About the blog

Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

Anyone can make individual contributions on any subject covered in this blog by emailing


LibertyPosted by Jan Lester Thu, April 03, 2014 12:06:16

liberty Liberty is most broadly understood as some ‘absence of constraints’. *Libertarians are interested in social or interpersonal liberty: people not being constrained by each other in the sense of *proactively imposing or *aggressing. Without such proactive constraints, it follows that people will immediately control (i.e., in effect own) themselves and any external goods they come to acquire without proactively imposing. Thus people have liberty to the extent that they are not proactively interfered with in their bodies or external *property.

Various problems and paradoxes can be posed. For instance, can someone secretly buy all the land around you and then not let you out? Can light waves from a few electric lights on one’s own property ‘trespass’ on to others’ property without their permission? Such problem cases can be solved by reverting to the more abstract, pre-propertarian, theory of liberty. Where clashes of proactive impositions are inevitable among some people, the libertarian policy is to follow whichever rule will minimize such impositions. So, generally (but special cases might entail a different result from applying the principle), a right of access to one’s land and a right to have some lights without a blackout are the lesser impositions than their opposites.

What libertarians usually say about some other *ideological conceptions of liberty is that they are not about interpersonal liberty at all, but rather about *power, ability, opportunity, self-realization, or any number of other distinct things. However, it would be foolish to argue about the mere use of words and so if people want to define ‘liberty’ in some other way then let them. But the libertarian is advocating liberty only in, more or less, the sense explained.

Why should people have such liberty? It is a conjecture that this is desirable. It is better to *criticize the conjecture in the *critical rationalist manner than ask for supporting reasons. But it ought to be understood that libertarians typically also suppose that there is no systematic clash with human *welfare. One can, of course, explain how libertarians think liberty will operate, and such explanations abound throughout this dictionary (such as, *charity; *free market; *free trade; *invisible hand; *law), but an explanation is not a *justification and it is itself conjectural. Most libertarians are benighted justificationists, like most people, and so they attempt to offer epistemological support for libertarianism by reference to *apriorist *Austrian *economics, *autonomy, contractarianism (see *social contract), *natural rights, *utilitarianism, or whatever happens to be the latest justificationist fashion.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(0)//

Liberty, Ideology, Politics and Religion

LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Wed, February 26, 2014 13:58:09

Liberty, Ideology, Politics and Religion

Some wag once said there were only two evils in the world, namely politics and religion. They were the twin cause of so much misery in the world that we might dodge if only they both ceased to exist. But a second wag replied that religion only becomes a menace whenever it attempts to rule by going into politics or whenever it attempts to take over the state. If only religion kept out of politics then there was no solid liberal case against it. They soon agreed on that, for both of the wags were pristine liberals. As long as religion did not seek to dominate people by state rule then religion could be part of civil liberty. But if ever it sought to impose by use of the state then it was bound to be illiberal. So there was just one main avoidable evil that caused wars: politics.

Why do pristine classical liberals and anarcho-liberals, that make up the members of the Libertarian Alliance, but there are other such groups too, uphold freedom of religion but hold that politics, or at least the state, is a public menace, that it alone was responsible for all those wars, as well as other avoidable trouble in the world?

Are they not both religion and politics usually just mere ideologies, thus they both should be upheld by free speech? Well, free speech certainly means that aspects of politics and religion, as such, need to be tolerated by liberals. Do both religion and politics give rise to lies? Politics usually does give rise to some version, if never quite Plato’s exact lie, of the Noble Lie, or necessary political lie where what is needed to ease state rule is state secrets, that usually involves lies of some sort, but it is less clear that religion always needs such actual deliberate lies.

It’s true that both religion and politics are ideologies in that they are made up of paradigms of ideas, but politics can refer to three things, the practical management and direction of state activity, propaganda for this activity, and study of this activity. Only the first primary sense is intrinsically illiberal. The two secondary aspects of politics need to be tolerated as free speech in propaganda and study, for free speech is a vital part of liberalism, even if it is for illiberal activity. But the primary activity of politics is proactive state coercion or government and that must scotch social liberty.

However, classical liberals hold that, whilst the aim of liberalism is to maximize complete liberty, we cannot achieve liberal anarchy. They hold that mankind needs a state. The best we can do is to limit the state as far as we can. As Thomas Paine held in Common Sense (1776), the state is a necessary evil. The later Paine of the 1790s began to see the state as a boon rather than as an evil. But the classical liberals feel that he was right only in 1776. They hold that the state should be reactive, or defensive, against crime or invasion and to dodge being proactive as much as possible. Government should be limited. Anarcho-liberals hold that the state can dispensed with entirely, but they share the same aim of maximizing social liberty as much as it can be done but they hold this can be done to a greater extent than the classical liberals think is possible. Both are in the alliance of the LA with its sole aim of maximizing social liberty.

Social liberty is where we seek to respect the liberty of all. This can be put in Kant’s idea that we treat all other persons as an end rather than as a mere means, that we do not abuse others without their free consent.

We already have individual liberty, despite the state. Duress may be an excuse of whether we are responsible but we remain free to react even if it seems wiser to submit as Hobbes rightly said. Even if the state gaols us, this will confine rather than remove totally our liberty to react for we will be free to try to break out. Individual liberty does not rule out abuse, slavery or other illiberal activity like the criminal activity of robbery and murder. But social liberty seeks to cut out anything that abuses others without their consent. Some feel that slavery might be freely contracted into within social liberty but most liberals feel that idea is quite absurd.

The primary sense of politics involves the activity, or the practical work, of the state in government of the people it rules over but this, by necessity, involves proactive coercion -- government -- what liberalism regards as the chief enemy of liberty for government is the use of gratuitously proactive coercion. We are governed contrary to what we want to do. So illiberal coercion is intrinsic to nearly all practical state activities, though a few of those will be defensive, or reactive. Such defensive protection is not illiberal.

State activity is also negative sum or internecine, which makes it wasteful as well as illiberal. Liberals seek to minimise proactive coercion and also waste but they agree with the liberal anarchists that the main source of it in the state, but not that the state can be eliminated entirely as the anarcho-liberals do (if not all at once). However, even then negative sum socially wasteful activity will most likely still go on in the phenomena of crime.

When we are taxed by the state or robbed by a criminal we are usually coerced, though some crafty robbers might rob us without coercion, as most burglars attempt to do. Respecting the property of others is respecting the person of the others, so we can abuse others free of coercing them. Indeed, the abused persons may not even know that they have been abused in many cases of abuse. We may never realise that things have been stolen from us, for example, as we might feel that we have merely mislaid them. But liberalism is about liberty which is respecting other persons to which end only we respect their property. Nevertheless, crime, like taxation, never quite transfers wealth from one to another, say from Peter to Paul, but also it has to pay for otherwise unnecessary administration by the state or damage done to property in break-ins, or other damages by thieves, making the activity of politics or crime less than zero sum but rather negative sum, or wasteful.

Unlike the state, religion has no intrinsic need to adopt proactive coercion; however, if any religion does go into politics, i.e. into governing others, then it will thereby become illiberal.

People do lie but most falsehood seems to emerge from honest error. There are people who depart, in mere speech only, from both reality and, presumably, even deliberately from their own actual beliefs, but, clearly, not ever from their values. When they do say false things, they usually do so under the grip of some delusions, or false beliefs, though they can consciously lie to promote their ideas— by the desire they have to maintain a traditional creed, for example. But confusion over facts and values can give rise to what C.S. Lewis calls cheap honesty that the philosopher, Bertrand Russell might agree is honest, despite it being quite insincere.

A small boy who does not completely understand religion but who knows that his parents have brought him up in one and so feels he is counted as, say, a Roman Catholic, might well feel that the honest answer of whether he believes in God is yes, even thought he might not truly comprehend the question, for he might take it to be not about his personal beliefs, or what he thinks is out there, but merely about what he is generally supposed to answer when asked this sort of question. Even adults can be confused over belief. Many similarly conflate facts and values, for example. Sincerity is not only surface honesty but a deeper honesty that usually needs quite a bit of reflection to achieve.

Discourse, however, is not only about external facts but it also has many other uses, as Ludwig Wittgenstein correctly pointed out with his idea of language games. He rightly saw that language can often be about other games than the one of mere honesty; so many people play language games that allow them to say what they like but honesty tends to cut out that liberty by confining speech to whatever we belief is the case. Many talk about different kinds of truth to cover the fact that they know of activities that are not really, at least immediately, be concerned with the truth at all, though the truth might still matter indirectly, as values do require beliefs to make them viable, but usually a range of values will be substitutable for each other to provide that basis.

Wittgenstein was also right that the phenomenon of language games do aid us to comprehend religion. It is naïve to treat religion as though it were like science, for it never was. It has its own different rules. The religious think in terms of what is wanted, or more usually in terms of what it is our duty to do rather than immediately with what the case is externally, or the truth. With religion we need to protect and maintain some sacred dogmas from pollution by vulgar profane thought. The game rules are not to look at what seems to be the facts but, rather, to look at what we like or what we have a duty to do. Honesty is not even germane to such an activity. Loyalty and tradition might be more germane to the activity when it comes to religion or to politics too.

It looks like a mere dogma to say that religion aids the elites to govern. It is a similar dogma to hold that religion is irrational, or based on mere faith, for all religion and ideological outlooks are spread only by reason. Many are fond of both dogmas. But there is no faith in any case, as that requires choice in beliefs or values, it requires loyalty or commitment as well as a suspension of fresh judgment, so that is not a real alternative to reason but rather to do with values than with belief or the external facts.

That religion does not particularly favour the upper classes or the rulers has been repeatedly shown by Islam just lately, but Christianity caused the rulers similar problems in the past.

There is no truth in the common idea that the holder of any particular paradigm is blind owing to self-delusion, but many intolerant or impatient people imagine that there are many such ideas and indeed that they are out there in society in superabundance. That looks like another popular delusion. We can all very easily unwittingly overlook a contradiction, but whenever we see it as such, then we always automatically reject the idea as a belief. Belief is a reality principle that has nothing to do with what a person wants to be the case, but rather how the believer sees external things to be at any given moment. So when we realize a contradiction, we do automatically cease to believe it. This is true of any other idea we see as mistaken for we cannot deliberately make a mistake. We all automatically correct any mistake that we see as such. Thus we are all rational, whether we like it or not. Those who write about an ideology that we are free to believe at will actually refer to nothing external at all. An ideology that involves chosen beliefs is at one with the unicorns in the null set. But there is an abundance of value paradigms that are what we normally call ideologies, including all the various religions. They are about values moreso than directly about beliefs.

In conclusion, religion appears to be less of a threat to liberty than is the state, as it need not coerce us, or scotch liberty in any way, if only it keeps out of politics. But it can be warmongering if ever it goes into politics. But politics itself always risks warmongering, as the coercion it uses is a threat of violence in all it does. The coercion of governing is cold war that risks hot war whenever it clashes with rival states, or more limited violence when it seeks to rule over the public of its home domain. Religions that shun politics can easily be tolerated by classical liberals and anarcho-liberals. But the state always needs to scotch social liberty. Liberalism seeks to maximize social liberty.

  • Comments(0)//

The Libertarian Alliance

LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Fri, December 06, 2013 17:26:45

The Libertarian Alliance is an alliance between classical liberals and anarcho-liberals.

Many statists feel that the anarcho-liberals propagandists are not serious. It was one of the first things that Robert Skidelsky said to me when we met in the first weeks of his new professorship in 1979 in the refectory of the University of Warwick for breakfast.

He most likely felt that if I was honest then I would admit that I wanted the state to counter this or that, in order to render trade freer. The common reaction to anarcho-liberal propagandists is that they do really want a state but that they merely want it to do different things to what it has been doing lately. The idea is that for some reason the anarcho-liberals do not realise that fact about themselves but anyway they do not realise that there is no such complete free market option. So what they maybe are serious about is that they want merely freer trade thus they will, in reality, favour state policies that favour such freer trade. What is not easy to credit for many people is that anyone would think that the state, as such, is anti-social.

However, it is true that liberalism is a matter of degree in the short run, if not for a rather longish long run too. Pristine liberals, or libertarians, may well favour any political measures that get nearer to the avowed idea of the free market, such as real tax cuts, and many of them, maybe even most of them, will never be anarchists at all but rather will favour a night watchman state that they take to be vital instead. That is the classical liberal outlook. But the anarchists feel that it is viable to go all the way to get rid of the state completely.

Any liberal might look at any state policy on its merits but his bias on merits will be whether the state thereby does less, such that society is that bit more freer as a result. The minimal state classical liberal might agree with most people today that completely free markets are not quite possible but he will hardly be clear if he then calls the freer market a free market or mere freer trade complete free trade.

The classical liberal will hardly agree with the anarcho-liberal that the state is immoral, as he holds that it is vital for some things like policing or public highways. They will not be a uniform lot. Most will favour as much social liberty [i.e. liberty for one and all] as possible. He might even hold that a complete free market would be immoral or he may just think it is so unrealistic that it is merely idealistically futile. In any case, he will hold that the state has a vital role in society, as do most people today. The Libertarian Alliance is an alliance between anarcho-liberals and minimal state classical liberals.

So the anarchists hold that state is immoral thus it is not wanted to regulate anything but classical liberals might well hold that it is more reasonable to look at each case of regulation on its merits. However, the basic liberal insight is that politics is always a wasteful negative sum game that always has no merit at all. The classical liberal holds that this insight is correct in most cases but not in the cases where he holds that the state is vital. So the anarchists hold that politics is bad and trade as good is always the case both morally and economically but classical liberals will hold that a strictly limited state can be a good thing. The state is intrinsically wasteful as well as being an unmitigated evil as far as the anarchists can see but the classical liberals will not quite agree with that for they hold that the state is not immoral or even wasteful in every case as it is both moral and efficient in its vital domain. Liberalism is thus a broad church.

However, the statist liberals that changed the main aims of the Liberal Party in Britain in the 1880s did leave pristine liberalism with its aim of free trade for the basic one nation Tory outlook of the welfare state that was the first neo-liberalism. They were so distinct that many abandoned the label liberalism for the longer label of libertarianism.

  • Comments(2)//
« Previous