LibertyPosted by Jan Lester Thu, April 03, 2014 12:06:16
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
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
LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Wed, February 26, 2014 13:58:09
Liberty, Ideology, Politics
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
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 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
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.
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.