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The Transparent Fraud

Showing off his well-known gift for understatement, Lawrence Auster demonstrates, to his own satisfaction, that "libertarianism...is a transparent fraud." And he does it in only 18 sentences, which I have numbered, below, for easy reference:

* * * * *

"[1] Here is the fatal self-contradiction in libertarianism and Randianism. [2] (There are of course differences between the two ideologies, but in terms of the issues being discussed here, we can treat them as the same.) [3] Libertarianism is a political philosophy which says that the state's only legitimate function is to protect the members of society from force or fraud, meaning from external enemies who attack or invade the country from without, and from internal criminals who harm others through force or fraud. [4] Since libertarians want the state to protect society from force and fraud, that means that they believe in the existence and preservation of society, which means, minimally, people residing together and sharing a common way of life in the same physical territory. [5] Further, they believe in the existence and preservation of political society, which means the organization of a society into a political form, a state, for its own preservation and protection.
"[6] Libertarians also say that they want the federal government to be strictly limited in its powers and functions, so that the smaller units of society, the states and counties and municipalities, can run their own affairs.
"[7] But...libertarians regard any local community that runs its own affairs--for example, maintaining decent community standards by outlawing prostitution and the sale of pornography--as tyrannical. [8] It is tyrannical because by outlawing prostitution and pornography the state is using its police power to stop people from engaging in activities which in themselves do not involve force or fraud. [9] Such a community is thus the initiator of force against its citizens, which makes it a tyranny.
"[10] The assertion is problematic in the extreme. [11] Any actual community is held together by shared habits, beliefs, and values that will go well beyond the prohibition of force and fraud. [12] If a community cannot protect the beliefs and values that define it as a community, then it is not a community. [13] But libertarians would allow no community or society to have any laws beyond those that prohibit force and fraud. [14] A community or society that has no common standards other than, "You shall not commit force or fraud," is too minimalistic to be a society in any meaningful sense. [15] And since it is not society, it cannot be a political society either.
"[16] Libertarianism claims to be a political philosophy--indeed, the only true political philosophy. [17] A political philosophy which precludes the existence of political society is a contradiction in terms.
"[18] Libertarianism is, in short, a transparent fraud."

* * * * *

Well. Were I to receive something like this from a first year philosophy student, I'd probably give it an A-. It's reasonably well and clearly written, interesting, provocative, and exhibits a basic understanding of some of the relevant texts.

But were I to receive it from a grad student, I'd have to ask him in for a serious discussion about his career plans. And I'd probably suggest law school. Definitely not philosophy.

Some comments:

[1-2] OK, more or less.

[3] Auster's phrase "members of society" is contentious. I take it that most libertarians would say "individuals."

[4] Again: it's not "society," but *individuals* that libertarians want to protect. And it's not at all clear that they want, or would ever trust, "the state" to do the job. And it's not at all clear that "a common way of life" is even a minimal precondition for "the existence and preservation of society." Depending on one's conceptions of "a common way of life" and of "the existence and preservation of society," this claim might be trivially true, trivially false, or anywhere in between.

[5] Anarcho-libertarians apart, this seems right.

[6] Libertarians, *qua* libertarians, are not committed to the existence of state, local, or municipal governments.They *are* committed to very strict limits on how such "smaller units of society...run their own affairs."

[7] This is absurd. Libertarians do not "regard any local community that runs its own affairs...as *tyrannical*." Only communities that overstep the "very strict limits" mentioned above.

[8-13] OK, more or less.

[14-5] This is much too strongly stated. Personally, I think that a group of people living together with the sole shared standard of rejecting all initiation of force and fraud might compare pretty favorably with lots of historical groups that we would ordinarily think of as "societies." To argue that such a group would not be a society "in any meaningful sense" would take a lot of hard philosophical work.

[16-7] OK, more or less.

[18] This just doesn't follow. From everything above, one cannot reasonably conclude that libertarianism is even *mistaken* - let alone a "fraud," to say nothing of a "transparent fraud."

The problem, here, which I would hope might be obvious to anybody with a philosophical turn of mind, and/or a bit of training in informal logic, is Auster's failure to distinguish between the "laws" of a society and that society's "common standards." He seems to assume that the only way for a community to "protect the beliefs and values that define it as a community" is to enforce its common standards by law. Without that assumption, his argument makes little or no sense.

But that assumption is, to put it mildly, very hard to defend. I can name any number of cases where there is no fit at all between the laws and the common standards in America today. And so can anybody who's paying even the slightest bit of attention. The law and common standards are, to borrow a phrase from Charles I, *clean different things* - and woe betide the society wherein they're not.

Comments (84)

The real questions worth asking are, "what is force?" and "what is fraud?". Perhaps another question is, "Are not the problems of force and fraud the very things that the Leviathan tries to solve?"

[7] This is absurd. Libertarians do not "regard any local community that runs its own affairs...as *tyrannical*...."

You lost me there, Steve. Auster clearly means that 'running its own affairs' means, in part, morals legislation. I have seen prominent libertarians, like John Stossel, agitating against just such legislation. He's all in favor of legalized prostitution, drugs, and (I'm guessing) pornography.

...Only communities that overstep the "very strict limits" mentioned above.

The very strict limits are protection against "force and fraud," not against porn and prostitution. If libertarians are really against morals legislation reflecting "common standards," then they might not be frauds but they are certainly, in my opinion, mistaken.

I can name any number of cases where there is no fit at all between the laws and the common standards in America today.

Well sure. But it's not clear why this should be understood as a good thing.

I wonder why one would even waste time on such a transparently ridiculous argument as Auster's? Patrick nailed the real issue with Rand-Rothbard style libertarianism in the very first comment here. "Force" and "fraud" are the chrome plating that covers up all the creaky, jury-rigged theoretical machinery of libertarianism. What right-thinking person could possibly be in favor of "initiating force"? But when you ask Patrick's question, "What is force?", you see that what libertarians mean by this ostensibly transparent concept is actually determined by a bizarre metaphysics and moral philosophy.

"Force and fraud" are the rhetorical pivots around which libertarians beg the question, typically mixed with various quantities of high dudgeon and/or smug contempt.

Seconding Bill, here. At the very beginning of that entry, Auster says this:

Speaking in the traditional American context, I gave the example of states outlawing sodomy, and of municipalities outlawing the sale of pornography. Bob A, the Rand-leaning libertarian who had launched the discussion, replied that a community with such laws was tyrannical, because, as he put it, “The government must only be an agent of retaliatory force. That is the ONLY way to restrain tyranny. It is the clearest demarcation line possible. [T]he non-initiation-of-force principle is the axiom on which all political theory rests.”

Is Bob A's position here really so atypical of libertarianism? I mean, it seems to me that it is _completely_ typical.

And it's as easy to counterexample as shooting fish in a barrel. What about laws against running about naked, against public sex, against abandoning your child to die (Jeff Culbreath was just quoting Rothbard on this subject, I believe, right?)? Not to mention lesser things like so trashing your own property that you attract wolves to eat the garbage, who then endanger your neighbors. Yeah, these are extreme examples (though the leaving your child to die example comes from libertarian writings themselves). The point is just that it's so easy to come up with them in order to refute the "force or fraud only" principle

It _might_ be possible to keep a community going with the degree of anarchy in place that you'd get with a really ruthless elimination of all laws that aren't against force or fraud. But it's not an experiment I'd recommend.

I say this as someone with a lot of general sympathy for libertarianism in the economic realm. The problem, as Ed Feser has pointed out repeatedly and carefully, is with _ideological_ libertarianism that commits itself to something like the "force or fraud laws only principle" and then really tries in that narrow-sighted way that many libertarians do have, to be consistent with it.

Such a libertarian can be a great person to know, and _if_ he isn't the kind of pseudo-libertarian idiot who thinks that somehow (say) homosexual "marriage" is a libertarian thing, he can be a good ally against much real tyranny. But that doesn't mean that his principles, consistently followed, make for building a stable and complete society.

WL - Yes: "Auster clearly means that 'running its own affairs' means, in part, morals legislation" - while libertarians prefer to leave the regulation of all that up to social pressure.

Generally speaking, I think it's very unlikely that a society which can't successfully regulate its "morals" (i.e., wine, women & song - a.k.a. sex, drugs & rock'n'roll) by means of social pressure will be able to keep it under much better control by means of legislation.

Laws that conflict with the mores of a society are dead laws walking. Wherever laws against prostitution, drugs & pornography might be needed, they will probably be ineffectual. As, indeed, are our existing laws against such stuff.

OK, Aaron, I'll bite: what is force?

Bob: beg *what* question?

Lydia: Well, indeed: "What about laws against running about naked, against public sex, against abandoning your child to die?"

Do you really think that the *laws* against such things prevent them from happening much, if at all, more frequently than they otherwise would? If we repealed these laws, do you think that we would suddenly be faced with an epidemic of naked running about, public sex, and child abandonment?

I *don't* think so. I think it is the mores, and not the laws, that rule. And I think that it's a fool's errand to try to change the mores by changing the laws.

And I think that it's a fool's errand to try to change the mores by changing the laws.

Steve, I think that's a false dichotomy. Law teaches. If you tell people that something previously illegal is now legal, that has an important psychological effect. For one thing, it makes it much harder to stop. It doesn't matter whether we would have an "epidemic" of these things. The point is that laws against them are a) not unjust, b) give us something definite we can do as just punishment if people engage in them, and c) are a clear expression of public disapproval in the form of saying that these are things you *aren't allowed to do*.

I think that's important.

You don't.

I understand that. The questions here are both ideological and pragmatic. The true libertarian ought, in consistency, to believe that a law that says that you can't engage in public lewdness is _unjust_, is _tyrannical_. That's ridiculous as an ideological matter.

Pragmatically, it is worthwhile that we presently do have laws against these things, and it is highly unfortunate that they are not better enforced. Yes, it can help if they are. Activists in a city in my state, not far from here, were most unhappy last year when police cars started casing the local parks to stop people having sex in the park. Without laws on the books, they couldn't do that. It would be nice to be able to go out at night and walk your dog in the park in a nice, quiet town without running into people having sex behind a bush. Without a law, there's not a dam' thing anyone can do about it if that's going on.

Let me add, too, that the claim that it's all about the mores and not about the laws can be just as easily applied to laws against force and fraud. For example, if you have societal breakdown regarding theft, you're going to have a lot more theft. The police can't be everywhere. Same with murder, wife beating, and on and on--all things libertarians think it's fine and even important to have laws against. When society is a mess, people do all kinds of things that are against the law and are also wrong. We all know that. But if one is not an anarchist one believes that laws are still worthwhile to have, both for pragmatic reasons and as a sign that these things are unacceptable and that we have not simply given in.

Since presumably that's the response that a libertarian would give to an anarchist who wanted us to remove laws against theft and murder (or a pro-life libertarian would give to a similar argument that "laws against abortion don't work anyway"), I don't see why it should not be available regarding laws against public lewdness, pornography, child abandonment, etc.

By the way, the only Women's Studies professor I've ever thought anything positive about is a woman in Rhode Island whose name escapes me at the moment. She is eloquent on the subject of the interaction (in Germany, for example) between the legalization of prostitution and the increased difficulty in cracking down on sex slavery and trafficking. Libertarians always think a delinkage there is simple to make. They're wrong. This is an empirical matter, not one that can be understood by pure reason.

Auster’s overall point, as I understand it, is as follows:

Libertarianism, by definition, is the doctrine that the state must not initiate any force except in defense of the realm or in retaliation against evildoers. But this doctrine, being entirely negative, provides no guidance whatsoever in how society ought to be ordered. And it also at best ignores (and at worst denies) the fact that a group of people inhabiting the same geographical region do not automatically become a society, but some sort of force (understood in the broadest sense) must be employed to form and sustain the order that creates a society.

If that’s what he’s saying, I’m in complete agreement. Libertarians, to the extent that they believe in any sort of ordering principles of society, are not libertarians, but rather members of another tradition. In that sense, libertarianism has nothing to offer other than to remind us of the danger of excessive state power.

An example. Just before the 2008 elections, I had a discussion about California’s Proposition 8 with a member of a traditionalist Reformed church. He said he was going to vote against it, because it was an unwarranted intrusion of the state into the definition of marriage. I replied that the situation was the opposite of what he described: Proposition 8 would use the power of the state to resist the evildoers who wanted to force all of us to act as if we honor a gross perversion of God’s (and naturally-recognizable) law. There is a legitimate question of just how to resist this type of evil, but there can be no doubt that using the power of the state to resist this evil can be the correct thing to do.

And this shows one of the dangers of libertarianism: it can lead us to weaken our opposition to evil that is carried out by the government (at the bidding of private citizens) by making us think that we must not use the apparatus of the state to resist evil.

As I think you all know, I've been teaching introductory philosophy, lately, at the local Jesuit University. And what do I find, day after day, in my in-box? Colloquia on "the hook-up culture." "R-U-out" symposia.

I mean, look, people: routine acceptance, if not quite approval, of pre-marital sex, homosexuality, &c is now a firmly embedded component of standard-issue American mores.

Does anybody really think that the relevant laws can be changed, without first changing the relevant mores?

And does anybody really have any idea how to change the relevant mores?

Heck if I do, even if I wanted to.

"...We are like spectators at a great natural convulsion. The results will be such as the facts and forces call for. We cannot foresee them. They do not depend on ethical views...what once was, or any one thinks ought to be, but slightly affects what, at any moment is. The mores which once were are a memory. Those which any one thinks ought to be are a dream..."

Steve, I'm not proposing laws against hooking up.

I am saying that it is a poor argument against a law to say, "Without the mores against this activity, this law will have no effect. With them, it will be unneeded." In fact, I'm saying that such a claim is usually _false_. There is _always_ a chicken-and-egg relationship between mores and laws. If you have no laws against shoplifting, you are likely to have more shoplifting, whether in an immoral or in a fairly moral society. Hence, the above statement is false when applied to shoplifting. On the other hand, even if you have laws against shoplifting, if culture is badly enough messed up, you may have lots of shoplifting that does go on, and if you have a strongly moral culture, you may have little shoplifting without people's particularly thinking about the laws. Hence, people get the illusion that the above statement is true. (It's a bit like art and morals. The parallel would be saying, "If trashy behavior isn't accepted in society anyway, we won't have art that glorifies trashy behavior. If trashy behavior is accepted in the society, high-toned art will make no difference." Well, baloney. Art and social mores are always mutually influencing each other, and it's just foolish to pretend that the influence goes only one direction.)

We can apply this same analysis to thing after thing, whether it's particularly considered to be morals legislation or not--pornography, theft, public lewdness, murder, abortion, etc., etc.

In other words, the argument is just poor. It is no more true of the neither-force-nor-fraud appearance of a _large_ book of Playboy cartoons in my and my children's faces at Barnes & Noble (yep, really happened) than it is true of someone's stealing from the local store or beating somebody up. All of these are somewhat less likely to happen if there are laws against them and if a real effort is made to enforce the laws. The truth is, laws usually make things somewhat less likely to be done, and they express a particular type of social disapproval of the acts that can be a very important part of a society. Laws, however, aren't the whole story, and mores are needed. And that's it. The argument that laws won't work without mores and are pointless with them is a false dichotomy, is almost always a false statement, and doesn't tell us a hill of beans about what laws are pragmatically wise, _much less_ what laws are tyrannical or unjust.

So we need methods other than this rather thin and almost always incorrect libertarian canard to help us to figure out which laws are wise and which laws are just.

Dr. Burton,

Your comments on Mr. Auster's 3rd and 4th sentences point to the individualism which is at the heart of libertarianism. You are correct to say that it is "individuals" rather than "society" that libertarians wish to protect.

This, to me, is exactly what is wrong with libertarianism. The term "individual", from its usage in classical liberalism and modern libertarianism, does not mean "a person within a society distinguishable by that which is peculiar to himself" but rather "a person apart from all societies, identified by that which he has in common with all other persons, i.e., equal natural rights".

A traditionalist like myself, would say that the "individual" of liberal philosophy does not exist. Persons exist as members of societies, but sovereign individuals do not. Society is prior to the individual person. We see that when we look at society in its most basic unit, the family. Each of us enters the world as a member of a family. We do not join that family as sovereign individuals consenting to a contractual agreement. The family is prior to the person.

While libertarians see themselves as the "enemies of the state", liberal individualism lends itself to a form of state tyranny. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the state exists to protect the rights, persons, and property of individuals from others. What happens when there is a conflict between an individual and the authorities within that individual's family, church, and local community? The answer consistent with liberal individualism is that the state must always intervene to protect the interests of the "individual" from authority of parents, clergy, and community elders.

This is, of course, exactly what the "nanny state" is all about. Contemporary liberalism is not as far removed from classical liberal philosophy as is often believed. It is, I would argue, the natural conclusion of liberalism. Today's libertarian then, in building his case against the statist liberalism of the day upon the foundation of the individualist liberalism of yesterday, is building upon a foundation that will not hold the structure that he wishes to impose on it.

Individualism, is a very shallow and simplistic way of looking at something which is by nature intricate and complex - society. Society consists of a web of interlocking ties that connect its members to each other - blood ties, ties of common faith, ties of common experience, etc.

The debate about "mores" v. "laws" was very interesting. It reminded me again of the difference between authority and power. The constitution of society, grants authority, i.e. the right to command, to certain positions at every level of social organization. Parents possess authority within the home, clergy within the church, local government within the community, employers within the workplace, and the national government over the entire country. Power is force used to either uphold legitimate authority or to overthrow and usurp legitimate authority.

As a rule, parental authority is maintained with the least amount of force, government authority by the largest. Today, we have the problem of a popular culture which is subversive of parental and clerical authority. The collapse of authority on these levels, provides an excuse for the state to use more power to prevent society from collapsing into chaos. This is the very "tyranny" and "totalitarianism" which anti-authoritarian libertarians profess to detest. It is the inevitable result of the collapse of authority.

And does anybody really have any idea how to change the relevant mores?

Well, I favor prayer, fasting, good example, teaching children well, speaking politely but firmly to evil...oh, and the readiness to die rather than commit evil. I doubt there is any other way.

The Chicken

Steve,

You say,

"Does anybody really think that the relevant laws can be changed, without first changing the relevant mores?

And does anybody really have any idea how to change the relevant mores?"

I just want to echo Lydia's comments above, especially her idea that the law is a teacher. Remember, it wasn't even the laws that changed that gave us Roe v Wade -- all it took was for liberals to take the Supreme Court. So part of your answer is that we must do the dirty work of politics to elect conservatives who will in turn appoint conservative judges who will in turn not create laws out of emmanations of penumbras or whatever it was that the Supremes used to concoct a right to kill a baby in the womb.

Likewise, as we do the tough work of teaching morals to our kids and others (e.g. I'm listening to Catholic radio today and the host was talking with a guest about the reluctance of the Church to teach and preach on the implications of Humanae Vitae -- even priests who were hearing confessions from couples who were ready to confess the sin of using birth control would tell the couples that it was O.K. if their conscience was O.K. -- so the rot is all over the place and the work of moral regeneration will take a long time) we can eventually influence enough folk to begin changing laws (we don't need to convince everyone -- just 50%) and then those laws will begin helping us teach in a virtuous cycle.

I would agree that the work will be hard and we will suffer many setbacks -- but I also don't think we should give in to despair or throw our hands up and say without changing mores we are doomed and unable to make any difference. Take up your cross and join us in the fight!

I mean, look, people: routine acceptance, if not quite approval, of pre-marital sex, homosexuality, &c is now a firmly embedded component of standard-issue American mores.

Does anybody really think that the relevant laws can be changed, without first changing the relevant mores?

Arguably, if libertarians hadn't undercut things like the Communications Decency Act regulating internet obscenity, the mores wouldn't have declined so far. Some libertarian adherents help to disarm conservatives, then blame them for not defending conservative culture with success.

I think it's occasionally the right strategy to start enforcing unpopular legislation until recalcitrants cave. The problem is that leftists are the only ones with the gumption to do this.

The bigger problem is that simply changing the mores through substantive private action is already forbidden. Is it even legal to have a neighborhood that bars cohabiting couples from purchasing a home? I'm pretty sure landlords and hoteliers can't kick out adulterous couples in some areas, even if they wanted to.

I don't think most libertarians care much about these laws, since repealing them would help revive the conservative culture they consider to be a threat to liberty.

It's also clear that libertarianism rests on a strong central government to defend the "very strict limits" of individual rights. Recall Byron White' criticism of Roe as a "raw act of judicial power." From its advocates' view it broadened freedom by destroying oppressive local standards.

What is force? First of all, that was Patrick's question; I only seconded it. Anyway, it's the libertarian's job to answer, not ours, because he's the one who's made that concept the center of his political philosophy. But I'll give an example or two to suggest the problems involved.

An Indian kills a deer (cf. Locke, Second Treatise, paragraph 29) and takes it back to the village. Law and custom state that the choice cuts of venison go to the elders. The Indian, citing Locke, asserts that the deer is rightfully his. He refuses to relinquish possession. The elders take possession of the venison and eat it.

Who initiated the use of force? The elders, by dispossessing the Indian, or the Indian, by refusing to relinquish possession? Presumably force, whatever libertarians mean by it exactly, must be involved somewhere, even if there was no physical violence. Otherwise government cannot rightly prevent dispossession. Libertarians have their answer, and it's pretty consistent, but their "force" is not a simple or obvious concept. It rests on a large theoretical basis of legitimacy, ownership, and maybe even possession which would strike most people in most times, including ours and probably the Indian's, as bizarre.

Here's a similar example. The owner of a vineyard in ancient Israel puts up a No Trespassing sign. After the harvest, the poor and the stranger come by, ignore the sign, and start gleaning the vineyard, citing Leviticus 19:10. The owner comes out and "defends his property" against the "trespassers". Who initiated the use of force?

Again, my point isn't whether the libertarian answer is right or wrong. I'm trying to stay within the general topic of your original post, which was internal problems of libertarianism. My point is that the ostensibly obvious concept of "force" smuggles in practically all the foundations of natural-rights libertarian theory.

The answer to your question to Bob is now obvious: "force and fraud" begs the question, "In what aspects of a given society is government intervention legitimate?"

I think Lydia's comments about law as teacher are irrefutable. I'd just add that she's limiting herself to the hardest case, which is statutory law. There's a lot more to law than statutes. Her point is even more obvious when one considers other kinds of law: natural and customary law, for instance.

There are a million valid ways to show that libertarianism is bad. I think it's interesting, just as an exercise, to find the internal problems with libertarianism, as Auster tried unsuccessfully to do.

"part of your answer is that we must do the dirty work of politics to elect conservatives who will in turn appoint conservative judges who will in turn not create laws out of emmanations of penumbras or whatever it was that the Supremes used to concoct a right to kill a baby in the womb."

Right-statism will not solve the problem of Left-statism. Culture cannot be changed from the top down; it is in this sense that truly "you can't legislate morality." New laws will not change morals -- Prohibition is a perfect example.

The opposite of tyranny is authority, not the
libertarians notion of "freedom". But formal laws are a poor substitute for custom and tradition.

Rob G, not sure where you are coming from. Are you saying that you oppose all laws against pornography and prostitution, for example? Should they be repealed where they still exist? How about child abandonment (an example discussed in a libertarian context in an earlier post)? Abortion?

I'm rather surprised. I had not been under the impression that you were a libertarian.

No, I'm absolutely not a libertarian. What I have a problem with is the notion that such things have a political solution that can be enforced in a top-down way. I have no qualms whatsoever with the banning of pornography, for instance, but if such a thing were undertaken I think it would be mistaken on our part to assume that this would "solve" the pornography problem. There's a tendency among modern conservatives to think that if we just get "our" people into office to run things "our" way everything will be a whole lot better. To my mind that's still a statist solution, since it doesn't inherently reduce the size and power of the government, but merely shifts the power around. It's a mistake for us to govern like liberals, even if we're espousing a conservative platform.

It's a mistake for us to govern like liberals, even if we're espousing a conservative platform.

I find this a little confusing. If we have the laws or would like to have the laws, a libertarian will say that _is_ "governing like liberals." How does it make it not "governing like liberals" if we both advocate a law against pornography and also acknowledge the obvious fact that change in social mores is important? That doesn't change the political platform--that is, which laws we favor--on that subject. I completely agree with you about not solving the problem. In this area as in almost all areas, there are almost never solutions. History just moves on and on, and the battle is always fought on different fronts and is changing under one's hands all the time. Man is fallen, so obviously there is no simple solution. Wise and normal socially conservative laws are just one of the many things social conservatives favor and advocate.

Rob G, understanding that posts online lend themselves to brevity and from there to confusion, including readers, can you provide a concise additional comment on your "who will not in turn create laws", response re right statism v left statism. I am confused as to how not creating laws is statism, more so, how it is comparable to left statism.
If nothing else, there does seem to be different energy levels to these two schools.
Just asking.

All,

I just thought I'd add this additional thought about mores, even though Lydia and I are on the same page when it comes to laws. I'm slowly (it's long and interesting but I keep getting distracted) making my way through Albion's Seed. I can't recommend the book highly enough. Anyway, for those of you who don't know it is a study of the four "folkways" that settled America -- the Purtians in New England, the "Cavaliers" in the Chesapeake, the Quakers in the Delaware Valley, and the Scots to Appalachia. Anyway, what is relevant to our discussion is how these different cultures maintained their identities, often through a combination of the law and social approval. For example, the Quakers (I'm reading their section now) would disinherit sons or daughters from wills if they married outside the faith. So you had a strong incentive to stay true to Quaker ideals and life or you would literally be 'cast out' of your family and not welcome locally (although by law I suppose you and your wife could still own land and live in a Quaker village). So I guess as an additional answer to Steve's question, if a society takes their mores seriously, they can use family and social ostricism to force behavior changes on those who would upset social peace.

Jeff Singer, interesting, and to a degree true even in metropolitan settings and into at least the Fifties. The cohesion & influence of custom ultimately rules better & more equitably than officious bodies that come to regard themselves as reformist & required to exert authority, granted there are needs as well as limitations.
" as formerly we suffered from our vices, so now we suffer from our laws". Cicero

~~can you provide a concise additional comment on your "who will not in turn create laws"~~

johnt, that's not my phrase; I was quoting Jeff Singer from a post above.

Lydia, what I'm cautioning against is the conservative adoption of the liberals' approach to governance, which is centralist, top-down and ideological. We should not attempt to enact conservative legislation in the same manner that liberals attempt to enact theirs; the people should be able to see a very clear difference not only in our views, but in the ways we try to govern from those views.

Rob G.,

But how are you going to locally and organically adopt wise and pragmatic (did I use enough "crunchy" buzz words for your taste) laws if you don't deal with the reality that our current system won't let you. States can't outlaw abortion thanks to Roe. Local communities can't ban the sale of Playboy unless we change First Amendment jurisprudence. Etc., etc. And back to Lydia original comment -- when a small town passes a blue law they are legislating morals -- whether you like it or not this is "conservative legislation" and it's ideological (and I have no issue with it and think it is right and proper). I guess you object when the big, bad federal government tries to legislate morals -- but even there I think our Constitution gives our federal goverment a role in our lives and as long as it is acting within its proper role I have no issue with a moral federal government.

All,

Why is it that whenever Auster takes an interest in this site, he has to throw in a slam or two:

"And here's another "by the way": what is What's Wrong with the World about, after all? It's supposed to be a traditionalist Christian site...and several of its regular writers believe that America has no right to shoot down an airliner which is about to crash into the U.S. Capitol, if there is even one innocent passenger on the plane who will be killed by the plane being shot down, even though the passenger is imminently doomed anyway.

Other than Lydia McGrew, are there any writers at WWWW who believe in protecting ... uh, you know, society

?"
I edited out his gratuitious shot at Steve, but can't Larry accept the fact that folks have a legitimate intellectual disagreement with him about how to use force and what might be the best way to protect society? I get it that he thinks you are all wrong about the airliner, but his mind will not in good faith accept the fact that you [mistakenly, in Larry's air-tight practical/philosophical case] want to protect America just like he does, but think there is a different way to do it. This is why Larry will always be Larry.

If Bumfug, Iowa wants to have blue laws, that's fine--they should be allowed to, and I too am all in favor of them (God bless Chic-Fil-A for refusing to open on Sundays). But I would be against a federal law mandating it one way or the other, because IMO it's none of the federal government's business either way.

"I guess you object when the big, bad federal government tries to legislate morals -- but even there I think our Constitution gives our federal goverment a role in our lives and as long as it is acting within its proper role I have no issue with a moral federal government."

The Federal government is simply too damn big and powerful, and I'd object to its current size and scope, all things being equal, whether it was run by the Left or the Right. I have no time for "big government conservativism."

Rob G, if this is just about federal vs. state & local, then I'm a big 10th amendment fan (in fact, I think it would be really valuable if someone took it seriously for once) and am probably in agreement with you. On the other hand, pornography often is transported across state lines, sometimes physically and sometimes virtually, and there is _for once_ an actual case that can be made for the legitimacy of federal laws under the commerce clause. I realize that the commerce clause is wildly and insanely abused in American federal legislation, but there are places where it actually makes sense. Similar considerations could well apply to prostitution/trafficking, and of course the federal government has to take some sort of position as to what it recognizes as marriage, if only for reasons of the tax code. A federal marriage-protection amendment could be a good thing in the way of protecting the states against judicial tyranny, the use of "full faith and credit," the declaration of a constitutional right to homosexual "marriage," and so forth. In short, it's really not recognizing the way things work on the ground to pretend that it doesn't matter who is in charge at the federal level. It actually matters a great deal.

Jeff, I think I've clarified in a note to Auster the fact that W4 is by no means a libertarian site. As people know who read what I write here a lot, I would in some ways rather that more of my colleagues were (quote-unquote) "libertarian"--free market sympathetic--when it comes to issues from health care to food to Wal-Mart to monarchy. It is rather amusing to think of W4 as any sort of libertarian enclave. Of course, it's perfectly legitimate for Steve as a contributor to speak up in defense of the "force or fraud" principle if that's what he thinks, but it's sheer coincidence that other contributors besides me aren't disagreeing with him in this particular thread, as their positions are well-known to the site's regular readers.

It doesn't help the anti-libertarian argument that most people who advocate "morals legislation" carve out exceptions for their favorite areas. For example, many conservatives who would outlaw prostitution without thinking twice about it would not make it a felony to cohabitate, fornicate or remarry without the dispensation of a valid religious body despite the fact that all three of those are immoral. It is simply pointless to be "moderate" about this sort of legal regime. It is an all or nothing thing. In that sense, Sharia is morally superior to what most self-proclaimed conservatives want insofar as it totally encompasses all "moral" (by which we mean "sexual morality") decisions and makes them matters of state interest.

The libertarian position is at least consistent insofar as it declares that simply being a matter of private morality is insufficient to create a state interest. That is how libertarians can say that the state has a legitimate interest in making it a felony to fornicate with a five year old, but the state has no legitimate interest in regulating the equivalent behavior with a twenty five year old.

When it comes to morals legislation, "moderation" is just a euphemism for "hypocrisy."

When it comes to morals legislation, "moderation" is just a euphemism for "hypocrisy."

There's the assertion, Mike. Wonder where the argument is. Have you never heard anyone attempt to answer this? Do you think just maybe a city might have more of an interest in preventing its tourist industry and GDP in commerce from involving the sale of sex than in preventing non-monetary extramarital sex?

Lydia, I've got no problem with your entire paragraph. I'd only add a caveat of sorts to the last sentence. I believe that it does matter who's in charge in at the federal level IF they're governing constitutionally. I don't see anything better in an aggrandizement of power by the Right than by the Left.

Do you think just maybe a city might have more of an interest in preventing its tourist industry and GDP in commerce from involving the sale of sex than in preventing non-monetary extramarital sex?

And what is that interest? That some people find it "unseemly" that some people may come to town to pay a prostitute for the same act that they could get for free, legally with a little time and social skills in a bar? I'm supposed to believe that somehow it's worse to bluntly pay a woman $50 for sex than to do the usual song and dance of a few drinks and good lines?

The interest, Mike, is in the city's not being characterized by that activity as part of its public commerce and trade, the commercial activities for which taxes are collected, the normalization of the activity as a form of employment, and the consequent increased degradation of the city's atmosphere. Also, as you know from past exchanges, you and I disagree about the plausible disentanglement of prostitution and trafficking.

. I'm slowly (it's long and interesting but I keep getting distracted) making my way through Albion's Seed.

Mr. Singer. Speaking of sex, wait'll ya get to the section on sex and alcohol and what the Scots-Irish kids of the Backcoutry did coming home from their love feasts and/or the Sunday Singing Clubs - page 681

Sorry, all - I've got a really bad cold, which I am medicating, best I can, with Milwaukee's Best (a.k.a. "The Beast") 'cause it's all they've got at the nearest gas-station, and I don't have the energy to drive into town for anything better.

Before replying to any more comments, let me reiterate a point from my original post, which I think ought to be fairly non-controversial: the *laws* of a society and its "common standards" are "clean different things" - and Auster's argument, such as it is, depends on conflating them.

Substitute "common standards" for "laws" in his 13th sentence, and it's obviously false. Substitute "laws" for "common standards" in his 14th sentence, and its obviously false. But he's got to do one or the other, or his argument simply doesn't go through.

End of story.

RobG, I saw the quote, it was your equation of Right/Left, that I wondered about, "how it is comparable to Left statism", that thing. In any case I am in agreement with much of what you say.

Substitute "laws" for "common standards" in his 14th sentence, and its obviously false.

Is it? Here's what it would then be,

A community or society that has no laws other than, "You shall not commit force or fraud," is too minimalistic to be a society in any meaningful sense.

That's pretty strongly stated. We could state it somewhat less strongly, something about its being too minimalistic to be viable or practical or reasonable. Something like that. I tend to think even the parking and traffic laws in my community serve some important purpose.

But I have a feeling that your claim of "obviously false" would apply even if #14 were worded in a way that simply amounted to a direct challenge to libertarianism.

Lydia @ 4:48 yesterday:

First, please note that I'm not undertaking, here, a defense of libertarian notions of injustice, tyranny, &c. I'm just pointing out that Auster's argument obviously fails to show that libertarianism is "transparently fraudulent."

"Law teaches."

Well, sure. But what does it teach? A law that is constantly flouted, with impunity, teaches contempt for the law. Remember the 55 m.p.h. speed limit?

"Pragmatically, it is worthwhile that we presently do have laws against these things, and it is highly unfortunate that they are not better enforced."

OK, let's take a case where I think we're in pretty much total agreement: our immigration laws. Given the highly unfortunate fact that they are not better enforced, are they pragmatically worthwhile? Or do they just serve as a sop for the rubes? I'm rather inclined to think the latter. But it's a purely empirical question.

"...the claim that it's all about the mores and not about the laws can be just as easily applied to laws against force and fraud..."

I agree that anybody arguing against morals legislation solely on the grounds that it's unlikely to prove very efficacious, given the going mores, might have to concede the same point when it comes to legislation against force & fraud. But I take it that the average libertarian thinker has other objections to morals legislation.

Alan Roebuck @ 4:49 p.m. yesterday:

Thanks for your interesting comment.

I think it's too strong to say that libertarianism "provides no guidance whatsoever in how society ought to be ordered." It sets certain constraints: no force, no fraud. Surely that counts as *some* guidance?

I don't see why you think that libertarianism ignores or denies "the fact that a group of people inhabiting the same geographical region do not automatically become a society," or that "some sort of force...must be employed to form and sustain the order that creates a society."

Clarification, the phrase "would apply" in my 5:18 comment means that I conjecture that Steve would apply the phrase, not that such an application would be correct.

Lydia @ 8:34 p.m. yesterday:

But why *aren't* you proposing laws against "hooking up?" Apart from the fact that there's no hope of either passing or enforcing them?

I agree "that it is a poor argument against a law to say, 'Without the mores against this activity, this law will have no effect. With them, it will be unneeded." But I'm not at all sure that I agree "that such a claim is usually false."

"There is always a chicken-and-egg relationship between mores and laws."

Well, possibly - and different cases will differ. But I'm more and more inclined to think that both the mores and the laws are eggs laid by the same chicken: i.e., the material "facts & forces" noted & quoted above.

Gerry T. Neal @ 8:39 p.m. last night: at first glance, I find your critique of libertarianism more interesting than Auster's.

Some empirical ammunition in favor of Lydia's argument.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoking_ban

Jeff Singer @ 8:52 p.m. last night: OK, maybe I overstated my case.

I think it's arguable that leftward changes in the law, enacted by fiat by our activist Supreme Court, have, once or twice, contributed to leftward changes in the mores.

I wonder if anybody can come up with a rightward equivalent.

Aaron @ 1:56 & 2:06 a.m.: ditto what I said to Gerry T. Neal.

Jeff Singer @ 11:04 a.m.: people have been telling to me to read "Albion's Seed" for years now. I guess I really should.

But why *aren't* you proposing laws against "hooking up?" Apart from the fact that there's no hope of either passing or enforcing them?

I'm not proposing them because I don't consider the state interest in having them to be great enough to make it worth trying. I've already stated to Mike T. that I consider the governing authority's interest in preventing the selling of sex to be greater than the governing authority's interest in preventing unmarried sex generally, and I've given some of my reasons briefly.

OTOH, I think it makes a big difference whether laws are already in place and the question is one of repeal or whether they are being proposed as new laws. Sometimes, a morals law (such as the law against sodomy) would be something I would be reluctant to repeal because of the message sent, even if I would also be reluctant propose it as a new law.

There are also other ways (maybe more than I am even thinking of off the top of my head) in which the government can *take account of* purely private morals (e.g., sexual immorality that doesn't even involve commerce) that are indirect and that I think may be very important and good. For example, in deciding to whom to give government jobs and in decisions regarding child custody.

Jeff Singer @ 12:12 p.m.: thanks for the thought in editing that out, but there's really no need.

Larry Auster is, so far as one can determine, a confirmed bachelor of a certain age. His preoccupation with my sexual orientation doesn't surprise or shock me.

Lydia @ 12:57 p.m.: I really wish that you hadn't described me, in your note to Auster, as a "full-bore libertarian." I have very deep differences with most of the folks at libertarian central - i.e., the Cato Institute - these days, starting, but by no means ending, with immigration policy.

Granted, I'm probably the closest thing to a "full-bore libertarian" posting here - but that's not a very strong claim.

Lydia @ 1:40 p.m.: I think I have to agree with Mike T, here. At first glance, I'd think that the prevalence of non-monetary extramarital sex is a much, much bigger problem for our society than routine prostitution. Surely it's the former, much more than the latter, that has converted our inner cities into the hell-holes that they are today.

Lydia @ 5:18 p.m.: yes, that's the crux of the argument.

"A community or society that has no laws other than, 'You shall not commit force or fraud,' is too minimalistic to be a society in any meaningful sense."

It was too strong for me to call that "obviously false." I should have said that it's "obviously not obviously true."

Sorry if that was inaccurate, Steve. I suppose I used "full-bore" because you are definitely _self-identified_ as libertarian, as I think this post makes fairly clear--i.e., that you seem very sympathetic to the "no laws other than those against force or fraud" principle. That's a pretty strong form of libertarianism. It goes, for example, well beyond what I would call my "libertarian sympathies" in various areas such as economic regulation, suspicion of centralized government, dislike of "Crunchy Conservatism," etc.

As a matter of the philosophy grade to give Auster, surely an A- would be OK for a freshman but not so much for a senior, much less a graduate student. I hold no brief for libertarianism as a philosophy, but I still see huge holes in his argument. He completely ignores anarcho-libertarianism for example, as Steve briefly alludes to. (17) would be happily embraced by anarcho-libertarians, completely contradicting (5).

Steve, I think that as soon as you jump off of natural law as a foundation for organized political community in any form, you have a problem with your disassociation of mores and law: law then must be, empirically, part of the mores by which the community approves and acts on the individuals in it. Not the sum total of how it approves, but certainly a part thereof. Societies that have no law have different mores, and those mores admit of the methods of controlling that which the community wants to control, or the society withers away. In a society that has law, the law is, exactly, one of the expressions of mores by which it exerts the control necessary to it. It is only by bringing into such a society from outside a non-empirical, value-imposed theory of "no law except force and fraud" that you can claim such a society is acting as tyranny, and such external values are evidently contrary to its existing mores.

[12] If a community cannot protect the beliefs and values that define it as a community, then it is not a community.

As Steve says, not all "protection" requires law. But some does. I wonder what a libertarian would respond to this claim: This here political society is explicitly founded on a standard that provides for legislating morality - that's what constitutes the "this-ness" of this entity. If you choose to believe that this constitutes tyranny, then you are free to choose to belong to some other society. Don't come barging in here with your "no state except for force or fraud", that isn't the kind of polis that WE have instituted. Take it elsewhere and live that way yourself, we don't wish to. Don't go imposing it on us.

As an aside, the evidence is quite strong that pornography acts on the brain and mind in much the same way as a drug or as a brainwashing conditioning - especially on the young. It is, therefore, a form of violence that ought to be outlawed even under libertarianism.

Steve Burton does an outstanding job of picking apart Auster's statements -- but now Burton may have to suffer the wrath of Auster.

There are areas were libertarian ideas are useful: such as setting constraints, critiquing the managerial state, etc. Hans Hermann Hoppe brilliantly argues that democracy is incompatible with liberty and small government.

But where libertarians are wrong (e.g. immigration) they are really wrong, which often makes me think libertarianism is a better occasional corrective than a complete political outlook.

I see the fundamental weakness of libertarianism to be its emphasis on the a priori individual -- which arguably is ahistorical and contrary to our Darwinian understanding of man's tribal development.

Lawrence Auster must be short of something to worry about.

@ M.A. Roberts

A Libertarian Critique must also oppose open borders.

blog.mises.org/archives/009052.asp

In his essay BIG-GOVERNMENT LIBERTARIANS, Rothbard says that "In strict logic, libertarian political doctrine can be severed from all other considerations; logically one can be – and indeed most libertarians in fact are: hedonists, libertines, immoralists, (...) one can be a consistent devotee of property rights politically and be a moocher, a scamster, and a petty crook and racketeer in practice, as all too many libertarians turn out to be. Strictly logically, one can do these things, but psychologically, sociologically, and in practice, it simply doesn't work that way." He also scorns libertarians who "join the ACLU in protecting the alleged "right of free expression" of bums and beggars on the streets of our big cities, no matter how annoying or intimidating...".

In the same vein, Rothbard could haved added that in strict logic the libertarian position is to support open borders, but that "in practice, it simply doesn't work that way." And in fact his alliance with paleo-conservatives in the 90s (such as Samuel Francis), not only implies his criticisms of the "lumpen"-libertarians who didn't want to work and only wanted to take drugs and have sex, but also implies his opposition for open borders - as is evident from his statement in which he deplores the left-libertarians' "uncritical and unlimited devotion to open borders" and, he continues: "as in the case of most left liberals and all neocons, any proposal for any reason to restrict immigration or even to curb the flow of illegals, is automatically and hysterically denounced as racist, fascist, sexist, heterosexist, xenophobic, and the rest of the panoply of smear terms that lie close to hand."

He also criticizes what he calls "high libertarian theory" (*), in which it is claimed that "only the individual is sovereign and not the nation."

As a matter of fact Rothbard views populism with great sympathy (cf. an essay Rothbard wrote for the January 1992 Rothbard-Rockwell Report, titled "Right-Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement.") and condemns the "libertarian anxiety never to be connected with or labeled as a conservative or a right-wing movement."

http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/ir/Ch16.html

(*) an example of this, is a statement made by Frank van Dun:
"Ten years ago, John Hospers (A Libertarian Argument Against Open Borders, p.153-165 in the JLS symposium referred to in note 2) challenged opponents with the question “What are we supposed to do in the meantime [before we have got rid of the welfare state]?”—as if “In the meantime, stick to your principles!” could not be considered a sensible answer."
[http://users.ugent.be/~frvandun/Texts/Articles/LibertarianCaseAgainstImmigration

Gerry Neal's argument sounds like Robert Nisbet's arguments against sovereignty: intermediate institutions such as church, town, guild, university, and family protecting the individual from the state and from each other. But here, as in the stuff I've read by Nisbet, the other side is downplayed. Authority is often based on force. Sometimes these institutions really are unjust, and the state sometimes protects the individual from real injustice. It's not always the "nanny state".

For instance, "family" was often defined to include slaves and live-in servants. The state, in usurping the authority of the head of household, could make it illegal for the master to beat his servants. From a libertarian point of view, that would be a good thing.

Another example: a strong Catholic church, of the sort that existed in the High Middle Ages, might have sole jurisdiction over child-abuse cases involving clergy. I think that for a while about a thousand years ago, the "state" (royal law) had no jurisdiction over crimes committed by clergy. It's arguable that such an arrangement in child-abuse cases today would be less just than it is with the state involved.

I think it would be good for family, church, university, etc. to have more power relative to the state than they do now. But a lot of conservatives who argue against state supremacy and for "intermediate institutions" don't really think about what they're getting into. If they really want to grant the family, church, etc. real authority and jurisdiction, it means the independent authority to use physical force. Thomas Fleming is one of the few who really means what he says, and his ideas on empowering the family and other intermediate institutions are fascinating, but I don't think even he has thought it through enough.

The interest, Mike, is in the city's not being characterized by that activity as part of its public commerce and trade, the commercial activities for which taxes are collected, the normalization of the activity as a form of employment, and the consequent increased degradation of the city's atmosphere.

In other words, it boils down to reputation. If prostitution were punished by firing squads in Nevada, I don't think that'd do anything to improve Las Vegas' reputation as sin city because no one would have any illusions about how rampant the private consumption of vice really is there.

Also, as you know from past exchanges, you and I disagree about the plausible disentanglement of prostitution and trafficking.

No one has actually proved that outlawing prostitution is the most effective remedy for this.

~~~my "libertarian sympathies" in various areas such as economic regulation, suspicion of centralized government, dislike of "Crunchy Conservatism," etc~~~

I'm curious why you think libertarianism is valid in terms of economics but not in terms of sexuality. Why does "choice devout itself" in the latter but not in the former, when avarice is just as much of a deadly sin as lust?

Libertarianism like any ideology can offer instructive albeit limited insights, especially regarding the natural tendencies of the State and the dangers posed by power. Just like its mirror image, Marxism, can yield a fruitful diagnosis of capitalism.

The libertarian's great failing is his romantic, self-subverting mythology. His idol, the individual, is placed in an exhilarating, but ultimately lonely, "war of all against all", vying for material success, social prestige and power. His vision leaves men, social beings that we are, shivering in the cold shadows and his rhetoric serves as a solvent against the very meditating institutions and obligations that keep men both free and fulfilled.

His fraud may not be readily transparent, but it is true; the libertarian is the collectivist's greatest asset.

it boils down to reputation.


Yeah, a sleezed-out city just has a bad reputation. Sort of like being famous for being famous. I'm sorry, Mike, but you have a blind spot here.

No one has actually proved that outlawing prostitution is the most effective remedy for this.

What has been shown as an empirical matter, I believe, is that legalizing prostitution makes it much less likely that traffickers/slavers will be caught and stopped.

it means the independent authority to use physical force.

Aaron, I am curious about the way you phrased that. Are you (perhaps unintentionally) suggesting that the family has no authority whatsoever to use physical force? Under the laws of most states, it is still legal to spank children. And it is generally legal for parents to physically pick up a child and force him to go to his room (by taking him there if nothing else). It is, indeed, a hallmark of statist encroachment to promote the idea that the state has the right to forbid the use of corporal punishment to families generically.

I should note that the family is distinguished from all the other intermediate institutions you mention in this regard. That's because (like the state itself) the family is a natural community, and membership therein (by the children) is not one of free choice. It has, as a result, certain powers and privileges not accruing to voluntary associations. The traditional (natural law) understanding of the state is that it is, formally, the supreme sovereign authority of the temporal order, and as such it is a natural (there must BE something that is on the highest rung, whatever form it takes). The state has powers over the family because one of them must be supreme, but the family precedes the state both temporally and formally, and therefore the basic powers of the family belong to it naturally and not by grant of the state or by any purely voluntary arrangement. Therefore, when a state makes laws that recognize the right of the family to exercise certain powers, such as those of corporal punishment, this is not a grant of statutory authority, but merely the formal recognition of a pre-existing authority inherent in the family before the state even acts.

The problem for libertarians (who don't want to recognize the state as a natural entity with natural authority) is that the family is, also, a natural community with natural authority exercisable by parents over children. I have yet to see a libertarian theory that provides an explanation of that authority.

The problem for libertarians (who don't want to recognize the state as a natural entity with natural authority) is that the family is, also, a natural community with natural authority exercisable by parents over children. I have yet to see a libertarian theory that provides an explanation of that authority.

Tony, you should look around for Walter Block and his "homesteading" theory. After you've stopped laughing, that is.

Here it is.

I wonder if Rand knew she was using "concept" in an ironic way:

"One method of destroying a concept is by diluting its meaning. Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives."

— Ayn Rand ["A Last Survey — Part I", The Ayn Rand Letter Vol. IV, No. 2, 1975.]

Yahoo, you are right. The homesteading idea is infantile and laughable. Perhaps I should qualify my statement by saying that I have yet to see a non-idiotic libertarian theory of parental authority in the family.

"One method of destroying a concept is by diluting its meaning. Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives."

Superb quote! Reveals the mental landscape of the Rationalist. Rand could easily have said; "one method of destroying a human being is by reducing him to a concept".

Tony, no, I'm not suggesting that the family has no authority to use physical force. I was suggesting two things. First, the state's jurisdiction does not stop at the family. The state permits the use of certain kinds of force by parents, but (as I understand it) this is only at the pleasure of the state. The state has the power to legislate in that area if it wants. It's still supreme.

My second point is that family authority is already strongly limited by the state. As I said, the head of household has no legal authority to beat his servants, who would have been defined as "family" in the past. The husband is legally forbidden from beating his wife. The wife's father, brothers, etc. are legally forbidden from using physical force to avenge or stop such beatings. Parents are legally forbidden from severely punishing, perhaps even killing, recalcitrant children. (Even when patriarchs were legally allowed to kill their children, that power was sometimes strictly limited by due process.) The state has long ago stripped most of the authority from the head of the household. In some ways that's a good thing, in other ways not. It goes way beyond "nanny state" polemics and libertarian rhetoric about "the state vs. the individual".

On the supposedly natural rights of the family, I get suspicious whenever I see a "natural" justification for some arrangement. I agree that the existence of the family and some degree of parental authority are justified naturally, but I don't agree that specific powers like corporal punishment are justified naturally. Such specific conclusions don't follow from your general premises.

Libertarianism reminds me of Steve Martin's sketch on how to become a millionaire. "First, get a million dollars."


Yeah, a sleezed-out city just has a bad reputation. Sort of like being famous for being famous. I'm sorry, Mike, but you have a blind spot here.

I think where we disagree here is that, IMO, the city is sleazy irrespective of its outward appearance. I live in metropolitan DC. The culture here is very sleazy in its own right. It's Roissy's stomping grounds, for pete's sake. Legalizing prostitution would only serve to bring out what we already know is going on all the time around here in private.

I guess when you get down to it, I find the argument about appearances to be superficial because I know what happens behind the scenes so the facade doesn't impress me.

Lydia @ 9:20 p.m. yesterday: yeah, I tend to self-identify as a libertarian-leaning conservative. But I just can't stand "liberaltarians" like Tyler Cowen, Brink Lindsey & Will Wilkinson, who seem, increasingly, to represent the brand name.

I am, indeed, rather sympathetic to the "no laws other than those against force or fraud" principle. At the very least, I don't think there's anything "transparently fraudulent" about it. But I'm hardly dogmatic about it.

but I don't agree that specific powers like corporal punishment are justified naturally. Such specific conclusions don't follow from your general premises.

Aaron, fair enough. I think the case can be made, but it needs additional premises to be made in a sound manner, premises which have not yet been stated here. I agree that there is considerable good in the state limiting powers of violence and force within the family - and that this follows from the fact that the family is not the supreme temporal authority. The interaction between the family's natural powers and the state's ability to restrict lower-level communities' powers is a fascinating study. The fact that the family does not constitute the order by which its members are directed to the highest level of common good in the temporal realm implies limits to the family's authority. But the fact that the family is formally prior to the state and is a natural entity implies limits to the state's authority as well.

By the way, a similar interaction takes place between the family and the Church, which is the highest order community of the non-temporal realm. The family is a "little church" which has powers directly from God, while the Church has authority over families from God also.

I am a conservative who is deeply sympathetic to libertarianism, which means I have some of the same issues of reluctance that my old friend Russell Kirk used to have. So far as I can see, the weakness of libertarianism is its advocacy of generic, or undefined, freedom. Freedom is an incomplete concept. When folks insist upon freedom, you cannot give them your support until you hear the rest of the sentence: Freedom to do what? The "what" is the clincher. Until I hear that, I don't know if I'm for freedom -- in this case. After all, some folks insist upon the alleged freedom to abort their offspring.

Relatedly, power, or coercion, is an incomplete concept. Power -- to do what? When I hear how the power in question is to be used, then I know if I can support it or not. So, for me, I support neither freedom nor power in the abstract.

Or, to put it another way, the question is not "Do I want an open or a closed society?" The question is "How open can a society be and still remain a society?"

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

@Steve, 5:59.

I know what you mean about the "brand name." For all that I've said here, I want to be clear that I'd rather deal with a real libertarian any day than with what you call a liberaltarian. The latter faux libertarians make my blood boil. Apropos of which, and not to change the subject, but Ilana Mercer is on a tear re. the TSA, and as much as anything in that horror of a situation can be a joy to behold, her fury is a joy to behold. Here:

http://www.wnd.com/index.php?pageId=230077

http://www.ilanamercer.com/phprunner/public_article_list_view.php?editid1=574

@Rob G. yesterday at 8:42:

I favor the free market in economics, because I think that if something is the sort of thing that should be bought and sold (and my social conservatism says that there are things that should _not_ be bought and sold), the free market is the best way for it to be bought and sold--best for everyone. I am opposed to "Crunchy" and "paleo" attacks on what they call "capitalism," because when those attacks are specific, they seem to me wrong-headed, proceeding on the dangerous assumption (among others) that something can be gotten from nothing if only we have enough good will.

When they are generalized, they are simply annoying, often using Marxist assumptions and terminology.

That avarice is a deadly sin really tells us nothing about the empirical question of the best way to exchange goods and services. I believe that it is best for everybody, the poor most of all, if goods and services can be exchanged most freely. Attacks on such freedom are often schizophrenic--one moment telling us how terrible "capitalism" is for the poor and, when that is answered, blithely and unselfconsciously shifting ground to saying that, really, we'd all be better off if we were all quite poor, that material well-being is unimportant at best and deleterious at worst, and then off into the never-land of anti-Whig history from which we are apparently supposed to gather that the free market is evil because capitalism started with Henry VIII's despoliation of the abbeys. Or something. I just get very annoyed by all of it, most of all because it is so removed from reality and from concrete statements and questions. If I hung out at "distributist" web sites much I'd need blood pressure medication. You can't wave the statement, "Avarice is a deadly sin" over empirical questions and make them go away.

Okay, end of rant. Please don't take it amiss.

I agree that there is considerable good in the state limiting powers of violence and force within the family - and that this follows from the fact that the family is not the supreme temporal authority.

The head of the family is not the supreme temporal authority, as the head of the family. But that does not mean the head of the family does not also have a share in political authority as well. One would have to argue that all political authority is delegated to one or a few by nature, rather than by convention.

But that does not mean the head of the family does not also have a share in political authority as well. One would have to argue that all political authority is delegated to one or a few by nature, rather than by convention.

True. Each society may be organized differently, as monarchy or democracy or whatever. And in each case, the head of the family has some share in the power to pick / identify / recognize who the political authority rests in. This is a natural capacity belonging to all men, since it is comes from man's nature as a social being.

~~You can't wave the statement, "Avarice is a deadly sin" over empirical questions and make them go away.~~

True enough. But neither can you simply say, "Well, we're always going to have greed. Let's try at least to get some good out of it." Attempt that same logic with the other 6 deadly sins and see what you come up with.

As Wendell Berry has pointed out on numerous occasions, there is a definite relationship between sexual "liberation" and consumerism: both involve the same underlying mentality, which is that the individual is autonomous and should thus be able to act out of pure self-interest. Why this should be true in terms of economics but a huge no-no in terms of sex reflects imo a disconnect or a sort of cognitive dissonance. If our bodies are gifts from God and we are in some sense stewards of them, and if we have a certain responsibility to the other person with whom we share our body and they share theirs, it is wrong to commodify or in any other sense objectify that person or his/her body. In the Christian view sex is in a very real sense sacramental.

Likewise, however, if we view the Creation as sacramental, we will treat it with similar reverence and respect. Capitalist consumerism does not allow us to do this; indeed, it flies in the face of such reverence and respect, causing us instead to view the world as a sort of giant Oriental Buffet, where "choice" is the key operative concept. As Glenn C. Arbery puts it, one does not exploit a world one views as sacramental. Yet modern capitalism with its attendant, inescapable consumerism does exactly that. It would be my contention therefore, following Berry and others, that "choice" of this sort is just as much self-devouring as it is in the realm of sexuality. It's just not as visible, being camouflaged as it were by all the tinsel and junk it produces.

Likewise, however, if we view the Creation as sacramental, we will treat it with similar reverence and respect. Capitalist consumerism does not allow us to do this;

Rob, I'm afraid this whole line of thought just seems to me a poor argument from analogy. Scripture gives us as Christians (and I believe the natural law shows us as well) clear and specific ways in which the recognition of sex as sacramental is woven into God's plan for men, women, and marriage. This issues in commands against specific intrinsically wrong actions--fornication, adultery, etc. There is nothing clearly comparable in the general area of "viewing the creation as sacramental." Viewing sex as sacramental means, for example, that sex is wrong outside of marriage and is a great good and a gift within it. As far as I can tell, there is nothing more wrong with "getting some good out of" someone's desire to make a profit in order to send his children to college and provide for his old age (let's say he starts a widget-making business or invents something and sells it under that motivation) than there is in St. Paul's recommendation that it is "better to marry than to burn." Both involve the attempt to channel a natural desire that can lead us astray in an innocent and fruitful direction.

Just as it would be wrong to call all sexual desire, including a man's desire for his wife, "lust," thus condemning it as a sin without discussing its object, so too it is wrong to call the profit motive "avarice" ab initio without any discussion of what the person is doing or wanting to do under its influence.

Lydia,

Your earlier rant is probably one of the best short statements I have read defending free market economics. Bravo!

Rob G.,

Ultimately, your argument hinges too much on the claim that "[c]apitalist consumerism...[causes us to]...view the world as a sort of giant Oriental Buffet, where "choice" is the key operative concept" and somehow this "choice" (scare quotes yours) destroys "reverence and respect" for the world. Instead, if you start from the premise that economics is always and everywhere about how to allocate scarce resources then capitalism/free markets are simply a way for society to do this better than any of the alternatives. A capitalist who figures out how to meet people's needs is not doing anything w/r/t anyone's "reverence or respect" for the world -- I assume these ideas come from your faith and your a priori philosophical assumptions about the world.

Rob, I think (hope) you mean that sex may be in some sense "sacred" - but it is not in any sense sacramental. I blame Alexander Schmemann for attempting to "sacramentalize" just about everything. It's an appealing thought but really ends up confusing things.

"I'm afraid this whole line of thought just seems to me a poor argument from analogy"

It might be if I were arguing from analogy, which I am not. What I'm saying is that the two things are realities which are comparable by analogy. I do in fact believe that all of creation is in some sense sacramental, that is, grace can be communicated through it. This may be, in fact, a Protestant vs. Catholic/Orthodox thing, although some of the former have grasped it -- Berry, for instance, and the late Francis Schaeffer. If this is the case, it makes sense as to why those conservative, orthodox Christians who are critical of capitalism are often either Catholic/Orthodox in reality or at least in sensibility.

~~~so too it is wrong to call the profit motive "avarice" ab initio without any discussion of what the person is doing or wanting to do under its influence.~~~

Nowhere did I say that the profit motive always involves avarice. My father was a small business owner, so believe me, I know the score in that regard. However, in corporate capitalism, as opposed to "business enterprise" (thanks, Paul Cella, for the differentiation of terms), the profit motive is inherently avaricious, since the corporation A) is responsible only to its shareholders and B) is broken or made solely on its bottom line. In other words, the corporation, once it gets to a certain size, exists only to make money. How it makes that money becomes secondary. And that, mon ami, is avarice classically and Christianly understood.

"if you start from the premise that economics is always and everywhere about how to allocate scarce resources"

That would be lovely if it were true, but it is not. It completely removes the moral component from the picture. As Maximos as written here innumerable times, economies do not stand alone but are linked to cultures, which in turn reflect moralities.

~~A capitalist who figures out how to meet people's needs is not doing anything w/r/t anyone's "reverence or respect" for the world~~

Really? I grew up in Pittsburgh, which is where I still live. The city is night-and-day different from the way it was when I was a kid. The air was often foul and the rivers were polluted to the point where we were advised not to fish or swim in them. Were the polluters simply "figuring out how to meet people's needs" while inadvertently ruining the environment? Well surprisingly enough, the corporate polluters didn't start cleaning up their act until the government put pressure on them to do so. Without that pressure would they have eventually done so? Perhaps, if the market pressure would have been great enough. But how long would that have taken and how much damage would have been done in the interim? You can repeat this scenario ad nauseum: big tobacco, strip mining, food production, mountain top removal mining, big pharma, right on down the line. They are all scenarios in which profits are/were put above the health of the people and the creation.

I have no beef with business enterprise. Neither did Chesterton, as is obvious from his distributist writings (see, for instance, the beginning section of 'The Outline of Sanity' where he delineates the difference between it and what he calls capitalism). What I do have a problem with is an economic system which encourages what Christ told us exactly not to do, tear down our barns and build bigger ones. There is more to life than getting and spending, but our culture, including our economy, certainly does its damnedest to keep that fact under wraps. And it seems to me to be quite inane to argue that consumerism is neither a problem, nor is inherently related to modern capitalism.

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