The Ethical Notions Of Personhood And Savagery

This article expands upon an essay found in Libertarian Reaction.

A fundamental fixture of Christian values is the inherent sanctity of life. Christian values are at the basis of all modern Western philosophy, and as such this also applies to libertarianism, as it is fundamentally born out of thinkers and theories from Christian Europe. Although the contemporary libertarian movement owes much to Jewish thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, it still has the Western Christian roots with which it began.

It is important to note that Christian values are somewhat divorced from the Christian faith. One can still agree with the basic values of Christianity without adhering to the religious practice, as evidenced by the idea of cultural Christianity, which regards Christian teachings as useful even if they are not necessarily true. Because of this influence, libertarians often assume at the basis of their ethics that any living human can be considered a person, and thus every living human can be held to the same moral standard. But this is demonstrably not the case, as there exist humans who are unwilling or unable to be moral actors.

We must consider these humans under a different set of ethics, and we must recognize that there are humans to whom we cannot apply our notions of personhood. There exist humans who reject the idea of a right to life. In order to effectively deal with their performative contradiction, we must exclude humans who reject the right to life from the protected status of having a right to life. If one assumes that life is valuable, then one must take one of two positions: either that life is valuable even if it goes against life, thus contradicting the main principle; or that life can cease to be valuable. With the second assumption, one can still hold that life is valuable. However, it has a clause that it loses its value when it goes against life. From this, we can formulate a theory that allows for killing in limited circumstances when this would preserve life rather than destroy life.

The Edge Of Personhood

At this point, we are introduced to both a fascinating and a potentially terrifying concept. There is a possibility that some humans are fundamentally incapable of mutual respect for life, and thus they are not persons in the ethical sense. If this is true, then libertarian theory needs to exclude certain humans entirely. After all, one cannot expect to achieve a libertarian world if it is populated by humans who do not respect life, liberty, or property, and respecting the latter two is meaningless if one does not respect life, as there is no liberty or property without life.[1] Due to this, there can be no cohesive libertarian social order without the exclusion of this subsection of humans who cannot be properly considered persons. These humans are incompatible with life, liberty, and property, and accepting them as people will create a theory and practice that cannot result in a libertarian social order.[2]

It is necessary to classify humans into two groups: those who have the capacity to observe ethics based on the preservation of life and those who do not. The first group are ethically and morally persons, the second are savages. One cannot conflate persons and savages without contradiction, moral relativism, or outright nihilism. In order to make such a classification, it is necessary to establish a set of criteria that would exclude someone from the classification of person and make one a savage. This may be done by observing that rejecting certain principles will make someone incapable of respecting the lives of others.

There are humans who cannot understand the ethical reasons for preserving the life of other humans even when it may be inconvenient to them. These humans value their own lives and will protest if anything is done against them. However, these protests are empty because they will not afford the same courtesy to others. To them, the idea of a right to life is not an inherent right for everyone, but a political weapon that they can use for their own benefit. They will defend their own lives at the expense of everyone else in their society. These humans will be a minority of any non-primitive society, but they are still a significant theoretical and practical concern, especially when one considers the rise of some groups who show increased tendencies to be opposed to the life, liberty, and property of others.

It would also be meaningless to introduce the notion of savages without defining the traits in humans that are capable of creating respect for life, liberty, and property. Since all action starts in the mind, there must be psychological reasons to explain why some humans are able to respect rights and others are not. One can attempt to rationalize why some humans are savages and try to use it as an excuse for savagery, but this ignores the main issue, which is that some humans are pathologically incapable of respecting life. The reasons for this are irrelevant in ethical considerations, and are only important insofar as one cares to prevent more humans from becoming savages in future. On an interpersonal level, we must show compassion for these humans, but compassion alone cannot dictate our philosophy.

Forming Morality

There are three conditions that must be met in order to form morality. First, people have to prefer morality over the lack thereof. Second, people have to prefer reason over the lack thereof. Third, people have to be capable of empirical observation. If any one of these conditions is not met, there can be no morality on an individual scale. Most humans are capable of all three. Many are poorly capable in some regard, which creates an inconsistent regard for life, liberty, and property, but it still is a degree of respect which makes humans able to function within a society based on law. A human who does not prefer morality cannot prefer to be moral over being immoral, which means that these humans cannot be moral actors and are therefore in the savage category. If a human is fundamentally incapable of preferring morality, then they can have no place in a society that aims to create virtue and/or wealth.

The most important of the three is the capacity for reason. Whereas rationality is the defining feature that separates humans from other animals and the basis of all morality, there is no personhood without rationality. Without reason, one cannot know what is moral beyond what one can instinctively distinguish or what one can absorb from external sources. This may be enough for some humans, but external conditions are always changing. The need to temper empirical results with logic produces a constant need for reason in morality. Abstract thinking requires well-developed rational faculties, and morality is based in abstractions of virtue. Additionally, even perfect knowledge of morality must be accompanied by the wisdom to properly apply it to real-world circumstances. There are situations in which different moral ideas will collide and without reason, these conflicts cannot be productively and consistently resolved.

Furthermore, there are moral values that are eternal and unchanging, and these too require reason to comprehend. These are values ingrained in the very nature of man which would require many generations of evolution to change, thus placing such contemplations outside of the context at hand. These are the base drives that manage to uphold and sustain society. Without reason, we can lose control over these drives. Humans are easily confused; our urges can be misdirected, and the only way to prevent this is with constant vigilance through reason. Without reason, humans are incapable of fully comprehending the purposes for the existence of morality. If humans lose touch with the purpose of morality, then they will lose touch with morality itself.

Finally, there is the capacity for empirical observation. If a human is incapable of seeing reality as it is, he may act immorally while trying to be moral. Moral theories must be subject to testing in the real world in order to be useful for creating and maintaining civilization. New knowledge and discovery must always be put to use when we discuss morality in the current state of society. Even though some staunch traditionalists will disagree, this is not fundamentally in opposition to tradition. Tradition is cultural knowledge that is both maintained and created, a millennia-long collection of best practices. Tradition is the only starting point which can provide this knowledge, but it should evolve in order to absorb new information. By carefully integrating new knowledge in new conditions into tradition, we are able to maintain morality on a societal scale.

The Nature Of Savagery

If there exist humans who are savages, then we must consider who they are and how they act. There are two groups of humans who are obviously savages; the power-hungry members of society who sacrifice the well-being of others to advance their own status, and members of uncivilized societies who are trying to integrate into civilized societies. In the Western cultural sphere, these manifest as leaders of large corporations, politicians, and immigrants from Islamic and African countries. It is a well-known fact that there is a correlation between sociopathy and other pathologies that make it difficult to care for the well-being of other humans, and the humans who hold high positions of power. In fact, almost every modern institution that controls our societies consists of these immoral humans who are in high positions of power. Their savagery is hard to see for many humans, as they perform most of their immoral actions through proxies and covert pressure, but they are still immoral.

There are obviously humans with the same pathologies who do not manage to reach high positions of power, but due to the current institutional incentives, the institutions of power are built to accommodate their behavior. However, we can elaborate that all humans who are narcissists, psychopaths, or other mentally disturbed individuals do not possess the capacity to value the lives of others. In fact, the only way they can demonstrate that they can value life is if they are actively seeking help. Perhaps more importantly on a cultural level, the rejection of individualism and enlightened self-interest is in large part due to this sort of subnormal behavior. Few would associate self-interest or individualism with evil if it was not portrayed as such by humans who are incapable of respecting others. If those who wish to create a society of self-interest and individualism, which is supposed to be beneficial for those within the society, do not reject anti-social behavior, they will fail on both a philosophical and cultural level.

The obvious examples of the second group are devout Muslims and many third-world immigrants. We may just act as if they lack the capacity for reason, but that is only the truth with certain immigrants from the third world. In parts of Africa and Latin America, the development of societies based on rational laws has not occurred. This has not been improved by the political, economic, and social colonization of Africa by whites. There can be no principled opposition to conquering land if it was previously occupied by savages, but this cannot justify the current affair of near-total control over developing nations. It is not the business of first-worlders to interfere in the workings of others, and it will only result in a worse condition of the world for everyone. However, due to the current institutions of the West, there is an influx of immigration from the third world. Many of these humans are irrational and do not assimilate to rational laws. There are exceptions, but the majority of these migrants will only serve to decivilize more advanced countries.

With devout Muslims, the issue is not that they are unable to understand reason alone, but rather that they are incapable of applying it to the real world. Their religion distorts their worldview to such an extent that they often apply their morality in extremely inconsistent and often reprehensible ways. Even though the extreme social conservatism may appeal to some reactionaries in the form of white sharia, it is important to understand that their beliefs are borne not out of principle, but rather the dominance of their religion. It is also clear that Islam in its current state is a misogynistic religion, as tainted as that word has become, and it is important to protect women in healthy societies. Furthermore, the opposition to homosexuality and other degeneracy in Islam is not the civilized sort that is present in Christianity, but simply violence and often perversion. However, ex-Muslims in general and female ex-Muslims in particular show a capacity to function normally in society.

In the previous group, we also must include Antifa and some other communists. This may seem shocking, as they have been raised in civilized societies and have mostly lived in civilization for their entire lives, but many of them have been decivilized by their college educations. The constant drive to go against morality, “whiteness” (European values and cultural attitudes), and society in these institutions causes some humans to lose their ability to comprehend reason and empirically observe reality. They create their own culture, which is based on a system of analysis that only feeds more into their own culture, resulting in them functionally living in a different reality than the rest of us. As such, they are not acclimated to civilization and we cannot consider this group of young humans to be capable of civilization until they learn how to observe reality and use logic again.

The final group consists of humans who commit such heinous crimes that one must assume that they lack one or more faculties necessary for morality. They are savages because they have demonstrated their savagery, and not because we know how they lack certain attributes. These are the pedophiles, sadists, rapists, and mass murderers. They are humans who are not capable of moral reasoning and are savages due to how they behave. One may not understand the mental deficit of each of these humans, but they must lack something in order to commit crimes of such a depraved degree. Although it may be fashionable to oppose the death penalty, there cannot be an ethically sound argument against the death penalty once one considers that not all humans are in the same category of personhood. Note that this does not mean that the state should hold the power of the sword; only that it is morally possible for someone to do so.

Conclusion

A society can use coercive sociopolitical systems to counteract savage tendencies, but this is unacceptable as a solution from a libertarian perspective. Thus, libertarians must ensure that communities founded on libertarian principles are intolerant of humans who are incapable of being virtuous. Otherwise, there can be no libertarian social order. The notion that everyone should sacrifice their freedoms for the protection of the social class of savages should be thoroughly immoral to all libertarians. Savages will always bite the hand that feeds, so it is only detrimental to feed them. This does not mean an extermination of savages, but rather a systematic exclusion of savages from libertarian societies. While the result may be the same if they cannot survive without parasitism upon civilized people, morality is not dependent upon results.

Footnotes:

  1. It is important to note that some people violate the rights of others in certain moments of criminal passion, and that this is a separate concern from what is being discussed here. We are concerned here with those who are pathologically opposed to fundamental ethical norms.
  2. Note that the need to create an exception for those who are pathologically incapable of ethics both defeats and makes possible the common notion of universalist ethics. It is vital to create two classes of humans; however, one may argue that if these two classes exist, then ethics cannot be universal.

Authority, Anarchy, and Libertarian Social Order

On May 8, Fritz Pendleton published an article at Social Matter in which he argues that liberty is best preserved by authority rather than anarchy. He then proceeds to launch a misguided attack against libertarianism, all while misunderstanding authority, anarchy, liberty, and the nature of a libertarian social order. Let us examine what is wrong with Pendleton’s case on a point-by-point basis.

Stateless In Somalia

Pendleton begins with the old canard of Somalia-as-libertarian-utopia, though to his credit, he does not invite all libertarians to emigrate there. His description of the situation is essentially correct:

“It is a patchwork of warlords who have each parceled out a slice of mud to call his own, to rule according to his whims and fetishes. There are the Islamic warlords of al-Shabaab in the south, the government strongmen who collaborate with al-Shabaab when it suits them, the Somaliland separatists who want a separate nation in the north, and a thousand other men of questionable loyalties.”

Pendleton claims that “it takes a certain type of idiot to look at Somalia and see something promising,” then that “it requires an idiot of some erudition to see promise in a failed state like Somalia.” These are not equivalent. To look at Somalia and see something promising is to examine the entirety of their culture and find that there is at least one idea which could be adopted elsewhere to improve another society. To see promise in a failed state like Somalia is to believe that the situation in that particular place can be greatly improved in the foreseeable future. The former endeavor makes far more sense than the latter.

Though he is correct to say that “libertarians are interested in Somalia primarily because its central government is weak and has no effective presence throughout most of the nation,” his assertion that anarchy is not an effective solution to much of anything is confused. An absence of rulers is not meant to be a solution to anything in and of itself; its role in libertarian theory is to remove the statist intervention in the market economy that inhibits and/or prevents individuals from working together to find effective solutions to problems. Pendleton’s passing mention of human biodiversity is also misplaced, as the best means of analyzing anarchy in Somalia is to compare it to statism in Somalia, not to anarchy elsewhere or statism elsewhere. We are thus considering the same thede under different conditions rather than different thedes under the same conditions. His claim that “whatever the merits of decentralization in theory, in practice it mostly involves being subject to the whims of the local warlord and his cadre” is particular to the current cases of failed states. There is good reason to believe that a controlled demolition of a state apparatus by people who wish to impose a libertarian social order would not be like this because the people would have the will and means to disallow it. Even so, a nation-state government is essentially a warlord writ large. Localizing this evil and reducing its strength makes it easier to bribe, escape, or overthrow, which is a definite improvement.

Pendleton claims that a libertarian must search hard to find supporting evidence in Somalia, but the evidence is clear. Before Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime fell in 1991, the annual birth rate was 0.46 percent, the infant mortality rate was 11.6 percent, the life expectancy was 46 years, the annual death rate was 0.19 percent, the GDP per capita was $210, the adult literacy rate was 24 percent, and 35 percent of the people had access to safe water. The most recent measurements are that the annual birth rate is 0.40 percent (2016), the infant mortality rate is 9.66 percent (2016), the life expectancy is 52.4 years (2016), the annual death rate is 0.133 percent (2016), the GDP per capita is $400 (2014), the adult literacy rate is 38 percent (2011), and 45 percent of the people have access to safe water (2016). The telecommunications and money transfer industries have also improved to offer some of the best service in Africa.

It is easy to argue, as Pendleton does, that these improvements are negligible from his relatively cushy first-world environs, where such improvements on either a real or a percentage basis are barely noticeable. But in the third-world hellhole that is Somalia, such improvements can be the difference between life and death, not to mention the difference between having some basic quality of life or not having it. His claim that anarchy is not much different than communism is asserted without evidence and may therefore be dismissed without evidence.

The Case of Tudor England

Pendleton seeks to contrast the anarchy of Somalia with the historical Tudor monarchy of England. His contention that giving people more freedoms is not a prerequisite for a well-run society is technically correct but beside the point. The fact is that a society need not be ‘run’ at all in the sense of top-down management by a ruling class. People can (and in the absence of interference, do) form voluntary associations to solve problems without being ordered around at gunpoint by government minions. That people have flourished in times of gentle oppression, a strange phrase indeed, says more about human resilience than it says about the merits of oppression.

He continues,

“Henry VII and VIII set in motion a series of clever reforms that reached a climax during the rule of Elizabeth I. England had finally found its stride. It must be noted that Elizabethan England, despite its relative freedom, was not keen on handing out legal recognition of liberties to its people. The era was one of unapologetic centralization. The crown’s subjects were given no guarantees of free speech at all; in fact, the censors worked hard and fast to clamp down on anything they perceived as dissent. Freedom of speech was still very far over the political horizon. And yet, despite the book burnings, despite the cages, despite the severed heads around London Tower, the Elizabethan era gave us Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spencer, Jonson, and Bacon. Imagine an era that gave the English language so much genius and not one assurance of free speech to go with it!”

One must ask whether this occurred because of oppression or in spite of it. It is possible, of course, that the great writers of the day produced such memorable works because the adversity of censorship forced them to innovate novel speech patterns in order to evade the censors. In an earlier age, Chaucer gained a lasting place in the canon of English literature for doing just that. But one must wonder, what potential was wasted? What great works were never penned because their would-be-authors feared for their lives? Perhaps the literary marvels of Elizabethan England were due to its relative freedom rather than its censorship, and more liberty would have been better.

Pendleton asks us to consider that the Elizabethan era was when the British Empire began in earnest, but does not explain how this happened. Spain, Portugal, and even France were ahead of England in colonizing the New World and expanding trade routes in the latter half of the 16th century. It was not until Elizabeth died and James VI and I became King of Scotland and England that the English shifted their attention from attacking the colonies of other nations to the business of establishing their own overseas colonies. The burdensome regulations of the day may disappoint a contemporary libertarian, but the English trade policies were about as good as there were at the time.

Chile and Singapore

Next, Pendleton presents Augusto Pinochet’s Chile and Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore as examples of anti-libertarian success stories. Both pursued economic liberty while restricting social and political liberty; as Pendleton says of the left-libertarians, “a libertarian would rather choke on his bow-tie than defend [their political policies].” Though left-libertarians tend to recoil at such measures, a reactionary understanding of libertarianism provides quite a different view. The libertarian reactionary understands that the desired goal of a libertarian social order can only be achieved by physically removing the state from power. Doing this, however, requires a critical mass of the population to use self-defense against the current system. If such a critical mass is absent, then those who seek liberty must turn to other methods. Those libertarians who are capable of checking their autism and doing what is necessary within context may come to support a Pinochet- or Yew-type for the purpose of restoring a balance of political terror. The idea is for libertarians to use a reactionary authoritarian approach in order to suppress leftists and reverse the damage they have done, overthrow the regime once the left is defeated, then maintain the power vacuum by continuous application of defensive force. Furthermore, a libertarian social order will not necessarily offer a great deal of social and political liberty, especially to those who do not hold allodial title over private property and/or disagree with anarcho-capitalism. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“As soon as mature members of society habitually express acceptance or even advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy (majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members, and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively and, in the case of continued nonconformity, exclude and ultimately expel these members from society. In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society.”[1]

This is quite similar to the standard of no voice and free exit advocated by Nick Land and some other prominent neoreactionaries. The only real difference is that the libertarian reactionary is especially concerned with making the sovereign units as small as possible. It is worth noting that both proposals blend anarchy with authority, in that there is an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns who have authority within their private properties.

Pendleton wonders how Singapore would have preserved liberty in the midst of conflicts between the various ethnic groups present there without Yew’s rule, and how the various religious groups could have been kept from fighting in England without Elizabeth I’s despotism. The possible answers to such questions are the same in each case. First, groups may hire neutral third parties to resolve disputes. Second, the groups may voluntarily segregate themselves so as to avoid contact with each other. Third, some groups that cannot get along with others may have a mass exodus. Fourth, a troublemaking group may be forcibly exiled by all of the other groups. Fifth, each side may be armed to such an extent as to create peace through mutually assured destruction. Sixth, the groups may simply choose to fight it out, as some hostilities reach a point of no return. In the first five cases, the preservation of liberty is maximized. The sixth case is far more troublesome, but such quarrels can be formalized and separated so as not to catch innocent bystanders in the crossfire. A system of dueling has filled this role in many historical societies. There are thus many options other than authoritarianism for preserving liberty; the only question is whether people care to utilize them.

Libertarianism and Reaction

Pendleton writes,

“The reactionary and libertarian both agree that small governments are good. But the reactionary feels that small governments are made not by relinquishing authority, as the libertarian would do, but by strengthening it. Liberty is too precious to be entrusted to anarchy in the same way that diamonds are too precious to be entrusted to one’s doorstep.”

Here, he misunderstands what a libertarian would do, at least those who are not leftists. A libertarian reactionary seeks not to relinquish authority, but to make it as absolute as possible in the hands of the private property owner within that person’s private property. And contrary to Pendleton, liberty requires anarchy because the freedom to do as one wishes as long as one respects the right of other people to do likewise and commits no aggression against them is violated by a state apparatus by definition. If a state is present, it will fund its activities through taxation and civil asset forfeiture, take private property through eminent domain, and restrict the use of property through intellectual monopoly, zoning, and environmental regulations. Its officials and agents will choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof, meaning that they rule the law and not vice versa. Its enforcers will initiate the use of violence against people who are known to disagree with government statutes and acts upon their disagreements, thus presenting a constant threat to peace. Its agents are allowed to do that which is considered criminal for anyone else to do, and the system is set up to keep them from being held to account. It will force people to associate with it regardless of whether they want to use or pay for its services. Therefore, it is clear that liberty cannot be protected by state authority; such a threatening protector is a contradiction of terms.

Final Arbitration

Next, Pendleton presents a case to make the ‘final arbiter of disputes’ criticism of libertarianism:

“Suppose we have one of those highly attenuated legal battles where the details of the case are complicated and emotionally charged. Let us suppose that a drunk driver crashed into a tree and his passenger was killed when she flew through the windshield; she had not worn her seat belt. The grieving husband of the passenger demanded compensation from the driver to help take care of his kids in place of his now deceased wife. Daycare is expensive these days, after all. The driver apologized profusely but pointed out that the passenger was just as responsible for her death because she was not buckled into her seat. The husband countered by saying that the belt would not have been an issue if the driver had not been drunk and crashed into a tree.

Since these men live in a libertarian utopia, there is no superseding legal authority to arbitrate: a third-party arbitration company will have to be hired. Now let’s suppose that one of these arbitration companies is owned by a brother-in-law of the driver, and not surprisingly, the driver only agrees to hire that company. The husband refuses. The driver in turn refuses to pay any compensation whatsoever. The furious husband now threatens to kill the wife of the driver to make him understand what it feels like to lose a loved one.

How can any libertarian who sings the praises of anarchy not see how this situation will only continue to escalate? How can there be any justice for the woman who lost her life in the original crash and what about the violations of liberty that will ensue when this conflict devolves into a family feud? If there had been one authority to take control of this dispute the liberties of everyone involved would have been much more safely guarded. In a world where emotion forms the greater part of human action, liberty requires authority.”

This situation may be resolved in advance through contracts. The owners of the road set the conditions for operating vehicles on their private property, with violators subject to physical removal not unlike the traffic stops, arrests, and impounding of vehicles today. They may demand that everyone using their roads have arbitration services which do not involve such conflicts of interest, and contrary to some myopic analysis to the contrary, are almost certain to frown upon drunk drivers. They might even have all cars on their roads driven by robots, which nips this scenario in the bud. Failing this, a person who has committed an offense and refuses to make restitution can be ostracized from society until compliance is gained. Furthermore, such a person may rightly be forced to make restitution because an unrepentant aggressor is not subject to the non-aggression principle through his continuing violation of it. The driver’s wife, however, is an innocent bystander unless she was responsible for getting him drunk and/or making him drive while intoxicated. Threatening her absent these conditions makes the widower an aggressor to be subdued. As a libertarian society would have several private defense agencies available to handle such applications of defensive force and almost everyone would have a protection policy with one of these companies, an escalation is quite unlikely. Even if this kind of situation does escalate, it pales in comparison to the carnage wrought by the one authority that Pendleton defends. States were responsible for 203 million democides and war deaths in the 20th century alone. This is hardly a price worth paying to stifle a few family feuds.

More generally, a final arbiter of disputes cannot exist because no person or institution can absolutely guarantee that any issue will be resolved forever with no possibility of review. The way that disputes ultimately end in any social order is that some party finds the dispute to no longer be worth continuing. Everything else, whether statist courts and legislatures or anarchic arbitration services and private defense agencies, is simply window dressing on this immutable truth.

Of Rules and Rulers

Pendleton writes,

“A libertarian who is honest with himself has to ask why even jungle tribes have a chief and why high schools have hall-monitors. Human beings require authority, and if authority is to mean anything at all, it requires the power of compulsion; liberty cannot last long in a nation that thinks of its authority as a polite suggestion.”

It is important to understand the true meaning of anarchy. Anarchy comes from Greek ἀναρχία, which is typically translated as ‘without rulers.’ More precisely, it means ‘without beginning to take the lead.’ This is not the same as ‘without rules’ or ‘without leaders.’ Having a ruler means that there are no rules because the ruler has authority over the rules and not vice versa. That the lead is not taken does not mean that no one can lead because leadership can be freely given. This is well-understood in every aspect of life other than politics. In the words of Mikhail Bakunin,

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. …But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.”[2]

Additionally, compulsion and initiatory force are not equivalent. This is because compulsion may take the form of defensive force or of less violent means such as shaming and ostracism. Thus, if human beings require authority (and Pendleton does not prove that they do), a libertarian social order is quite capable of compelling people through contract law, ostracism, and private military forces.

Mischaracterization

Pendleton laments that not many libertarians will be swayed by his arguments, but does not understand why. It is not the case that libertarians are “far too busy sketching intricate political systems on paper to be bothered with considerations of human psychology.” Libertarianism, properly understood, is anti-political; its primary interest in political systems is in finding ways to destroy them without causing unnecessary damage to the social fabric. As for considerations of human psychology, they should lead one to reject the state as an enabler and multiplier of evil in the world. Ultimately, libertarians are not swayed by his arguments because they are easily refuted, as shown both above and below.

The Definition of Liberty

Pendleton writes,

“Liberty, as we now know it, is a set of unquestionable boundaries that are owed to all citizens: the right to peaceable assembly, the right to free speech, the right to a free press, and so on. The problem with these ‘rights’ is that they are very enticing ideas that are very murky in their specifics. They exist in the minds of Americans as a hazy bundle of entitlements, as things that they are owed, rather than things that they must earn.

The greatest problem with this notion of liberty as an entitlement is that once citizens start declaring rights as ‘universal’ and ‘God-given’ there is no mechanism to stop them from continually inventing new ones. The ‘right to privacy’ or the ‘right to universal healthcare’ are muddled ideas that our founding fathers never anticipated. Jefferson and Madison almost certainly would not have approved of them, but they are ideas that have as much legitimacy as America’s own Bill of Rights: if Madison can conjure up new rights with a few quill strokes there is likewise nothing to stop Supreme Court justices from doing the same thing. And so the list of entitlements owed to Americans steadily grows longer as its list of responsibilities dwindles.”

He correctly criticizes the contemporary understanding of liberty in liberal democracies. As I have explained elsewhere, these rights belong to private property owners within the spaces that they own. No one has a right to assemble, speak, print, and so on within private property if the owner disagrees with such activities. Those who would do so are trespassing and thus subject to physical removal. The current problem is that the state has greatly interfered with private property. This is a problem of the commons, and the only solution is to eliminate the commons and return it to private ownership.

From here, as Pendleton realizes, it only gets worse. When people fail to connect rights to logic and ownership of property, or more simply, to thought and action, they confuse negative rights with so-called “positive rights.” These positive rights cannot be valid because their provision violates the negative rights of other people. For instance, a right to healthcare implies that someone must be forced to provide healthcare, even if it against the provider’s wishes to serve that person.

But though he correctly identifies the problem, Pendleton proposes an incorrect solution. He seeks to restore the ancient Roman ideal of liberty rather than to correct the errors in the practice of modern liberty. The Romans viewed liberty in a collective sense, as imposing responsibilities to the state in eschange for individual rights. In truth, liberty is neither a list of entitlements nor a reward for serving society or the state; it is the result of gaining and defending private property. With this understanding, it is not ironic at all that libertarians would condemn a system which subordinates the individual to a collective as fascism (or more appropriately, as communism).

Rationalism and Empiricism

Pendleton claims that the Roman notion of liberty has the example of Singapore while the libertarian has no compelling models; only fantasies and Somalia. Implicit in this claim is a sort of historical determinism that demonstrates a lack of courage and imagination to look beyond what has been and see what is possible but as yet unrealized. As explained above, Somalia has shown improvement without a state. And fortunately, libertarians have more than fantasies; we have a priori theory. In the words of Hoppe, “A priori theory trumps and corrects experience (and logic overrules observation), and not vice-versa.”[3] This is because one may use rationalism without using empiricism, but one cannot use empiricism without using rationalism. That rationalism is independent and empiricism is dependent establishes a clear hierarchy between the two ways of knowing. Of course, this will not convince a strong empiricist of the historical determinist variety, but this has no bearing upon the truth value of the argument.

That being said, it is worth considering why there are no empirical examples of a stateless propertarian society in recent times. The obvious answer is that states initiate violence to sustain their operations, and libertarians have yet to suppress this aggression with enough defensive force to stop it. The other, less obvious explanation is that those who govern in statist systems know at one level or another that their institutions are unnecessary for the functioning of society, but that most people are more empirical than rational in their thinking. It is for this reason that they cannot allow a working example of a stateless society to be created, as this would permanently turn the masses against the state. They thus use force not only to maintain their power, but to ensure that most people never consider alternatives which do not include them.

Conclusion

Pendleton closes by contemplating the issues on the horizon for America, from racial tensions to Islamic terrorists, though he says nothing of the various economic issues. However, the “furious, explosive derailment” he fears is not only unavoidable, but necessary. The current system cannot be fixed; it must end in either a controlled demolition or a chaotic collapse. In any event, the answers are to be found in the restoration and enforcement of private property rights and freedom of association, with physical removal for those who challenge these norms. It is best to work toward emerging from this chaos looking neither like Singapore nor like Somalia, but as something completely novel in time memorial: a functional stateless society of covenant communities.

References:

  1. Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 218
  2. Bakunin, Mikhail (1871, 1882). God and the State. Mother Earth Publishing Association. Ch. 2
  3. Hoppe, p. xvi.

Book Review: Against Empathy

Against Empathy is a book about the negative effects of trying to feel what other people feel by Canadian American psychology professor Paul Bloom. The book makes the case that concern and compassion function better in the absence of empathy. It also makes the case that empathy is a driving force behind much of the cruelty and irrationality in the world. The book is divided into six chapters and two shorter interludes, each of which explores a different aspect of empathy.

Bloom begins by defining his terms and laying out the case he intends to make over the whole book and in each chapter, as any good academic would. Adherence to definitions for the purpose of avoiding confusion is done well throughout the book, and is especially necessary when a word as widely defined and misused as empathy is in play. Rather than arguing in favor of psychopathy, Bloom advocates thinking with our heads rather than our hearts so as to reach a more consistent and helpful morality. Nor does he argue that empathy is completely bad; only that it does more harm than good.

The first chapter makes the distinction between cognitive empathy (recognizing another person’s feelings without feeling them oneself) and emotional empathy (experiencing the world as one thinks that someone else does). The shortcomings of the latter are the primary focus of the book, namely that empathy can lead to ignoring unidentifiable victims, denigrating logical choices that have superior results, letting our biases lead us astray, overrating present costs versus future costs, and sending unnecessary aid. The chapter ends with responses to objections raised by Bloom’s colleagues during the writing of the book.

In the second chapter, Bloom explores the neuroscientific aspects of empathy, including mirror neurons, the role of preconceptions of other people, and the difference between understanding and feeling. The difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy is important here, and it can be detected in fMRI scans. Bloom then discusses how empathy is currently measured, as well as the shortfalls of such methods.

The failures of empathy in the pursuit of virtue are the primary subject of the third chapter. These failures occur because empathy works as a spotlight, illuminating some problems and leaving the rest in the dark. This causes people to choose to help suffering individuals instead of suffering masses, to care less about the problems of a perceived out-group, or to engage in high-time-preference thinking. There is also the matter that one person can never truly feel what another person feels because one person does not have another person’s aggregate experience. In short, empathy interferes with a rational assessment of how to make the world better. Bloom concludes the chapter by praising economists for avoiding empathy in their analyses.

Next comes a half-chapter-length interlude about empathy and politics, which deserves more attention than it gets here. Bloom correctly states that empathy is not a useful measure of where one falls on a map of political views, but says little about libertarianism and nothing about anarchist or reactionary thought. The shortsightedness discussed earlier leads to incorrect long-term policy decisions, and empathy can lead judges to take decisions contrary to the letter of the law.

The fourth chapter is about the relationship between empathy and intimacy. Bloom argues that empathy runs counter to the special nature of a close interpersonal relationship, instead leading one to treat one’s family no better than strangers. He mentions an interesting hypothetical case of a pathologically empathetic person and shows how psychologically harmful this condition can be. It is interesting that there is no clinical name for this condition. Next, Bloom explores the difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in Buddhist philosophy, which contains a similar distinction and a similar recommendation about embracing cognitive empathy while rejecting emotional empathy. After this, the difficulties that doctors may encounter if they are distracted by emotional empathy are discussed, as well as the negative effects that receiving emotional empathy can have on patients. Then, Bloom makes important distinctions between having useful past experiences, caring about people without using empathy, and having emotional empathy in the present. The positive role of empathy in apologizing for misdeeds is examined, and Bloom has no counterargument on this point.

The second interlude considers empathy’s ability to serve as a foundation for morality, especially from the beginning of life. Bloom considers that empathy may be foundational for young children but harmful for adults, much like human breast milk. He considers that selfishness may motivate kind acts, but finds the explanation wanting on the grounds of misunderstanding both natural selection and psychology. The topic is left as an open question, but the evidence discussed suggests that even young children are capable of caring without internalizing another person’s feelings.

In the fifth chapter, Bloom explores how violence and cruelty are linked to empathy. In particular, he discusses how empathy can lead people to commit cruel and violent acts, especially toward people who have themselves committed atrocities. Bloom correctly posits that violence will always be with us, as some problems are insoluble without it. Here, the spotlight nature of empathy is seen to maximize the impact of victimhood while minimizing the impact of perpetration, which leads to escalations of hostilities between nations and blood feuds between families. Empathy can lead people to falsely believe that they are doing good deeds when they are being cruel and violent. It can also lead wartime leaders to fail to recognize sacrifices that must be made to win the war. Next, Bloom looks at the nature of psychopaths and the role that dehumanization plays in atrocities. He shows that these are concerns are different from concerns about empathy. He ends the chapter by comparing empathy to anger, and finding both to be unworthy of removal from a person’s psyche, but in need of subordination to rational deliberation.

The final chapter addresses the role of reason and defends it against several attacks. After all, an argument that presupposes rationality can be undermined by a case that people are fundamentally irrational. This chapter could have been improved by including the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas or Hans-Hermann Hoppe, as it would have added a strong defense of objective morality. Like so many controversial academics who encounter social justice warriors, Bloom was told to check his privilege, which he rightly dismisses as nonsensical, though “SJWs are the real bigots” is not a sufficiently sharp response. He addresses the concern that regardless of the virtues of reason, humans are incompetent at it. But this can be shrugged off by noting that reason is objective and thus not subject to individual competency. The arguments in favor of determinism lead to performative contradictions if taken to their logical conclusions, but Bloom does not attack them in this fashion. A second attack on reason comes from psychological studies that show how people can be subconsciously influenced, but to know this is to know to take corrective steps to eliminate the problem. Finally, Bloom makes the case for rationality by discussing the strong correlation between high IQ and success, as well as the correlation between self-control and success. He briefly returns to politics to note the irrationality there, but concludes that this is due to the political systems rather than the participants themselves. Bloom ends the book by conceding that empathy can have good results, but that this is the exception and not the rule.

In a sense, Bloom does not go far enough. The concept of conspicuous compassion is barely mentioned, and there are some cases in which psychopathy can be used for beneficial results. The final chapter is in need of stronger logical cases against Bloom’s critics. Even so, Against Empathy is thought-provoking and much-needed to stem a tide of books that take too bright a view of empathy.

Rating: 4.5/5

Resolve To Understand The Struggle

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counter-rebuttals. The first two were argued against here, and the third will be argued against here.

To begin his case for revolution, Reece declares that the definition of the concept “leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism.”

I do not simply declare that the definition of revolution leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism. Oxford’s definition clearly does this.

The issue is that this “anti-political revolution” and “culture of resistance” are only a path to ongoing conflict and mass chaos.

A competent debater must consider the alternatives, then compare and contrast them. The alternatives to violent revolution are peaceful change and static. Static means that the state continues, which leaves us in a world of ongoing conflict and mass chaos. This leaves the option of peaceful change, but as argued in “Liberty Requires Revolution,” all methods for peaceful change either lead to failure or to violent revolution. Underhill attempts to argue otherwise in his third counter-rebuttal, but does not succeed in making the case. The remainder of this response will explain his failure on a point-by-point basis.

At this point, Underhill leaves a powerful argument unchallenged, so we may regard it as valid:

“The primary reason why revolution is not only a feasible option but a required one is that no other method adequately addresses the problem. …[T]he state is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it, so they will not do so without a fight. As such, any strategy that does not deal with the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will use force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure.”

He also leaves unchallenged my arguments that cryptography, seasteading, education, and peaceful parenting are helpful but insufficient to end the state.

Reece starts off with criticizing non-violent means of resistance to the state. On many of these, particularly electoral politics, he may have a point.

Either I have a point or I do not; the law of excluded middle forbids any other possibility. Underhill is guilty of intellectual laziness here for neither accepting my points nor arguing against them, except as noted below.

But he fails to understand the power of other options. In particular, I will note his arguments on agorism and civil disobedience as being very wrong-headed.

I understand their power very well, which is why I described them as helpful non-solutions. These options are capable of weakening the state and growing the number of libertarians, but they will not bring down governments on their own.

He contends that there are “limitations of scale” to agorism; that “there are some industrial endeavors which simply cannot be performed entirely outside of Leviathan’s watchful eye”. Now, while it is true that, for instance, starting up a car factory would fall under the risk of government action, it is not inherently true that government is magically aware of the activities of even large scale anti-state endeavors, nor is it true that there is necessarily a central point of failure.

This does not refute the point being made. I have argued that X exists, and Underhill’s response is not to argue that X does not exist (as a proper refutation must), but to argue that the opposite of X exists.

Reece cites the case of Ross Ulbricht as evidence the state can react to agorism quickly, but seems to utterly fail to understand the power of decentralization and removal of central points of control here. Ulbricht may be in jail, but hundreds of copycats and better alternatives have taken his place.

Underhill seems to utterly fail to understand the fact that these operations are not fully decentralized. There is still a buyer, a seller, an exchange operator, and a manufacturer. If government agents can figure out who these people are (and they still do sometimes), those people will be violently victimized by the state.

We also see into the mind of Reece here, when he declares that “a black market can even be counterproductive toward the goal of libertarian revolution, granting people the means to suffer evils rather than allowing them to face the stark choice of revolution or death.” Here it seems he would rather people die in the face of the state than work around it to survive and even thrive. How perverse is such a sentiment!

We also see into the mind of Murray Rothbard here, who made exactly the same point against Samuel Konkin, although in slightly gentler terms:

“It is possible that the Soviet black market, for example, is so productive that it keeps the entire monstrous Soviet regime afloat, and that without it the Soviet system would collapse. This does not mean, of course, that I scorn or oppose black market activities in Russia; it is just to reveal some of the unpleasant features of the real world.”

The reality is that people will die in the face of the state regardless of whether they revolt against it, and it is better for them to die fighting and damaging the enemy than for them to be farmed and slaughtered like animals. Far from perversity, the idea that people should make present sacrifices in order to secure future gains is the foundation of all meaningful progress.

He continues, stating that:

Finally, agorism is actually not a non-violent strategy as originally conceived. Konkin wrote that in the final stage of his strategy, black-market agencies use force to defend against the state, and this is the sort of violent revolution being defended here.

But is this the sort of “violent revolution” being defended here? For Konkin’s approach did involve violence, but it was strictly that of self-defense and well after a libertarian society had been almost fully established.

Yes, it is. Underhill seems to be unaware that the non-aggression principle is a logical construct, and is therefore subject to logic in the form of consistency. To act aggressively against people and property, make no restitution for doing so, and refuse to stop aggressing is inconsistent with the non-aggression principle. Thus, the non-aggression principle does not apply to such a person, and the use of force against such a person is acceptable. Government agents fulfill this description, therefore using force against them meets the standard of self-defense.

Neither of these things are true in a “storm Washington and rout the bastards” type argument that seems so prevalent when actually discussing the concept of revolution.

Underhill commits a straw man fallacy here, as I never argued that we should “storm Washington and rout the bastards.” (While the article picture for “Liberty Requires Revolution” depicts this, it was chosen solely for its pleasing aesthetic. Never is what it depicts actually advocated in the article.)

Nor does such an action seek to “replace” the current power structure – only resist its imposition upon people who choose to defend themselves. (In this sense, how can it really be called a “revolution”?)

Oxford’s definition says that a revolution is a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system. In this case, the new system is one of a stateless society with individual sovereignty and private property. The current government and social order are overthrown by a sufficient number of people defending themselves from their imposition to end their functionality.

Moreover, this is – of necessity – in an environment where people are generally accepting of such anarchic society, not the current society where resistance to the state, even by a major corporation like Apple, is demonized on nearly every front.

This depends upon the meaning of “generally accepting.” This term could mean anything from enthusiastic support to inactionable hatred. If 95 percent of the people want a state but 5 percent do not, and the 5 percent are able and willing to impose anarchy by force but the 95 percent are not able or willing to impose statism by force, then there will be no state despite the fact that people are not generally accepting of anarchism.

Resistance to the state by Apple has not been demonized on nearly every front. Many people have voiced concerns over privacy and abuse of state power that are in line with Apple’s position.

On civil disobedience, Reece claims that:

multitudes of demonstrators were violently victimized by government agents. Remaining peaceful in the face of violent oppression only ensures that aggressors are empowered, victims are weakened, and onlookers are given an example of government violence as a solution to the “problem” of disobedience.

It’s true that civil disobedience carries with it risk of suffering violence. But in many ways, it is far superior to risk that violence without retaliation than it is to escalate it with further violence.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

In the February Revolution in Russia, the revolt was obtained mostly through non-violence because the military men whose task it was to subdue the populace refused to fire into a crowd of non-violent protesters, many of whom were women. On the other hand, escalation to levels of significant violence most often lead to protracted war – where the result is incalculable.

This is true, but irrelevant to the discussion. The point is that civil disobedience stops being civil when government agents decide to use force.

To reiterate the quote from Doctor Who I included in my original article:

When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill…

Refusing to fire that shot (and it is not the first shot; that would be a government agent’s doing) also means having no idea who will die or how many, except that whoever it is will certainly be an innocent person. Firing that shot means that some who will die will be aggressors, and that less aggression will occur in the long run because the aggressors will face a higher cost for their behavior.

Reece carries on with a comparison of the existence of the state and “power vacuums” to those of physics. Here he simply makes a categorical error. While talk of power vacuums constitutes a common analogy, it is also an inherently false one based on a sociological determinism. From this, Reece draws many erroneous conclusions about the use of force to defend a “partial vacuum”.

A categorical error is a logical fallacy in which one ascribes qualities to a noun that cannot possess those qualities. For example, the statement “that idea is the color red” is a categorical error because concepts in the mind do not reflect particular wavelengths of visible light. As no such quality was attributed to power vacuums, no such error was committed in the analogy between power vacuums and physical vacuums. Underhill then commits a straw man fallacy by invoking sociological determinism, which was not the motivation for the vacuum analogy.

He also notes that “the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states”. This is precisely true, but it is absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.

This is exactly wrong. The number of people enforcing the edicts of rulers is an important factor for estimating the number of people needed to thwart them.

These people will not come in with pistols to match the pistols libertarians might possess, but with tanks and military aircraft and missiles. There is no chance of any sort of determined minority resistance prepared to use violence leading any sort of peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead like the Sword of Damocles.

One could argue that technological superiority of states in other fields makes nonviolent resistance useless as well, but let us tackle the argument at face value. Using military hardware against the revolutionaries will cause many civilian casualties, especially if the revolutionaries are blended into the general population. This will cause more people to join the revolutionaries in order to avenge their fallen family members and friends, just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today. This would also result in damage to infrastructure that the state needs to keep operational in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Underhill seems to believe that military vehicles are invincible juggernauts that no resistance movement could hope to stop. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform those tasks, and someone must deliver the resources for those tasks and for the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves. Failing this, military vehicles are quite vulnerable to ambush in close quarters. Improvised explosives can destroy or disable them, as can large amounts of fire, such as from multiple Molotov cocktails. Aircraft are harder to deal with if the revolutionaries present them with a target and cannot keep them grounded, but drones can be hacked and thermal evasion suits are not terribly difficult to build.

The point is not to lead a peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead. The point is to eliminate the threat.

His case is briefly summarized in this paragraph:

The revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret, while at least some government agents and buildings must be identifiable in order to carry out their functions. While a statist revolutionary movement would require an overt presence, people who simply wish to rid their communities of statism do not. And contrary to Underhill, peace talks are not inevitably required at the end of such a conflict; in fact, the approach of an anti-political revolution followed by a culture of resistance makes such talks impossible. At the conclusion of a decentralized revolution, there is no leader with whom the statists may negotiate for peace. They must simply stop committing crimes under color of law and make restitution for the crimes they have committed or be physically removed from the libertarian-controlled area.

This summarizes only the part of my case that describes the end goal of such a revolution.

He claims the revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret. I don’t know here if he is unaware of the spying operations of modern states, uncomprehending of the amount of force needed to bring to bear to resist a state military operation, or whether he is just too drawn in to the fantasy of taking up arms against the oppressor, but the scenario described here is almost laughable.

Underhill may be unaware of the potential strength of cryptography, unaware of how fragile the nation-state model of security really is, or just too much of an intellectual coward to think this through.

Further, he talks about a conclusion of this “decentralized revolution”, as if there would be any such conclusion outside of the annihilation of the armed resistance.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

By creating this long-term “culture of resistance” and relying on operation in secret to engage in guerrilla combat, he’s consigned this group to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all.

We are all consigned to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all. What revolution does is to allow innocent people to be something other than perpetual victims.

Any attempt to form a peaceful society based on market anarchist principles would be impossible – lives would instead be devoted to engaging in a fruitless violent resistance that could only lead to massive innocent deaths without any achievement of the goal of liberty.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

He answers the charge of the technologically superior military by pointing to the idea of guerrilla combat as well as blowback.

A more detailed answer may be found above.

But this only approaches the problem from the point of view of the anarchist revolutionary. The people would not be so kind as to side with the terrorists in their midst.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Which interpretation is held by the people of the anarchist revolutionaries depends on how numerous they are, how successful they are, how oppressive the state is, how popular alternative media is versus the establishment lapdog media, and so on.

No worries, Reece claims, we will have the “actions of revolutionaries .. carefully planned to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, as collateral damage plays into the state’s hands”. Certainly. But is he aware that the death of military members and police officers and other government agents, will be viewed as this “collateral damage”.

This also depends on the variables listed above.

The public does not take kindly to “cop-killers” now. Why would this suddenly change because the action is framed as self-defense by some apparent (to them) sociopaths?

This would not suddenly change, nor would it need to. The revolution is not to take place until there is a critical mass of people who are willing to participate. At that point in time, the public perception of those who kill government agents would be more favorable, as explained later.

Next, he arbitrarily claims that “the ultimate reason that people are voting on ballots is that they fear the consequences of voting with bullets”. He provides no reason to believe this is true other than that they do not “vote with bullets”. He goes on to say that “[i]f the option of voting with ballots is taken away from them, then the public is left with the options of either living peacefully or trying to perform the crimes of the state themselves”.

There is nothing arbitrary about this claim; it is clearly in agreement with the observable facts. People vote on ballots to get politicians to use state power to give them that which they could not obtain themselves without directly committing crimes against people and property. Most people find it impractical to directly commit crimes not only because being productive is less risky and the state punishes (non-government) criminals, but because their would-be victims may use force to stop them. I then linked to an entire article devoted to explaining this point.

I can’t think of anything more likely to lead to an acceptance of an authoritarian state than rebels forcibly preventing democratic means of government in a nation where the vast majority believe wholeheartedly in democracy. Not only is this proposed “revolution” by Reece historically a bad idea, he seems from the outset trying to design something that will purposefully incense the state-loving populace to the point of cheering on the destruction of any and all libertarians or anarchists.

This is an argument from incredulity; just because Underhill cannot figure out how this will work does not mean that it must fail. Again, the majority of people can believe whatever they want, but if they will not use force and a minority who think differently will, then the minority will win.

In his response to the question of “what protects your revolution from the next one?”, he presents a simple answer: we’ll kill anyone who would resist our system and attempt to reimpose a state. (Presumably, if the rhetoric of Cantwell is any guide, also any leftists or anyone else who disagrees with our values.)

A person who would resist anarcho-capitalism and attempt to reimpose a state would necessarily be user of aggressive violence because doing so would require one to initiate the use of force against people and their property. The use of defensive violence to stop an aggressor is always morally justifiable. Perhaps the answer is simple, but it is also a priori true.

It is not necessary to kill anyone who disagrees with anarcho-capitalism, but it is necessary to keep them from acting upon that disagreement within an anarcho-capitalist society. This may take the form of anarcho-capitalists being too powerful to aggress against, the use of force in self-defense, or physical removal from the society.

This sounds like it would quickly devolve into the chaos of the “anarcho-statists” of Spain to me.

This sounds like Underhill cannot comprehend the case being made.

At the very least, it depends on a perpetually violent populace dedicated to the principles in question… which means it is very likely to fall to another revolution based on other ideas that people have accepted.

Any civilization that wishes to maintain its form must have some group of people who are able and willing to use force to defend that form against threats. The artificial vacuum of state power maintained by a culture of resistance is actually least likely to fall to another revolution; as discussed above, it has advantages that other forms of security do not.

Similarly, he denies the Iron Law of Oligarchy in his call for a “truly decentralized revolution with no top-down leadership.”

This is not a denial of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Each small cell of revolutionaries will likely develop a natural leader who is better than others at organization, strategy, martial skills, or some other important attribute. The idea is for no such leader to be allowed command and control of anything beyond the small cell.

While I completely agree that a revolution headed by “a charismatic leader against the state … will yet again fail to solve the problem”, a decentralized resistance is inevitably going to ignore all those special caveats and contentions about “collateral damage” and the like that Reece has already noted would be necessary for his ideal to even work.

The caveats are not necessary for the ideal to work; they just make success easier and shorten the conflict. If a certain group does ignore good strategy and attack innocents needlessly, then they can be disavowed as fakes. This would not be a no true Scotsman fallacy because they would be fake libertarians by definition.

Moreover, it’s extremely unlikely to ever get started.

Perhaps, but its success is more likely than any non-violent method.

Finally, he claims that it will be “time” to start when “enough people are willing to carry out a libertarian revolution … more people than that will be helping the revolutionaries but not taking up arms, and more people than that will be speaking favorably of revolution without taking action toward that end.” It seems that this would require a lot of people. Almost as many people, one might think, as would be necessary to simply refuse to cooperate with the state and force it to its knees without violence.

This is where the fact that the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states is far from “absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.” A quick strike by 1 percent of the population could subdue another 1 percent of the population with nothing more than revolvers. More realistically, it would probably take between 2 and 5 percent of the population to forcibly end the state and form a culture of resistance. That number of people could certainly disrupt the state through civil disobedience, but this disruption will result in state violence against the disobedient, which brings us back to the choice of either defending oneself with violence or being victimized while giving the state a victory.

We all agree that “[t]he state is the most evil institution ever devised by humans, and its demise is required in order for humanity to survive and prosper.” Where the disagreement lies is in the idea that resistance without violent revolution constitutes a “position of weakness”.

When aggressors are willing to escalate the use of force beyond the level to which their intended victims are willing to escalate the use of force, the intended victims are in a position of weakness.

Rather, the state is dependent on the people it oppresses for resources, both via taxation and via the acceptance of state-backed money. Remove these two aspects of the state’s power, and it cannot stand. The power of the state is only derived by the people who support it. In the words of Étienne de la Boetie:

How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you?

[…]

From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.

This is not in dispute. What Underhill cannot seem to understand about this struggle is that the state will not magically disappear if the people it oppresses stop handing over resources. When this happens, government agents will use force to try to take those resources, making real the threats of violence which have been levied for so long. Even if he cannot get more arms to beat us with and feet to trample down our cities from us, he already has many. Even if we resolve to serve no more, this resolve means nothing if the masters are more able and willing to escalate the use of force than we are. Yes, we must resolve to serve no more, but we must also resolve to understand the struggle and do what is necessary to physically resist and defeat the enemy when it moves against us.

Why Good (Government) Police Cannot Exist

On Mar. 28, Julian Adorney published an article called “Resolved: Good Cops Do Exist” in which he argues that government police officers can not only be good people, but can produce a net benefit for society. In this rebuttal, I will attempt to show that this position is unsound on a point-by-point basis.

“Many libertarians argue that ‘good cop’ is a contradiction in terms, at least by the standards of the non-aggression principle. According to this position, any job that requires a person to aggress against his fellow citizens is bad for society. And every cop will probably be required, over the course of his or her career, to initiate force: to issue traffic tickets, to detain an innocent suspect, to apprehend someone for a nonviolent crime. So while individual police officers may be good people off the job (they have families, friends, people they care for), in their professional roles, they are necessarily bad for liberty.”

It is even worse than this. Even if a government police officer sits behind a desk and directly victimizes no one during his or her career, such a person is still receiving a paycheck that is funded by theft and slavery.

“This is a powerful argument, but it is too simplistic. The initiation of force isn’t the be-all and end-all when determining whether one is a good or bad police officer.

First, not everyone who initiates force is automatically immoral.”

The non-aggression principle is the litmus test for morality in libertarian philosophy, as the non-aggression principle is the essence of libertarianism. Establishing the validity of this principle is straightforward. Each person has the right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, as the act of arguing otherwise requires one to exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body, thereby creating a performative contradiction. If each person has the right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, then it is wrong for one person to initiate an interference with another person’s right to the same. Thus the non-aggression principle is logically proven for people. Private property rights also follow from exclusive control of one’s physical body, as they are one aspect of owning responsibility for one’s actions.

“Morality is at least partly determined by intentions, rather than results. A burglar is surely less moral than a drunkard who unintentionally stumbles into the wrong house. The facts of the case — unlawfully entering someone’s property — are the same, but intention makes all the difference.”

Morality is determined by the nature of one’s actions and whether they are compatible with objective moral rules, such as those that follow from the act of argumentation. In contrast, the author uses a consequentialist approach to morality. To refute this approach requires two steps.

First, let us consider determinism versus indeterminism. Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event. This implies that it is not possible to persuade others of one’s philosophical position, as strict determination of our actions (and therefore, our philosophical positions) would mean they were completely necessitated by past events beyond our present control, and therefore not alterable by argumentation. But the effort to persuade others of one’s philosophical position is part and parcel of rational argumentation. Thus, to argue for determinism is to try to convince someone that it is impossible to convince them of anything, which constitutes a performative contradiction. Therefore, indeterminism must be true.

There is one possible objection to this argument, and that is to maintain that free will is not a requirement for rationality because an arguer could be determined to persuade someone and the recipient of the argument could be determined to be persuaded. But if this were the case, then there would be no moral agency because there would be no ability to choose, which would mean that moral nihilism is true. This would also accomplish the purpose of defeating consequentialism, but it would also defeat every other normative ethical theory, so it will not do to stop here. Instead, we should note that objective moral rules follow from the act of argumentation, so arguing that there are no objective moral rules constitutes a performative contradiction. Thus, moral nihilism is false and the compatibilist objection to the argument against determinism is rebutted.

Now, we can disprove consequentialism. Consider two people who find themselves in identical situations and who take identical actions. Because of indeterminism, the future is not directly knowable by extrapolating from the past. Thus, the consequences may play out differently in each case. Regardless of one’s criteria for distinguishing good consequences from evil consequences, the situations may play out with good consequences in one situation and with evil consequences in the other situation. This means that the same action taken under the same circumstances can be both good and evil. This is a contradiction, therefore consequentialism is false.

“If cops give out traffic tickets because they believe that speeding kills people, we may try to change their minds. But we cannot fault their intention to make society safer, even when it manifests as forceful actions with which we may disagree.”

Of course we may fault their intention. If government police officers believe that speeding kills people and that this justifies murder threats against the citizenry, then they are making a positive claim which carries a burden of proof. If they do not fulfill said burden of proof but act upon it, then we may rightly fault them for acting in a logically irresponsible manner.

“Second, an officer who initiates force may still provide a net gain for his ‘customers’ (in this case, society at large). Imagine a cop hunting a serial killer. As part of her investigation, she pulls an innocent man in for questioning. Later, she also catches the serial killer. The cop clearly initiated force, but she also made society safer. One innocent man is worse off for having been detained and questioned, but thousands of people who live near the killer — unseen victims of his future crimes — are now safer. If she were employed by a private protection agency, the community that hired her would call this cop a hero and recognize the net benefits of her service.

This argument is admittedly utilitarian.”

As utilitarianism is a type of consequentialism and consequentialism has already been refuted above, utilitarianism fails a fortiori. But even within a utilitarian framework, it need not be the case that a community would recognize the officer’s actions as a net benefit. What was the innocent man prevented from doing with the time that he spent in questioning? Perhaps he was a scientist working on a critical research experiment which failed because he was not there, and now the world has lost a scientific breakthrough. Did the time spent questioning the innocent man prevent the cop from catching the killer earlier, thereby allowing the killer to murder more victims than he otherwise would have? Perhaps so.

“But if a company you hire for X service does something wrong, you would probably not immediately terminate the contract. Rather, you might weigh the wrong against the other good they do you, engaging in a consequentialist calculus to decide whether they provide value to you. We should apply the same analysis of trade-offs, not to police forces as a whole, but to individual officers.”

It depends on what that wrong is. If it is a matter of occasional human error, then one might forgive them and let them try again. If it is a matter of blatant incompetence, then one might be considering other options. But if it is a matter of violating absolute moral principles, then one would be justified in immediately terminating the contract and either finding a different provider, taking matters into one’s own hands, or doing without. One must also remember that there is no contract of employment here, at least not a valid one. Rather, agents of the state have used violence, threats, fear, and intimidation to monopolize police services.

“But are there actually cops who make society better? Many libertarians don’t think so. Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the US Treasury, asserts that all police officers are ‘psychopaths.’ It’s common in libertarian circles to call the police ‘a gang of thieves.’ This argument fails to respect the inherent diversity in any profession.”

No, this argument respects the implications of becoming an agent of the state. There is no diversity in the fact that every person who has chosen to present oneself as a government police officer, the job description of which is to enforce the laws and to be paid from government coffers for doing so. To enforce the laws is to present a consistent threat to use as much force as necessary to stop a person who is known to be acting contrary to the whims of politicians. As some of the laws are contrary to the non-aggression principle, those laws are immoral. Thus, to become a government police officer is to choose to present a consistent threat to initiate the use of as much force as necessary to stop a person who is known to be breaking immoral laws, or in other words, acting morally. This violates the non-aggression principle and is therefore immoral by libertarian standards.

“In Thinking As a Science, Henry Hazlitt points out that when we think of a concept, our mental construction of the concept is limited to an amalgamation of specific examples we have encountered, experienced, or imagined. When I say the word ‘cop,’ you think of cops you have known, cops you have seen or read about, cops in a specific context. We can each think of the same word, but we are actually imagining vastly different individuals. I might imagine a man hunting violent gang members, while you might imagine a white cop killing a black person for a victimless crime.

Both of us are drawing on our unique experiences to assemble a mental concept. We are thinking of one cop, or a combination of some of those that we’ve met or heard of, and projecting our experience onto all 900,000 officers in the United States. Anyone asserting that there are no good cops, cops are psychopaths, or the opposite (all cops are saints), is making an unjustified assumption.”

Hazlitt’s argument is only valid for a posteriori thinking. A priori logic suffers no such limitations, and the statement that there are no good (government) cops is shown in the previous paragraph to be a priori true.

“Indeed, many of our individual concepts are skewed, because most people only ever hear about officers who behave badly. Heroic cops sometimes make the news, but their stories don’t go viral like videos of police brutality do. Additionally, most people don’t interact with police officers who are helping them — if you see those flashing lights in your rear-view window, you’re mentally gearing up to lose at least $150 for a traffic offense. That we are inundated with experiences and stories of bad police but not good ones gives us a skewed perspective when we’re creating our concept of the word ‘cop.’

That makes it easier to make sweeping statements like ‘cops are a gang of thieves.’ But it also means these assertions are unjustified.

Some critics go another route to argue that all police are bad: if there are good officers, they ask, why aren’t they out there denouncing bad cops? But the fact is that these whistleblowers already exist. Detective Joe Crystal testified against other officers in a misconduct case. Officer Regina Tasca pulled her abusive coworkers off of an unarmed 22-year-old they were punching.

It is not to the credit of the police that these two officers were punished for standing up to their brethren. Crystal found himself ‘a target of intimidation’ for his actions, and Tasca was fired. But most police who stand up to their fellows only make the news when they’re then punished: that story fits a pre-existing narrative that drives website traffic. A cop who reveals police corruption and stays on the force isn’t newsworthy, so we rarely hear about it.

None of this is to say that all cops are good. Many are abusive, bullying, or even racist. I hear stories every day of police engaging in appalling behavior. But the activities of bad police are becoming increasingly public, while heroic officers usually only make the local news.”

Confirmation bias is indeed something to be watchful for, but a few particular good deeds by a few particular people do not justify or atone for institutionalized evil. Only the perpetrators of said evil can atone for their misdeeds by renouncing their affiliation with the state and performing restitution for any acts of aggression that they have committed in the course of their careers.

Why Economic Patriotism Is Nonsense

As the 2014 midterm elections approach, Democratic candidates led on by President Barack Obama and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are adopting rhetoric against corporate inversions, which they define as “the ability of American companies to avoid U.S. taxation by combining with a smaller foreign business and moving their tax domicile overseas.” In such rhetoric, Lew has called for “a new sense of economic patriotism, where we all rise or fall together.”

The phrase “economic patriotism” has been defined in many different ways by different politicians at different times, and some of these definitions contradict others. The current definition espoused by Obama and Lew appears to be something resembling “a duty to produce the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans, and the duty not to relocate the tax domicile of a corporation to pay less taxes.” Therefore, the best approach toward countering economic patriotism is to refute utilitarianism, show that paying higher corporate taxes is economically unsound, refute the idea that corporations should be loyal to the US government, and explain why economic cosmopolitanism, known more simply as free trade, is superior to economic patriotism.

I. Utilitarianism

The task of dispensing with utilitarianism, or “the greatest good for the greatest number,” is rather lengthy but not so difficult. Utilitarianism is a subset of consequentialism, which is the class of normative ethical theories which regard the consequences of an action as the basis for its rightness or wrongness. Therefore, if consequentialism is shown to be false, then utilitarianism fails a fortiori.

When people agree to engage in rational argumentation, they implicitly accept certain behavioral norms. Among these are that truth is universally preferable to falsehood, and that one will make an effort to persuade others to agree with one’s philosophical position. (This does not mean that all people at all times will behave as such; only that they should behave as such.) These norms must be accepted because to reject them is to leave one’s colleagues in argumentation with no reason to believe that one is making an honest effort toward creating valid arguments (and therefore every reason to believe that one is jesting, trolling, and/or lying).

Disproving consequentialism requires two steps. First, we must prove indeterminism. Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event. It logically follows from determinism that it is impossible to persuade others of one’s philosophical position, as strict determination of human actions (and therefore, a person’s philosophical position) would mean they were completely necessitated by past events beyond present control, and therefore not alterable by argumentation. But the effort to persuade others of one’s philosophical position is a condition of rational argumentation. Thus, to argue for determinism is to try to persuade someone to agree with the philosophical position that it is impossible to persuade someone to agree with one’s philosophical position, which is a performative contradiction. Therefore, indeterminism must be true.

Now, we can disprove consequentialism. Consider two people who find themselves in identical situations and who take identical actions. Because of indeterminism, the future is not directly knowable by extrapolating from the past. Thus, the consequences may play out differently in each case. Regardless of one’s criteria (or lack thereof) for distinguishing good consequences from evil consequences, the situations may play out with good consequences in one situation and with evil consequences in the other situation. This means that the same action taken under the same circumstances can be both good and evil. This is a contradiction, therefore consequentialism is false.

NB: There is a notable sidestep to the above argument. One could take the position that free will is not a prerequisite for rationality or for trying to change a person’s mind, which would be free from internal contradictions if one is determined to persuade someone of something, and the receiver of the argument is determined to accept it. But this position necessitates a lack of responsibility for one’s actions, as those involved in the argument would have no choice, and therefore no moral agency. Therefore, the end result is moral nihilism, which would also disprove consequentialism if correct.

II. Corporate Taxes

From a moral standpoint, any form of taxation is armed robbery, possessing/receiving/transporting stolen goods, slavery, trespassing, communicating threats, and conspiracy to commit the aforementioned crimes. But let us consider the economic aspect of corporate taxation in particular. The first thing to note is that there is really no such thing as corporate taxation. When a government levies taxes on a corporation, those who own the corporation will treat the taxes as a cost of doing business, which gets included in the prices of goods and services offered by the corporation. Thus, any tax upon corporations is ultimately a tax upon their customers, not upon those who own the corporation or invest in it. Secondly, any money that a business must pay in taxes is money that the business cannot use for any other purpose. This means that when businesses are taxed, they are discouraged from hiring more workers, paying higher wages, performing research and development, and offering better goods and services at lower costs to consumers. Even worse, these effects are hidden (and frequently ignored by government economists) because it is impossible to count jobs and products that were never created because government taxes prevented their creation.

III. Corporate Loyalty

A corporation is a legal fiction created by the state to shield business owners and investors from being fully responsible for their actions. A corporation does not exist in any physical sense; only the workers, buildings, trade goods, etc. actually exist. Corporations allow business owners and investors to keep profits for themselves and force their losses onto everyone else. This government-granted immunity from responsibility is antithetical to a free market and would necessarily be absent in a free society.

But let us deal with the world as it is, not as it should be. In some perverse sense, there is some truth to Mr. Lew’s argument that “[t]he firms involved in these transactions still expect to benefit from their business location in the United States, with our protection of intellectual property rights, our support for research and development, our investment climate and our infrastructure, all funded by various levels of government.” At first glance, the corporation owners and investors are receiving services, and should pay for those services. But this view is morally problematic, as intellectual property violates physical property rights and all of the aforementioned benefits are provided through state violence and threats thereof against taxpayers, as well as debasement of the currency that they are forced to accept under legal tender laws. After all, governments have no justly acquired purchasing power of their own. It is also philosophically invalid to treat taxation as a payment for services rendered because the recipient of the service generally must pay for the service whether or not one makes use of the service, and has no choice of whether or not to receive the service at all in some cases. Furthermore, governments frequently prohibit competition with infrastructure by granting monopolies to service providers, such as energy companies and water companies. Aside from the moral case, there is no logical reason why the owners of a corporation should be loyal to the U.S. government when they can find similar arrangements elsewhere, and it is logically inconsistent to attack business owners for moving their tax domicile elsewhere while continuing to do business in the U.S. while not attacking business owners for moving their tax domicile to the U.S. while continuing to do business elsewhere. Finally, Mr. Lew implies that the above amenities require government, a positive claim accompanied by a burden of proof. Like most statists, he never fulfills that burden of proof.

A step in the right direction would be for such unfair advantages to be discontinued, along with the immoral revenue-generating practices that fund said advantages, forcing wealthy CEOs and investors to play by the same rules as everyone else (and isn’t this what leftists usually claim to want?) Once that happens, the market will become more free and the correct ideas of the loyalty (to its customers) and duty (to its investors) of a business can become manifest.

IV. Free Trade

The opposite of patriotism is cosmopolitanism, or the lack of devotion to any government. It follows that the opposite of economic patriotism is economic cosmopolitanism, known more simply as free trade. Free trade is defined as trade in which no coercion or fraud is involved. All participants enter into the trade voluntarily and each participant benefits from the trade by their own subjective measures of value. This creates the most benefit for those involved because any amount of coercion or fraud present in a transaction increases the cost of doing business from what it is in the ideal state of free trade, resulting in lost opportunities. As shown above, economic patriotism necessarily involves coercion.

V. Conclusion

With the case made by President Obama and Secretary Lew so easily dismantled, why is there such a push for “economic patriotism?” Quite simply, they know that there are a significant number of voters who can be persuaded by such arguments because they are incapable of seeing through them. As always, politicians act in their own rational self-interest, which is to expand their political power. A “new sense of economic patriotism” is simply another means toward that end.