2014-09-03

Jerk-Excluded Libertarianism

I received some excellent feedback from faithful Stationary Waves reader I'll call FH. (FH did not wish to comment publicly this time around.) FH made many good points. One I thought was particularly good was that he felt in my last post I was trying to define libertarianism in such a way that it excluded jerks. It's a fair point, and a pretty strong one, and so I thought I would respond here.

The FH Counter-Argument
First, I ought to give an example of the kind of thing that creates problems for FH and those who hold similar views. Take, for example, the war on drugs. People like FH and myself believe that, however bad drugs might be, a government-enforced prohibition policy creates more serious problems than simply leaving people free to make their own mistakes. This doesn't mean that we see no problems with drug use, it only means that we think prohibition policy is worse than those problems.

With this example in mind, consider a situation in which I think the racist views of H.L. Mencken are verboten. FH - along many other people, for that matter - believes that if we prevent the Menckens of the world from discriminating on the basis of race, then we run the risk of violating their right to free association. If you can't freely choose your friends (even if they aren't a particularly politically correct distribution of people), then you don't have a freedom of association in any meaningful sense of the term. This is FH's difficulty with the views I expressed earlier.

Morever, FH would go so far as to say that by allowing people to discriminate socially, we ensure that our communities adhere to important, voluntary rules self-governance that do not require state enforcement. That is, if we choose to "discriminate" against good-for-nothing louses, then there will be fewer good-for-nothing louses in our communities, because our intolerance of them either drives them away, or inspires them to behave better.

The Stationary Waves Response

Point #1 - My Argument Is Moral, Not Political
There are a number of points on which I am in total agreement with FH. I agree that creating state laws or imposing state reinforcement of racism and other forms of bigotry probably causes more harm than good, on net. I agree that compulsory integration is a violation of one's freedom of association. And I agree that it is problematic to create a political libertarianism in which all forms of being a bad person are disallowed. In short, if a libertarian were to argue that the state should punish bigots merely because they are bigots, and not because they committed explicit acts of aggression against specific individuals, then that itself would be "un-libertarian," again in the political sense of it.

But I'm not sure I'm interested in a political libertarianism. Stationary Waves has always been more about ethics and doing the right thing than it is about what policies we should/should not enact. In my opinion, the world won't improve by increased political argument. Instead, it will improve by more widespread clarity of moral thinking.

I'll take that point a step further: I believe that virtually any political system would work - including Marxism - if all human beings in that system were perfect moral agents. Many years ago, a much smarter man than I said something similar: If all men were angels, no government would be necessary. Really, any government will do.

So, to push the world in a better direction through improved political systems seems silly. I empathize with those who wish to do it that way (in a way), but fundamentally they are statists. They see people as problems that need to be solved with central solutions.

In short, when I suggest that bigots aren't libertarians, it's not because I think political libertarianism must address bigotry, but because the morality upon which libertarianism is founded is contrary to the (lack of) morality from which racism is propounded. I'm not asking for a state solution; I'm asking for bigots to shape up, morally, within themselves, and otherwise stop calling themselves libertarians, because they're not. This brings me to my second point.

Point #2 - Despite Government, Being Pro-Liberty Matters
To some people like FH, as long as people are voluntarily making decisions together, then liberty hasn't been compromised. I vehemently disagree.

Part of this may relate to the fact that I grew up in a very religiously conservative area, and I currently live in another one. It's not uncommon for bigwigs to meet each other at religious functions and make deals there (sort of like the proverbial "golf course"). It's not uncommon for church-goers to gain employment by "networking" with their fellow church-goers. It's not uncommon for special knowledge to be circulated within, but not outside, the church. The problem here is that these kinds of closed networks foist an ultimatum upon outsiders: join us, or we will shut you out of all the good opportunities.

You can certainly argue that such communities are within their rights, under a libertarian political structure, to engage in this sort of thing. But if you undertook the argument that this sort of network is consistent with the morality of liberty, I think you'd fail miserably.

Why? Because functional liberty in society is premised on the notions of equal competition, equal access to information, and meritocracy. To undermine any of these things with a social network of coercive exclusion is plainly and simply un-libertarian in the moral sense of the term.

A true lover of liberty - my kind of libertarian - is one who welcomes all newcomers with open arms and then judges all by their contribution to society. That means lovers of liberty are people who let others alone to worship however they please (including not at all), without judging or excluding them from anything, and then judges others based on whatever contribution those others wish to make. So, a Muslim fruit farmer in a community of Catholics should be judged by the quality of his fruit, and his friendship, and his ideas, rather than on his Catholic church attendance. To have all the important public debates at church, without the Muslim fruit farmer, is an obvious unequal relationship. This is what I'm calling un-libertarian.

There is a long list of weak arguments trotted out to justify this sort of social exclusion, and trust me, I have heard them all. None of them are very good. So while it may be true that a libertarian political regime may not choose to act against closed communities like the one I just described, that doesn't mean those communities are libertarian or liberty-loving. They are closed, unequal, collusive, and cruel. This kind of behavior simply isn't libertarian.

Conclusion
Libertarianism - as I understand it, anyway - isn't a free-for-all. It involves what the American Founding Fathers often referred to as virtue. I call it a creed. Without a robust and liberty-loving ethics, libertarianism simply isn't worth very much. There is absolutely no value in a political system that relinquishes the role of coercion and tyranny to other sets of conspirators such as religions or corporations. Liberty does not thrive more perfectly when society chooses to coerce each other with special clubs and organizations, merely by virtue of the fact that those organizations are no longer called "governments." (Please see my definition of the word "government" at The Stationary Waves Lexicon to gain more clarity on this point.)

This serves to highlight a major difference between myself and most people who call themselves "anarcho-capitalists." I don't think social coercion is ever okay; an-caps seem to think that as long as the situation is stateless, competition will sort things out. Nonsense.

At any rate, this should highlight some of the major underlying ideas beh