Has VFR failed to define political freedom?

Bob A. writes:

Kathlene M. wrote:

“Feminism: giving women the freedom to drive cars with pornographic, obscene references on their license plates.”

This is a sentiment that is repeated often on this blog (which I read frequently enough). During one of the breast implant threads you said something to the effect that in a traditionalist society women may or may not be allowed to have breast implants for purely cosmetic reasons. You say things like this all the time. This got me to wondering exactly what your definition of freedom is? I have read some of your discussions where you argue against “tyrannical freedom” or “tyrannical individualism” or other non-defined—and contradictory—phrases like these. But you have never offered a definition of what political freedom is. Do you have one?

I admit to being a Von Misean and I know you are not a libertarian. But my question here is directed at the theoretical underpinnings of traditionalism. If traditionalism is going to have any chance as an ideological or political movement, then it will have to make an account of what it considers freedom to be and what it considers rights to be. Are rights possessed by individuals? Are they collective privileges? You would probably scoff at that and say that is the way “liberals” treat rights but it sure sounds like your approach. How else can you explain your statement that in a trad society women “may or may not be allowed to have breast implants”, a totally consensual and non-violent act?

This is important stuff. Stuff which I have never seen you address on the theoretical level. And I have looked.

LA replies:

You write:

“you said something to the effect that in a traditionalist society women may or may not be allowed to have breast implants for purely cosmetic reasons. You say things like this all the time.”

I don’t think that I have ever discussed or advocated a law against breast implants. I’ve also asked three readers who know VFR well, and they also have no memory of my advocating such a law. For you to say that I advocated such laws “all the time” suggests that you are reading VFR through a filter which makes you imagine I’m saying something that I haven’t said.

You write:

“But you have never offered a definition of what political freedom is. Do you have one?”

I don’t think that I have ever offered a definition of political freedom, apart from how political freedom is understood traditionally in America, under the original U.S. Constitution. And that would mean, prior to the perversion of the 14th Amendment, an America in which states and localities made all kinds of laws governing behavior.

For example, in traditional America, states or municipalities had laws, passed by popularly elected state legislatures or city councils, against abortion, sodomy, loitering, vagrancy, pornography, and the like. While, again, I don’t think I have ever advocated this, in a re-traditionalized America, a state could have, e.g., a law banning breast implants for vanity purposes (or more accurately banning self-mutilation), and such a law would be entirely in keeping with the U.S. Constitution as it existed from the Founding until it was turned on its head by the revolutionary Incorporation Doctrine in the 20th century. Under our current—revolutionary and unconstitutional—regime, such a law would be thrown out by the federal courts, as have the other laws referred to above.

If you have a problem with our traditional system under which state legislatures and local governments had power to legislate in areas of private behavior, affecting such things as abortion, adultery, sodomy, etc., then you have a problem with the U.S. Constitution and are on the side of the liberal revolutionaries who have changed the Bill of Rights from a strict limitation on the power of the Congress over the states, to a grant of unlimited power of the federal courts over the states.

In the American context, discussions of freedom are not conducted in the abstract. It is always a question of which entity has what power to do something. In America, all power flows ultimately from the people. The people form the state governments. The natural right of the people to form a government also gives that government power which can take freedoms away from the people. If the people don’t like those laws, they can change them. That is SELF-GOVERNMENT. But modern people don’t like self-government, or at least they are not very much interested in self-government. This is why all the references to freedom today sound like this: “People want to come to the West to enjoy its freedoms,” or, “People love America for its freedoms,” as though freedom were something that was automatically given to people, rather than something that is secured through self-government. In the same way, George W. Bush and the neoconservatives spoke not of planting self-government in Muslim countries, but of giving to Muslims the “freedom” which they “deserve”—that freedom, said Bush, which is a “gift of God.” But freedom is not just a gift of God. As the Declaration of Independence tells us, men are endowed with unalienable rights, but in order to secure those rights, i.e., in order actually to possess those rights, they must form a government to protect those rights. Rights are NOT something that are simply received as a gift, which is Bush’s and the neocons’ decadent global welfare-state interpretation of the Declaration of Independence.

To underscore my point, consider the fact that people today constantly quote the part of the second sentence of the Declaration about men being endowed with unalienable rights, but they almost never discuss the next part of the same sentence, which says that “in order to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…” The securing of rights requires self-government. But self-government means, inter alia, the power of government to restrict men’s freedom in various ways. So there is a tension between freedom on one hand and the government that makes freedom possible on the other.

Further, the whole tendency of modern liberalism, both in the U.S. and Europe, is away from self-government, which is seen as threatening because it means that the majority has more power than the minority, an unequal and oppressive situation which is anathema to the modern liberal mind. This is the view that drives both the massive increase in the power of federal judges in the U.S. to cancel laws passed by the people and the elected legislatures, and the replacement of self-government by unaccountable bureaucrats in Europe. To the modern liberal mind, only judges and bureaucrats can be trusted, because only they do not represent any power faction arising from the political community, but stand for the equal rights of all men. As liberals see it, no actual political society with a representative government can be trusted with securing the rights of men, because any actual political society will be ruled by a majority which has more power than the minority, and also because any actual political society with representative government will exercise discriminatory power over men’s freedom, awarding, say, fewer rights to foreigners or terrorists than to law abiding citizens. The actual result of the liberal campaign to rid society of unequal power relations is the totalitarian concentration of power in the hands of an unelected elite.

So, starting from such fatally flawed premises, people today believe in maximum freedom for the individual, guaranteed by the federal courts. They want unelected federal judges to have the power to cancel laws passed by the state legislatures which the judges see as unequal, thus destroying self government in the name of individual rights.

In the traditional American system, by contrast, there is a balance between individual freedom and the power of the community to govern itself, which may entail limits on individual freedom, as seen in state and local laws against abortion, sodomy, panhandling, gathering in noisy crowds, etc.

This is completely beyond the ken of modern liberals, libertarians, and neoconservatives, who think of freedom only as a universal abstraction. That approach leads always to society being ruled by an unaccountable elite that protects individual freedoms by destroying society’s ability to self-govern. And of course such a system leads inevitably to the destruction of individual freedoms as well. Individual freedoms can only be preserved in the long run when there is self-government, i.e., the power of the community to govern itself, and to change its laws when it doesn’t like them.

To repeat, a liberal/libertarian only wants to talk about individual freedoms and how they are to be protected from oppressive society, which is to be done by having unelected judges or bureaucrats taking away society’s right of self-government.

An American traditionalist sees freedom in the context of the dynamic tension between individual freedom and society’s power of self-government.

Leonard D. writes:

This is an interesting topic. However, Bob A. isn’t being sufficiently clear on several points. For example, Google reveals that the phrases “tyrannical freedom” and “tyrannical individualism” have appeared on VFR in exactly one post: this one. (In Bob A.”s words, not yours.) So, he may be thinking of some closely related phrasing, but he should do his homework to make clear exactly what he’s talking about.

More importantly, he asks about “political freedom,” which uses the horribly abused word “freedom.” “Freedom,” which originally was synonymous with “liberty” in the sense of “being left alone,” eventually also had the meaning “power” grafted onto it, and then in addition “political power (over the self).” It means any of all of these, when different people use it. I really wish both Bob A., and you in response, would elide all mention of “freedom” and use one of the three synonyms I just listed instead; I think it would help to clarify your discussion.

For example, when Bob A. asks about “political freedom,” he is clearly meaning to pick out the third meaning: “political power (over the self).” Clearly “self” is ambiguous, whereas “political power” isn’t. So what he is really asking is: what is the proper “self,” in your opinion, for political power to be wielded by and against? His answer, being a libertarian, is: only the individual is the self. Voluntary groupings are OK, but political power wielded by groups is not. Your answer is, I think: there are many selves worth considering. At the highest level, there is the Federal government which (ought to) wield some, but not all, power over the whole nation. The powers are listed in the Constitution. There are the several states, and cities or counties, which (ought to) wield many other powers over their territories. And there are the people, who do have many rights (i.e. self-rule as libertarians see it).

On particulars, it is true that progressives and libertarians both reject the idea of any power that overrules individual rights. However, I don’t think many libertarians like the idea of centralized power (bureaucrats or judges or whatever else) being the enforcer of their rights. In this, we part ways with the liberals and progressives. Libertarians tend to like decentralization not because it creates “the” right order, but because within it they expect diversity where they can find a place ordered to their desires.

LA replies:

I agree that my use of “freedom” here is somewhat sloppy, or rather that freedom is not the right word at all, and that I should be saying “liberty” instead. At the same time, I use “freedom” because that is the word that everyone uses today. Indeed, one could argue that the degeneration of the concept of liberty or freedom has been coeval with the replacement of “liberty” by “freedom.” The first denotes the orderly yet tension-filled relationship among different centers of power within which liberty becomes possible; the second denotes the idea that people can do what they like, and (at least from the point of view of the left-liberals) that the purpose of government is to empower them to do what they like.

Kristor writes:

This was an absolutely brilliant essay. I plan to forward it to a couple libertarian friends with whom I was arguing the other night. My position was that the libertarian faith that in the absence of legal constraints men would naturally gravitate toward morally righteous customs of dealing with each other, while not perhaps ultimately incorrect, presupposes that those men had enjoyed effective moral instruction in the first place, and were preponderantly virtuous. Freedom supervenes upon justice, which flows naturally from preponderant virtue, or—to the extent virtue has failed—artificially from pervasive law. Laws supply the additional constraint on immoral behavior that is not inherent and immediate therein. And they are often needed. Many immoral acts do not immediately result in net harm to the agent; indeed, many immediately result in great net benefit to the agent. The weaker the average moral catechesis of a people, the more they will be swayed by the immediate benefits to be gained from immoral behavior, and the less by the long-term, attenuated, or transcendent consequences (for, e.g., their immortal souls); and, so, the more laws that will be needed by such a people. Take away all the laws that constrain a basically immoral people, and their immorality will explode, to their great cost.

If a people is to prosper under a system of laws, those laws must themselves be righteous, and apt to the historical situation. This cannot happen unless the lawgivers themselves are virtuous. A vicious self-governing people will destroy itself, or at least reduce its material circumstances to the point where there is no economic surplus to insulate moral foolishness from its fatal wages. A tribe of moral fools trying to survive in a howling wilderness will quickly discover the practical benefits of virtue, or die; and the survivors will be well-equipped for self-government. Denizens of civilized society, who are far removed from the instant feedback provided by the wilderness, must find some other sort of feedback mechanism to replace it, if they are to stay on the strait and narrow path. A transcendent moral system is the palmary alternative; a system of laws, filling in where virtue has lapsed, is a poor substitute. But once virtue begins to lapse from fashion, there is no other practical alternative. And the more laws have substituted for inward virtue, thus weakening the inner moral fiber of men, the more laws they will find they need. It is a vicious cycle, that tends to social paralysis and bureaucratic hell.

Bob A. writes:

First, thanks for the response. It was exactly what I wanted. You declared your deepest premises, with the help of Kristor who always acts as your Realist philosophical consultant.

Next, I disagree with every word. We disagree on the deepest levels of what constitutes the ideal arrangement of men in social arrangements. For me and principled libertarians, especially those influenced by Rand, the initiation of physical force by one individual or its government agents against another, and not for the purposes of retaliation against those who did initiate physical force, is the definitive political evil. The government must only be an agent of retaliatory force. That is the ONLY way to restrain tyranny. It is the clearest demarcation line possible. There are deeper reasons for it than this articulated by Rand but the non-initiation-of-force principle is the axiom on which all political theory rests (note not an axiomatic metaphysical principle—that is something different).

Your view is majoritarian rule. I actually am not convinced that majoritarian rule as you articulate it was the traditional American system. The Founders do talk about inalienable rights. I think that what they were moving towards was the conception of rights as understood by the better libertarian theorists. But the Founders, as Ayn Rand pointed out, were not philosophic revolutionaries, and sadly, they still built their system on the edifice of Christianity which is all they had. So perhaps their system was as you state it (although I am doubtful as you look at the Founders through your Traditionalist lens). If so, then the Founders need to be improved upon by some future society which will be decidedly non-Traditionalist.

Lastly, there is no tension between freedom on one hand and the government that makes freedom possible on the other. Down that path lies madness and tyranny. Actually, we are going down that path although you will deny it. The Founders’ failure, and really it was the fault of the philosophers of the last two centuries more than the political revolutionaries of the late 18th century, was to articulate a full defense of individual rights. But I don’t fault them for that. They did what was possible for their time. The future however will have to overcome their errors and in my opinion that will not be through a Traditionalist revival that believes in tensions between freedom and government.

But anyway, I got what I wanted. I know where you stand theoretically and I do not stand with you.

LA replies:

Thank you for the extremely rare—no, completely unprecedented—experience of having an exchange with a Rand-influenced libertarian who acknowledges my position and politely disagrees with it.

LA writes:

Kristor wrote:

A transcendent moral system is the palmary alternative…

It’s a long-running joke between Kristor and me that he doesn’t feel that a comment of his is complete unless it contains a word that stops me in my tracks. “Palmary”? I just looked it up: “bearing or worthy to bear the palm; preeminent; victorious.” Also: “Of first-rate importance; principal; excellent: a palmary truth. Origin: Latin palma-rius, decorated with the palm of victory, from palma, palm”

Thucydides writes:

The final sentence of your post says it well:

An American traditionalist sees freedom in the context of the dynamic tension between individual freedom and society’s power of self-government.

There is however, the problem that democratic majorities or their representatives can err in either direction. That is why we have the Constitution; it is what sets bounds to what government can do. Today the predominant problem is an excess of supposed rights divorced from any sense of responsibility, but the opposite can happen.

A possible example is the current tendency to enact draconian legislation against smoking or consumption of salt or fat, activities which would seem to have little moral implication, apart from the contemporary fetish for health, an aspect of the cult of the self.

November 18

Kristor replies to LA:

“Palmary”—palma-rius, decorated with the palm of victory—should be a standard part of the lexicon for any intellectual named for the laurel crown of the victor.

Kristor writes:

Gosh. When I’m not being accused by Randians of being a horrid Platonizing idealist, I am accused of being a realist. I wonder what I really am. As to the office of philosophical consultant, all I can say is that it’s a hard way to earn a living.

Joking aside, Bob A. sounds really smart and interesting, and it would be good to hear more from him. I don’t really get how he disagrees with what either Mr. Auster or I said—I don’t see either of us saying anything about whether or not the government should exercise only retaliatory force, or not. I certainly tend to agree with Bob A. that the state should only retaliate. Bob criticizes the Founders for having nothing to build upon but what they inherited from their forbears; but he is in that same boat, together with the rest of us; he is a traditionalist of a different tradition. He says there is no tension between freedom and the government that makes it possible, but if that were so, why would we have parliaments? I mean, don’t they exist to figure out how manage that tension? I guess I don’t get Bob’s argument; or perhaps he has not really made one.

After Mr. Auster’s interchange with Leonard D. over the word “freedom,” I thought to look up the etymology of ‘free’ for the first time:

O.E. freo “free, exempt from, not in bondage,” also “noble, joyful,” from P.Gmc. *frijaz (cf. M.H.G. vri, Ger. frei, Du. vrij, Goth. freis “free”), from PIE *prijos “dear, beloved” (cf. Skt. priyah “own, dear, beloved,” priyate “loves;” O.C.S. prijati “to help,” prijatelji “friend;” Welsh rhydd “free”). The adverb is from O.E. freon, freogan “to free, love.”

The primary sense seems to have been “beloved, friend, to love;” which in some languages (notably Germanic and Celtic) developed also a sense of “free,” perhaps from the terms “beloved” or “friend” being applied to the free members of one’s clan (as opposed to slaves, cf. L. liberi, meaning both “free” and “children”). Cf. Goth. frijon “to love;” O.E. freod “affection, friendship,” friga “love,” friou “peace;” O.N. frior, Ger. Friede “peace;” O.E. freo “wife;” O.N. Frigg “wife of Odin,” lit. “beloved” or “loving;” M.L.G. vrien “to take to wife, Du. vrijen, Ger. freien “to woo.” Sense of “given without cost” is 1580s, from notion of “free of cost.” Of nations, “not subject to foreign rule or to despotism,” it is recorded from late 14c. Related: Freed; freeing.

Other terms that have come down to us from this root: private; Frey, the Norse god of Love; to “make free” with a paramour.

Compare the etymology of ‘liberal’:

late 14c., from O.Fr. liberal “befitting free men, noble, generous,” from L. liberalis “noble, generous,” lit. “pertaining to a free man,” from liber “free,” from PIE base *leudheros (cf. Gk. eleutheros “free”), probably originally “belonging to the people” (though the precise semantic development is obscure), from *leudho- “people” (cf. O.C.S. ljudu, Lith. liaudis, O.E. leod, Ger. Leute “nation, people”). Earliest reference in English is to the liberal arts. Sense of “free in bestowing” is from late 14c. With a meaning “free from restraint in speech or action” (late 15c.) liberal was used 16c.-17c. as a term of reproach. It revived in a positive sense in the Enlightenment, with a meaning “free from prejudice, tolerant,” which emerged 1776-88. Purely in reference to political opinion, “tending in favor of freedom and democracy” it dates from c.1801, from Fr. liberal, originally applied in English by its opponents (often in French form and with suggestions of foreign lawlessness) to the party favorable to individual political freedoms. But also (especially in U.S. politics) tending to mean “favorable to government action to effect social change,” which seems at times to draw more from the religious sense of “free from prejudice in favor of traditional opinions and established institutions” (and thus open to new ideas and plans of reform), which dates from 1823.

Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. [Ambrose Bierce, “Devil’s Dictionary,” 1911]

Interesting, no? “Liberal” originally connoted just the opposite of what it now means; namely, of or pertaining to the people, the tribe, the gens. ‘Liturgy” comes from the same root.

D. in Seattle writes:

In his reply to your definition of political freedom, Bob A. says: “For me and principled libertarians … the initiation of physical force by one individual or its government agents against another, and not for the purposes of retaliation against those who did initiate physical force, is the definitive political evil. The government must only be an agent of retaliatory force. That is the ONLY way to restrain tyranny.”

Bob uses this argument to repudiate your statement that “in traditional America, states or municipalities had laws, passed by popularly elected state legislatures or city councils, against abortion, sodomy, loitering, vagrancy, pornography, and the like.”

To me it is clear that Bob has made a logical error by assuming that having laws against undesirable private behavior equals initiation of physical force by government agents against an individual, and since I didn’t see anyone else calling him on it, I will. Of course the government (ideally small local government) can make citizens obey the laws without using physical force (notice I didn’t say “enforce the laws,” even though enforcing doesn’t have to mean using physical force). Even before the government steps in, fellow citizens can use social pressure to get lawbreakers to behave, such as shaming, shunning, etc. If the government has to step in, it can use fines or jails to punish the offenders, and those don’t have to involve physical force at all. Many have been convicted of crimes and gone to prison without the need for any force to be applied in the process.

Bob made another major logical error when he said that ” … there is no tension between freedom on one hand and the government that makes freedom possible on the other. Down that path lies madness and tyranny.”

This is just plain silly. Any time that there are two or more people doing anything together, there is going to be tension between them at some point. My wife and I don’t always want to do the same thing and that creates tension, but we need to overcome it to make our home life function. Same happens at work and in any social setting where there’s more than one person. Same applies to the tension between individual freedom and the government that makes freedom possible. To claim that some non-Traditionalist future society will need to improve this is to show fundamental misunderstanding of human nature. The only way to eliminate tension in society is to eliminate individuality and freedom, which would result in absolute tyranny, or to eliminate society by not having any human communes at all.

LA replies:

Clearly, from Bob A.’s libertarian/Randian point of view, for a city government to outlaw, say, the sale of pornography means that the city is threatening to use the force of the state, which means ultimately physical force, to take away the property or freedom of any individual violating that law. Therefore such a law is an initiation of force. What this means is that Bob A. regards any government enactment that restricts any behavior which is not itself an initiation of force or coercion against others, to be an initiation of force or coecion. If the government restricts any behavior which is not itself a use of force or fraud, the government is using force and is a criminal. For any community to have laws enforcing its community standards is an act of madness and tyranny. Of course, such a radical libertarian standard has never existed in America. It is a libertarian invention, by which all governments that have ever existed—including all American local governments, state governments, and the national government—are damned as tyrannical.

Debra C. writes:

I wrote the following comments independently of the thread on VFR today, the one dealing with libertarians in which Kristor made some rather memorable remarks. His conclusions were, as it happens, not too dissimilar from mine, posted today at Redstate; his style of writing, I must say, is more elevated than mine, and his treatment of the theme more thorough and thought provoking.

I think it’s a really good thing that we’re having a national conversation on what it means to be a conservative; all the better to weed out what is, in fact, not conservative and to promote clear-thinking among the traditionalist conservative ranks.

chamberD Wednesday, November 17th at 1:03PM EST (link)

The purpose of government is to protect the people it governs. The government protects its citizens when it advances policies that promote stable families, the smallest unit of government. If, however, government policies actually hurt families, as when it creates a culture of dependency upon the government instead of promoting self-reliance, as when it debases life itself with laws that promote abortion-on-demand for the sake of convenience and sexual hedonism, as when it diminishes the role of marriage in society by enacting liberal divorce laws and seeks even to change the meaning of marriage by permitting marriage between same-sex couples who on their own have no physical capability to bring forth new life—then we have a government actively engaged in the destruction of the family and of society. The government cannot remain neutral on the family; its laws will affect families, one way or the other. In order for the government to be respected among the people and to be an actual legitimate government, it must advance policies that promote the smallest unit of government; it must advance policies that promote healthy families. That is not to say that the government has any business setting up boards and commissions on instructing families in how to be good families; that is not to say that compassionate conservatism—as it is known—should be a model for policy. What it does mean is that broadly speaking the government should have a pro-family, pro-life bent, while giving to the people the greatest lattitude and freedom in making a success of their own families—within traditional norms, as the traditional family has been shown to be the strongest building block of society for five millennia. As the libertarian view is that government should be so limited as to give license to every vice of man so long as man is unencumbered by government, it is actually arguing for societal breakdown and an increase of government control to maintain peace and stability. For if there are few stable and strong families to teach self-restraint and responsibility, the power of the government—and the number of laws it must enact—must of necessity grow and increase. The libertarian view is actually self-defeating. It can be no other way. This is why what Jim DeMint and Erick Erickson have said is true—it comports with reality. Whereas, the libertarian—and also the liberal view—[is] utopian.

[Writes Erick Erickson: The fact is I completely agree with Jim DeMint. You cannot be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative and vice versa. The libertine sensibilities of many a fiscal libertarian will lead the country to social ruin causing government spending to bail out society and the spend-thrift nature of many Republican pro-life statists will lead the country to bankruptcy.]

Joseph A. writes:

Regarding your freedom discussion with Bob A., I think that it is important to emphasize Kristor’s point about the moral virtue and cultural strength of a self-governing citizenry. Bob A. rightly worries about the insane excesses of the majority. Imagine being ruled by the current residents of San Francisco, were they to have plenary power. That would involve a nightmarish tyranny of the absurd. The libertarian answer is to gut communal control completely, as libertarians have no appreciation of man as a political and social animal. I wonder if Randian man is like Rousseau’s uncorrupted savage man … an insane and utterly ahistorical depiction of primitive humans as solitary animals who come together at various times only to copulate.

The traditional solution, by contrast, is to have a morally sound citizenry with a good understanding of human nature and a healthy respect for tradition as the accumulated wisdom of many generations. This traditional wisdom involves an understanding of the proper limits and the scope of competence for various levels of authority (the whole community, particular fields with their professional societies, the family, the individual). So, I do not think that traditionalists are “majority rule” zealots. Rather, traditionalists respect the various levels of social authority, of which communal authority is (arguably) best preserved and executed through localized self-governing. That involves some sense of majority rule—or at least majority consent.

The aim of the political community ought to be the common good, which facilitates human flourishing. Traditionalists see the American experiment as a means to this goal. For the liberal, there is no common good—there is only the “freedom” to pursue one’s own individually chosen good as unrestrained as possible. From that perspective, the American experiment at its inception was only a shadow of true individual autonomy. To use Constant’s language, liberals only want the liberty of the moderns; they have no use for the liberty of the ancients. As such, they want the rights of the individual to limit not only the federal government but all government. Hence, they support the madness of the fourteenth amendment, which destroyed our constitutional order. To butcher the words of a good lady, the consistent liberal believes that there is no such thing as society. We are all just willful atoms swirling in the void.

November 19

LA writes:

Here is the fatal self-contradiction in libertarianism and Randianism. (There are of course differences between the two ideologies, but in terms of the issues being discussed here, we can treat them as the same.) Libertarianism is a political philosophy which says that the state’s only legitimate function is to protect the members of society from force or fraud, meaning from external enemies who attack or invade the country from without, and from internal criminals who harm others through force or fraud. Since libertarians want the state to protect society from force and fraud, that means that they believe in the existence and preservation of society, which means, minimally, people residing together and sharing a common way of life in the same physical territory. Further, they believe in the existence and preservation of political society, which means the organization of a society into a political form, a state, for its own preservation and protection.

Libertarians also say that they want the federal government to be strictly limited in its powers and functions, so that the smaller units of society, the states and counties and municipalities, can run their own affairs.

But, as Bob A.’s response to me makes clear, libertarians regard any local community that runs its own affairs—for example, maintaining decent community standards by outlawing prostitution and the sale of pornography—as tyrannical. It is tyrannical because by outlawing prostitution and pornography the state is using its police power to stop people from engaging in activities which in themselves do not involve force or fraud. Such a community is thus the initiator of force against its citizens, which makes it a tyranny.

The assertion is problematic in the extreme. Any actual community is held together by shared habits, beliefs, and values that will go well beyond the prohibition of force and fraud. If a community cannot protect the beliefs and values that define it as a community, then it is not a community. But libertarians would allow no community or society to have any laws beyond those that prohibit force and fraud. A community or society that has no common standards other than, “You shall not commit force or fraud,” is too minimalistic to be a society in any meaningful sense. And since it is not society, it cannot be a political society either.

Libertarianism claims to be a political philosophy—indeed, the only true political philosophy. A political philosophy which precludes the existence of political society is a contradiction in terms.

Libertarianism is, in short, a transparent fraud.

LA writes:

I have copied the above comment into a new entry, and any responses to it will be posted there. Other comments will continue in this thread.

Irv P. writes:

When I was growing up in the Fifties, all of my developmental experiences taught me that things were different in different parts of the country. I understood that certain behaviors were frowned upon more in certain areas. States developed certain stereotypes because those stereotypes fit them. If you wanted to live your life differently than your home community’s standards allowed, you had to find a new home, or at least conform enough so as not to incur the disdain of your neighbors. To me, this seemed like a logical outgrowth of a federal system where most power rested with the individual states and the states were governed on the county and local levels to suit local customs, values, and tastes. In my view, traditionalism understands, accepts and wants this arrangement. We were still big enough and “diverse” enough to provide everyone with a place they could call home and pursue their lifestyle. That’s what “free country” meant to me.

This has been replaced by what I’ve been calling IAG for the past twenty years or since I became politically mature. IAG stands for “It’s all good.” Anything goes. You can do just about anything, and depend on the courts to uphold your right to do it—anywhere! This is what we have morphed into. Almost everything is upside down. Common sense has been turned on its ear. We are not free. We are not brave. We have been beaten into an almost insignificant corner by the “ministry of lies,” an all encompassing media which has been brainwashing us daily all of our lives. Majorities do not matter in this world of madness. The majorities of traditional America were always the “golden goose.” Their values and morality gave everyone as much liberty as possible given human nature and reality. When laws and customs could be shown to need changing, they were, but in a slow, careful manner. We were not perfect, nor could we ever be.

We are witnessing the killing of the golden goose and it is a very sad spectacle. The golden goose of white Christian America gave everyone abundance in every area of life, material, artistic, and spiritual.

The non traditionalists will live to regret this murder and live to yearn for the good old days.

Bjorn Larsen writes:

Three comments on this brilliant discourse of political freedom:

The political freedom argument requires a corollary question—what political freedoms are we PROHIBITED from changing? Once a society has formed, liberal or conservative or traditional, one must adopt a constitution that prohibits populations in local, state and federal elections from voting to ABOLISH ITS OWN CORE VALUES. Only by defining and “hard-wiring” a set of core values and beliefs (culture?) can we protect ourselves from an over-zealous majority voting a country into slavery, slavery to liberalism, communism or Islam. Remember Benjamin Franklin’s quote of “a republic, if you can keep it.” [LA replies: this is a problem that political thinkers have been wrestliing with since Plato. In every society, even the best society, there is a built-tendency toward degeneration; how is that tendency to be resisted? Can a society erect a constitution that prohibits the society from changing? It hasn’t happened yet, though some societies have been more stable than others.]

The task of protecting communities and societies from zealous activists is not only the constitution and the local laws, it also includes civil norms of behaviour, reflected in our adults and mirrored in our classrooms. Abortion was not a significant question in most people’s lives until we relaxed sexual norms, encouraging sex outside of marriage and hence more unwanted pregnancies requiring “action.” Similarly, divorce was rare when largely frowned upon until multiculturalism/feminism took over and defined no-fault divorce, essentially making the process stress free.

Lastly, it seems that the discussion centers on some overall structure of political freedom, a one-size-fits-all scenario. This is of course not at all the case. Under a system of de-centralized power, each community can define its own laws and norms of behaviour, and invite community residents to obey these laws. Of course, this means that various communities may uphold various standards of behaviour—and that is perfectly fine since no one is forced to live in any particular location.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 17, 2010 01:57 PM | Send

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