The Crucial Question of Liberty

Murray N. Rothbard was one of the finest minds of the 20th century and helped to resurrect the freedom movement seemingly single-handedly. He wrote in 1977:

I have been ruminating recently on what are the crucial questions that divide libertarians. Some that have received a lot of attention in the last few years are: anarcho-capitalism vs. limited government, abolitionism vs. gradualism, natural rights vs. utilitarianism, and war vs. peace. But I have concluded that as important as these questions are, they don’t really cut to the nub of the issue, of the crucial dividing line between us. …

And what did he come up with as the crucial question that we must ask of ourselves and of those who claim to be our allies? His answer was this: “Do you hate the State?”.

There runs through the works of Rothbard a deep and pervasive hatred of the State and all of its works. He saw, as I do, that the State is the enemy of all mankind. Everywhere I look I see problems caused or made worse by the State. I view myself as a “radical” in the same way that Rothbard viewed himself and the reliable members of our liberty movement as radicals.

… Radical in the sense of being in total, root-and-branch opposition to the existing political system and to the State itself. Radical in the sense of having integrated intellectual opposition to the State with a gut hatred of its pervasive and organized system of crime and injustice. Radical in the sense of a deep commitment to the spirit of liberty and anti-statism that integrates reason and emotion, heart and soul. …

The sense of being in total and absolute opposition to mankind’s greatest enemy, The State, is a defining characteristic of my worldview. Anyone can see that means that I was truly a big fan of Rothbard back when he was alive and writing.

For those of us who have seen that the State is our enemy, the question naturally arises as to what are we to do about it. The radical libertarian thinks of abolishing the State just as the State is always thinking of us as slaves to be used and abused. We do not think in terms of “making it a little bit better” as that just does not work. We don’t think in terms of “Ron Paul as president would fix everything!” as it is no use to use evil to attempt to do good. As radical libertarians we must take every opportunity to cut back the size and scope of the State in whatever way we can. And we must never, ever look to the State to solve our problems — that is to deal with the Devil.

We must try to convince our minarchist friends that there is no way to constrain a State. If you allow a weak, laissez-faire State then sooner or later it will become a tyranny. Want proof? Look at the history of the United States starting with the Articles of Confederation up until the present day. It is the story of a weak, laissez-faire central state becoming a tyranny.

Rothbard once asked:

Why should there be any important political disputes between anarcho-capitalists and minarchists now? In this world of statism, where there is so much common ground, why can’t the two groups work in complete harmony until we shall have reached a Cobdenite world, after which we can air our disagreements? Why quarrel over courts, etc. now?

The answer is that if they were radicals and were fighting the State as the mortal enemy of mankind then we could work with them, but in the end they support the existence of the State and only disagree with Statists over the size of the beast.

murray-rothbard-enemy-stateNothing has changed since the 70s other than the State has continued to grow in size, scope, and intrusiveness. We are spied upon to a degree that would have astounded even George Orwell. We are subject to all manner of impoverishing rules, mandates, laws, taxes, and threats from the power mad ruling class and their puppet masters behind the scenes.

George Orwell painted a picture of a State that seeks the total and absolute exercise of raw power. The State demands blind, unquestioning obedience and allegiance to the all mighty central government. All independent or skeptical ideas are treason and subversion. This picture that Orwell painted in his novel 1984 is being played out to some degree or the other in every country on the planet Earth. Why? Because mankind is trapped in the fallacy that the State is a necessary evil. It is not necessary at all — but it is evil.

Purge from your mind any idea that the State can be tamed or put to good use. It is evil.

 

Libertarianism pure and simple

As anyone who reads this blog much knows that, for me, there is one correct libertarianism and that is Rothbardian style radical libertarianism. Libertarianism must be firmly predicated on the non aggression principle (NAP) or it is simply not libertarianism. By “firmly predicated” we mean that we honor the non aggression principle at all times and follow it to its logical conclusion in any problem analyzed. In other words, the law (libertarian law) should prohibit the initiation of force or fraud against innocent people and their property. And that, my friends, is the whole of the situation. Other than the implications of the basic axiom, there is no more to libertarianism.

There are conservatives and modern “liberals” alike who want to hijack the good name of libertarianism and call themselves “libertarian” or at least “libertarian leaning”.  Just because we might be allies in opposition to racism, sexism, homophobia, prejudice, bigotry, brutality, war, torture and all the rest, does not mean that anyone is a libertarian unless they base all of their political philosophy on the non aggression principle.

Some right wingers falsely calling themselves “libertarian” urge acceptance of conservatism. We most definitely are not conservatives. We are most definitely not “liberals” as the word is used in modern America. Those collectivist, thieving, government loving cretins are nowhere close to honoring the non aggression principle. On the other hand, our most close allies are the “Classical Liberals” who sometimes advocate a very small “night-watchman” government. Though totally misguided in the need for any government at all, the Classical Liberals are very close to us in honoring the non aggression principle.

Libertarians are methodological and political individualists and we believe that only individuals think, value, act, and choose. We believe that each individual has the right to own his own body, free of coercive interference. This is just another way of saying the non-aggression principle which asserts that it is inherently illegitimate to initiate the use of physical force against any person or property, the threat of the use of force, or fraud upon persons or their property. The non aggression principle does not, however, preclude violent self-defense. We are not pacifists.

When I started this blog, it was my intention to post each week on a small aspect of the topic of freedom and where the world is going now. I always intended to keep each post short and easy to read. My 2015 new year’s resolution is to return to that style of posting. So, I’ll not be tackling the scores of implications of the non aggression principle in this post, but rather, only one. I’ll mention only one aspect of the state and its violation of the non aggression principle (NAP) today.

What better topic than the “taxes” stolen from the populous by the gang of thieves writ large?

“Taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match. It is a compulsory seizure of the property of the State’s inhabitants, or subjects.” ~ Murry N. Rothbard

It is most curious and maddening that people tend to regard the state as a quasi-divine, selfless, parental organization. People tend to think that the murderous, thieving, brutal torturers of the government are somehow their protectors. It is for this reason that so many can’t see that pointing a gun at my head and demanding I pay tribute to the state is raw, brutal theft. Taxes are not paid voluntarily and that should tell us right there that the state violates the non aggression principle by taking money from the public by force.

I sometimes see good meaning people advocate a “fair tax”. The problem is there is no “fair tax” and there can never be one. Taxation is robbery. How can robbery be “fair”? Entire books have been written of the wide ranging effects of tax policy and that many unintended results are hidden from view as in the lost opportunity costs. Today, I will ignore all that and just point out the taxation is aggression against us and no libertarian could ever support taxation in any form.

Ferguson Police vs. Rothbard’s idea of peace keepers

For decades I have been decrying the increasingly brutal militarization of the police at all levels in the United States. The latest atrocity to catch the public’s eye is the public murder of an unarmed young black man named Michael Brown in Freguson. Missouri on August 9th, 2014 by uniformed goons of the state.

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If the brutal killing of Michael Brown in cold blood was not enough, the police then started harassing all sorts of other people going about their jobs and lives in innocence. Consider the Washington Post reporter who was arrested in a McDonald’s resturant for being a reporter.

The Huffington Post reported:

The Washington Post uploaded video of its reporter Wesley Lowery being arrested by police in Ferguson, MO on Wednesday night.

Lowery and The Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly were working at a McDonald’s when they were violently assaulted and detained by a SWAT unit before being released.

In the video, a police officer can be heard saying, “Get your stuff, let’s go,” and, “Stop videotaping, let’s grab our stuff and go.”

It is legal to film police activity. Lowery and Reilly were given no concrete reason for their arrest.

Police abuses of power have been common place in this country for ages. The first one I remember in my life was the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where the police beat people in the streets outside the convention. The police in those days were restrained and professional compared to today’s militarized sociopaths in blue preying on the innocent in all parts of America. As bad as the Chicago police acted, we can all wish for those days of no SWAT teams and no army gear in domestic policing.

Have the police always abused their power? Yes, history teaches that the police have always been prone to abusing the general public. Of course they often pick on the poor and powerless the most as you would expect from sociopath bullies. The main issue to me is the fact that the police are to the state as the edge of the blade is to the knife. The police are the violence that the state intimidates you with.

Some libertarians and “small government” conservatives believe in “minarchism” and claim that the police are needed to “keep the peace” in society. These people have drunk the poison that is the state and let the demon in the door by supporting the violent arm of the state. There is no reason to expect that the police and the “justice” system will ultimately be anything other than a police state. We can find no historical examples of any state that did not ultimately abuse its citizens: at least those seen as “undesirable”. The Germans called them untermensch. Every society has their “subhumans” who are brutalized, and the brutality will spread over time to more and more of the population.

What to do? Murray Rothbard believed that ultimately the answer was no state and no state enforcers. The society would govern itself via mutual, voluntary cooperation. But what about protection you ask? I could point out that you are getting precious little “protection” now. You are just lucky that one of the brutal goons has not noticed you yet.

If all property were really privately owned, then all of the problems of the state police become easily managed. The one who controls the property decides on who to hire to keep the peace on his property. For most it might be the agents of their insurance company and for commercial business it might be “rent-a-cops” hired on contract to provide a safe environment for the customers of the firm. These examples are just fast generalizations and entire books have been written on privatization of protection and law enforcement.

Police in a truly free-market would have a strong incentive to be courteous. They would have a strong incentive to refrain from the force and brutality that is an everyday part of the policing by minions of the state. The private police hired by owners of private property would have a strong incentive to please their clients, friends of their clients, and customers of their clients. A real free-market would reward the most efficient and courteous firms that provide safety and protection.

As I have written before, the police of the state are never your friend. Any “service” they provide you is just happenstance. (or you pay them extra for it) But the real message in all this is that it is the state itself that must go so that mankind can learn to live in peace and to prosper by mutual, voluntary cooperation.

 

 

How to advance the cause of liberty

“Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life.”
― Bob Marley

We are coming up on another election cycle. This one will be the first one in a while that does not have Ron Paul somehow involved in a race someplace. Ron Paul had an ideology and message the last time he ran for the nomination for president that many young people found very attractive. Ron Paul seemed to tap into some sort of energy source when he ran, but he is now out of the running and I don’t see anyone on the horizon that comes close to supporting the ideas of the Classical Liberals as Dr. Paul did.

As I write this, millions of people throughout the world are in opposition to the dehumanizing, oppressive, violent, and destructive essence of the governmental systems we see around the world. The fascist corporate-state systems that are exploiting human beings for ends that serve the overlords are causing an awakening among the downtrodden — especially the young. Peace and liberty is the natural state of affairs that mankind aspires to. Private property ownership and respect for the inviolability of the individual are qualities that people around the world are coming to demand out of their existence.

Those of us who are drawn to the ideas of libertarianism or anarchism are in agreement that we don’t know exactly how things would work in a free world. We have some ideas and can make some educated guesses, but free men and women will remake the world in ways that I can hardly image. When someone asks “who will build the roads” I always like to answer that I don’t know exactly but at least the State will not be killing you or other innocent people and that seems far more important to me.

As we move forward from this point in time, we have an opportunity to show others that the state does not work for the masses but rather against the masses. The news reports from all over the world show us governments brutalizing, impoverishing and enslaving their own populations. At the same time, we see alternative schools, private roads, private security firms, and other examples of the market providing non-state solutions that are far better than the coersive brutality of the state.

I think that the best way to promote liberty is by your own personal behavior. Be the free man your philosophy calls for and let that encourage others to live the libertarian philosophy. Now I realize that the state keeps us enslaved, but I am referring to living as close to the non-aggression principle as current conditions allow. Always look to individuals for solutions and not the state. Don’t think that we will ever be able to free mankind from politics by using politics — you just can’t use evil means to accomplish good ends.

There are all kinds of approaches people might take to further liberty.  We can use peaceful demonstrations against the brutality of the state. We could run for public office like Ron Paul did and use that campaign as a platform to spread the ideas of peace and liberty. Some will try writing op-eds or blog posts. Others might write books. Whatever people try, we should support those efforts that are consistent with furthering the cause of liberty. I feel that as long as efforts are consistent with the N.A.P. then we should be supportive rather than critical. I am of the view that running for political office is counter-productive but I did applaud Ron Paul in his runs for president due to the message he was spreading via his campaign. He succeeded in raising the conscious awareness of millions of people so that they began to see the state for the vicious racket that it is and that was well worth the whole effort. But even so, I warn those who think electoral politics can aid us to not be fooled by the many candidates that will talk “libertarian” to get your vote. Ronald Reagan talked “get the government off your back” a lot, but in the end he built up the power and brutality of the government with every move he made.

As we think about advancing libertarian principles, let us remember that the statists are easy targets since the statists must defend the horrific track record of the states around the world. We have generations of evidence that statist programs grounded in socialistic central planning lead to poverty, brutality, misery, and are utter failures from the perspective of the common man. Even regulatory systems can now be understood to be nothing more than a cover for industry-desired cartelism and corporate welfare. The failure of keeping the state from controlling the economy has led to bankruptcy of entire civilizations. The state is the civilization killer while the free individual working with others in mutual, voluntary cooperation is the civilization builder.

The state leads to a deeper bankruptcy than just in material terms. The state leads to moral bankruptcy as well. Those who use the power of the state to aggress against innocent people are damned by their actions and can not possibly be moral human beings. All the minions of the state are party to the wars, brutal police-state practices, torture, spying, and all the rest. The state is an institutional order that has no moral foundations at all — it is built upon raw aggression. The state will always treat its human subjects as mere assets to be exploited on behalf of the purposes of the state itself.

We must do what we can do to further liberty and freedom, and we must encourage others who are doing likewise. As another election cycle approaches remember that voting for “a good candidate” is not the answer. The problem of politics will not be cured via politics.

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So What is Aggression anyway?

At the heart of true libertarianism is the non-aggression principle. Throughout the ages mankind has expressed understanding of the idea that we should “live and let live” to the extent that we can do so. Around 300 BC Epicurus told us that “natural justice is a symbol or expression of usefulness, to prevent one person from harming or being harmed by another.”

“No one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.” ~Murray N, Rothbard

Walter Block once said that the difference between libertarians and most people who give lip service to the non-aggression axiom is that libertarians really mean it.  We’re rabid about it and we make deductions from it. The way to be successful in analyzing a given situation, from a Libertarian perspective, is to keep your eye on the non-aggression axiom; never violate it no matter what. Of course, hand in hand with the non-aggression principle is the idea of property rights. One may not legitimately aggress against an innocent man nor his rightfully owned property. This solid core of libertarianism, the non-aggression principle, is in many respects a kind of political corollary to the Golden Rule.

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On Twitter the other day some friends were talking about the non-aggression principle and the question of “what is aggression” came up. After all, it is all well and fine to be against aggression but to be against aggression means you have to know what aggression is in the first place. No?

So what is “aggression”? Aggression is the initiation of violence or the threatening of violence against a person or his legitimately owned property. Specifically, any unsolicited actions of other people that physically affect an individual’s property or person. This includes force, fraud, and intimidation. It does not matter if the result of these actions is damaging to the individual or not, it is still considered aggression when the actions are against the owner’s free will and interfere with his right to self-determination and the principle of self-ownership or violate his property rights. Aggression is harmful behavior that is forceful, hostile, or attacking. I reject the definition used (often in the social sciences) that aggression is a response by an individual that delivers something unpleasant to another person. After all,  telling another person the truth is often unpleasant to them but that does not make it aggression! Leave it to the social sciences to undermine the clear meaning of a word.

It is easy to see that if I hold you up with a gun and take all your money that I have committed aggression against you. It is likewise easy to see that if I swindle you out of your money via subterfuge that I have committed aggression against you. Similarly, it is easy to see that if I deface your house in an act of vandalism that I have also committed aggression against your property rights. But what about verbal aggression? The Twitter conversation had Ken tweet that “I don’t mean simply verbal threats because that is obvious, I mean all forms of verbal aggression.” So what is “verbal aggression”?

It is difficult to nail down “verbal aggression” if we use the phrase in the modern usage of the “everyone is a victim” mindset of modern America. For the purposes of the non-aggression principle and libertarian law one must hold that any threat must be a credible one. If I say to you that I am going to blow you up with a bazooka as I stand in front of you unarmed, I have just made a non-credible threat. In terms of libertarian law I have not committed an actionable crime, but I certainly have disturbed the peace and tranquility! On the other hand, if I point a pistol at you I have committed an act of aggression without even saying a word!

One thing aggression is not is when I simply tell you my opinion. If I say that the new hair color you had done at the hair dresser today is not very faltering, or that it is downright horrible, I have not committed aggression. If I tell you that you are a damn idiot, I have not committed aggression. It is not true that every mean utterance by someone is aggression. Don’t get me wrong, I think that being mean is immoral and we should teach our young to be nice to people, but in terms of the Non-Aggression Principle we don’t include statements that are simply mean things to say. If we did we would have to round up everyone in all the middle schools at jail them! Let us keep our eye on the ball and remember that  any unsolicited actions of other people that physically effects an individual’s property or person is aggression, and not if that other person says we are a “poopy-head”. (a major insult in the kid world I understand)

Even though one can say mean things without violating the non-aggression principle let us not forget that intimidation is a violation. Intimidation is intentional behavior, physical or verbal, that would cause a normal, reasonable person to fear of injury or harm. I suspect that there are many different opinions of what constitutes intimidation and that will continue to cause some controversy — especially when children and parents are involved. I can only offer the observation that some children love to play the victim so be careful before you believe that every mean comment made to your child is “intimidation”.

As I re-read the above I suspect that I will revisit this topic again when time allows me to post more in-depth on this topic. Perhaps this coming summer should I live that long and WordPress lets me keep publishing these random musings. The idea of that dividing line between verbal intimidation and just being mean is one place that aggression becomes a little fuzzy. Thanks to Ken for bringing up the topic.