Libertarianism, Natural Order, Property and Law
David Davis (the text comprises comments by Ian B lifted from thread on this line.)
I think the visual presentation needs a bit of work… (Ian was referring to the first LA “Question Time” here.)
Just as I am listening, I have paused the playback to type this, we start with John Kersey offering that libertarianism and conservatism are not ideologies, but socialism is. Instead he offers that the first two in some way reflect a natural order. I find this problematic.
Everyone tends to think, or likes to think, that their own preferences and beliefs are natural ones; just “plain common sense”. Socialists believe this too, as do progressives. The natural feeling is that when confronted with something else, that the other thing is artificial, a corruption, distortion or perversion (or just plain barmy) so that in promoting one’s own values one is not simply another competitor, but rather one is “revealing the truth” or “revealing that which lies beneath”- i.e. the natural order.
For instance, many socialists- going back to old beardies like Keir Hardie- have opined not unreasonably that property ownership is an invention and not part of the natural order. They too see (and saw) their socialist project as returning man to a more natural state- perhaps most overtly today we see this with the Green Left – stripping away the artifice of modernity.
I really don’t think this will do. The basic human “evolved” lifestyle is to live in a small tribal band, have a collective territory and a few scraps of personal property; resolve disputes by direct and frequently fatal violence; marry most girls to the tribe’s alpha males right after puberty; consider anyone outside the tribe to be not really human and an entirely valid target for plunder, murder and rapine; subscribe to a suite of taboos which we would consider as bizarre as they would consider ours; and worship the spirit force of your dead ancestors with ritual and sacrifice.
Beyond that, nothing is the natural order; and abolishing, with enormous effort, most of that natural order has been the great triumph of the West.
Perhaps the closest thing to “no ideology” would be some kind of atheist liberal – by a liberal I sort of mean somebody who believes in largely keeping oneself to oneself without the dizzying ideological edifices of theory that comprise most of intellectual libertarianism, such as “natural rights” structures, anarcho-capitalist-whatever, anarchism, and so forth.
But really any of us interested in this beyond the idle nose-picking level is an ideologist, and we should be at least honest about that. I’d also add that as a libertarian (or nose-picking liberal) who is not a conservative, from my perspective, much of what conservatives take for granted as everyday and natural, I often see as very strongly ideological motives and policies, even if they are somewhat tempered by the hope that they can be achieved in civil society rather than via the State. Whether or not going to church or no sex before marriage (for instance) are good ideas, they are very clearly ideas which are not spontaneous or part of the “natural order”, but rather part of a deliberate considered rule system.
And I’m only four minutes in, haha! (Ian carries on…)
Okay, property rights. I think the answers here are poor. They are the kind that are convincing to people who are already libertarians (at least at the anarchist end) but not to non-libertarians. The problem which is not addressed here- and is frequently handwaved- is how you definitively decide who owns what.
States for most of their history have primarily been property referees and defence (war) agencies. Other functions have accrued later. The State, as it stands, has hegemonic violence. This means that in a dispute over whether party A or Party B owns the stream between their properties, the courts can impose a ruling with the threat of absolute violence to enforce it. What is more, and more important, the State stands as a final arbiter who actually owns the stream. The most fundamental requirement of a property rights system is that there is a single, universal register of land applied to everyone, whether they like it or not; because you cannot have an ongoing situation in which Party A thinks he owns the land (on his registry) and Party B thinks he does (on his registry). If we look at situations without a hegemonic authority, between nations (the nation state system is anarchist, in case nobody has noticed), disagreements are frequent and usually resolved ultimately with bloodshed, often a great deal of it. Millions of men have died fighting over who owns often trivial scraps of land. To use the most recent European example, when Hitler decided to move the border between himself and the Soviet Union – and there was no greater hegemonic violence power to dissuade him – the bloodshed was monumental.
Anarchists do not seem to grasp this, with both land and law. If a rule applies to two parties, it has to be obligatory on both parties. You cannot have two competing land registries. Neither can you have two competing legal codes. In both cases, the best way to put this is that when Party A purchases a land registry, or law he does not wish it to apply to himself, but to everybody else. If I join an agency under whose product punching in the face is illegal, it is so that other people will be punished if they punch me in the face, not to stop me punching myself in the face. Likewise, I want my border defined in order to stop other people crossing it, and I don’t give a tinker’s cuss whether they say they have a different land register that says it’s theirs.
You do need a higher power with geographic monopoly. There really isn’t any way around this. If you entirely abolish the State, who is it? Who now has the hegemonic land registry, and the hegemonic legal code that says punching me in the face is a criminal offence? I’ve never seen a good answer to this (they tend to waffle off into an imaginary infinite regress of courts of arbitration) and I don’t think there is one.