Why we are Where we Are – Part Two
By Duncan Whitmore
In Part One of this two-part series of essays we explained how events in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries shifted Western society from a preponderance of the “economic means” to the “political means” characterised by a transition away from the tendencies on the right hand side of the following table to those on the left hand side:
In this essay, we will explore the moral and cultural gulfs that are now swallowing Western society (addressing the puzzling question of why the right has been so defenceless against it), before examining how Western liberal democratic polity over the past thirty years has produced the situation in which we find ourselves today. Read more
Why we are Where we are – Part One
By Duncan Whitmore
Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have once said that “the facts of life are conservative”. An equivalent for libertarians is “the facts of life are Austrian”. We may well dispute the justice, inevitability or even desirability of the libertarian ethic of non-aggression, but one cannot escape the fact that the corpus of economic law, derived from the self-evident proposition that individuals act, is undeniably true. So however much you may yearn for some form of centralised economic planning or state management to abolish all “exploitation” before building castles in the land of milk and honey, this economic law cannot be defied for ever and, eventually, reality must come back to bite you on the arse. Amongst the myopia of COVID-19 and the furore of the culture war, a broader perspective of the era we are living through – and probably have been living through since 2008 at the latest – will reveal a culminating fight between a massive reassertion of economic law on the one hand and increasing attempts to continue the defiance on the other.
This essay, the first of two parts, will explore the paths that have been taken prior to our arrival at the political, economic and social situation in which we find ourselves in the early twenty-first century. In Part Two we will look specifically at the ongoing culture war before examining the consequences of all of these dynamics. From this, readers may be able to see how year’s this calamities – barely imaginable just six or seven months ago – have resulted from the choices that have been made in the past. Read more
Liberty and the Swedish Example
By Duncan Whitmore
“Many are irresistibly attracted to liberty as an intellectual system or as an aesthetic goal, but liberty remains for them a purely intellectual parlor game, totally divorced from what they consider the ‘real’ activities of their daily lives. Others are motivated to remain libertarians solely from their anticipation of their own personal financial profit […] The consequence of the narrow and myopic vision of both the gamester and the would-be profit maker is that neither group has the slightest interest in the work of building a libertarian movement. And yet it is only through building such a movement that liberty may ultimately be achieved.”
– Murray N Rothbard1
In the five decades or so since these words were written, we have been able to come to a more precise conception of what the “libertarian movement” should be and what it should do. As we have explained before, efforts to bring about a world in which a greater degree of freedom prevails are unlikely to be successful if we rely solely on the promotion of abstract concepts (such as “non-aggression”) – indeed, it is difficult to think of a more insipid rallying cry than “leave people alone”. Although there are particular moral propositions and personal qualities that are likely requirements for the sustenance of any free society, freedom is synonymous with self-determination – that different individuals, families, communities and nations will pursue their own goals based upon their own values. It is these varying pursuits themselves (embedded in the culture, custom and traditions of differing peoples throughout the world) which are likely to be the motivating factor, with liberty being the vehicle for their achievement rather than the end itself. Indeed, when we look to the inspirations that motivated some of the greatest authors, poets, artists and composers, they often chose to capture the essence of their homelands in their works: the “Sceptred Isle” speech of John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II; Blake’s Jerusalem; Monet’s Sunrise; Smetana’s Má Vlast; Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony, to name but a few. In contrast, we might be waiting a very long time for “A Non-Aggression Symphony” or the “Ballad of Private Property”. Or, to give a sporting metaphor, we can look upon liberty as the pitch, but not the game. The turf needs to be laid and the grass watered and mown, but the motivation to do these things is the thrill of the match that will be played. Read more
Matthieu Creson on Globalisation: A Comment
By Duncan Whitmore
In a recent essay posted on this blog, Matthieu Creson decried the apparent retreat from globalisation in the wake of COVID-19 and “the withdrawal of countries into themselves”, risking the loss of “what has been for more than half a century one of the main growth drivers” in rich countries and poor countries alike. While Creson is right to be concerned by the possible return of protectionism and economic isolationism, his monolithic conception of globalisation is unlikely to prove helpful when defending its beneficial elements.
Creson is more than keen to explain to us what these beneficial elements of globalisation are:
Extreme poverty affected more than a third of the world’s population in 1990; today it only concerns 10% of this same population, even though the world has seen in the meantime an increase in population of 2 billion human beings. What is more, there has been a drop in infant mortality of more than 50% […] Every day, and in spite of the increase in world population, 140,000 people are able to escape from extreme poverty.
He does not, however, detail specifically the precise qualities of globalisation that produce these marvellous results. Quite a few times, Creson complains that problems caused by the state and statism, such as environmental disasters, are blamed for being “intrinsically linked to globalized capitalism alone”, and that “whenever a world crisis breaks out, they always blame it on globalized liberal capitalism, which they see as moribund”:
Globalization has always functioned as a convenient scapegoat, which saves us from having to acknowledge the (often statist) origins of the evils for which we make globalization unduly responsible.
But he offers no reason as to why academics, pundits and commentators are seemingly able to get away with this blame game so easily when, as he rightly recognises, it is usually states that cause these problems whereas the kinds of economic progress brought about by globalisation can and should ameliorate them. Read more
Note: As COVID-19 and the ongoing culture war are likely to be saturating our thoughts at the moment, this somewhat lengthy essay may provide a refreshing opportunity to delve into some libertarian theory concerning the defence of one’s home or business premises from trespassers. Self-defence generally is relatively neglected in libertarian theory compared to theories of private policing and court systems. Nevertheless, if political division continues to translate into increasing violence and civil unrest, then the greater clarity on this topic that the essay below seeks to achieve may not be entirely irrelevant to our current problems.
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In Defence of Booby Traps
By Duncan Whitmore
Recently, Walter Block began a short thread on the LRC blog concerning the libertarian position on setting booby traps for the purpose of defending private property from trespassers. The discussion by no means exhausted all of the considerations involved in this topic, but a longer treatment may help to clarify some of the principles concerning self-defence in a libertarian legal order.
Every person in a free society is permitted to use defensive force against invasions of their person or property. Booby trapping does not question the principle of self-defence per se; rather, the difficulty is with whether this particular mode of protection may be considered defensive at all or whether the trap constitutes, in and of itself, an aggressive act in the event that it is sprung. Read more
The Left’s Exploitation of Race
By Duncan Whitmore
Nearly two years ago, the present writer published on this blog an essay concerning how gullible leftists are whipped up into frenzies of hysteria for the purposes of fulfilling a political agenda often only loosely connected to the problems of which they complain. An example we gave was the leftist outrage at Donald Trump’s supposed racism and misogyny, allegations which are raised solely because of the wider threat that Trump poses to the mantra of globalisation and a US hegemonic world. Absent that threat, none of the 45th President’s alleged affronts against women and other races would have seen the light of day. Fast forward to today and the protests, riots, and looting following the killing, by a Minnesota policeman, of a black man whom he was apprehending, have demonstrated this useful idiocy – fuelled also, no doubt, by the economic frustrations of younger, university educated middle classes whom the COVID lockdowns may have driven over the edge – to an even wider extent.
Regardless of the specific images of rioting and violence with which we were greeted last weekend, it is probably the case that the vast majority of those who took part in the protesting feel that they care, quite genuinely, for what they perceive to be the plight of African-Americans. It is typical for libertarians, and the right genuinely, to paint all leftists as dyed-in-the wool Marxists hell-bent on destroying Western civilisation, but we should remember that many of them are themselves victims of years of indoctrination by their schools, universities and mainstream media which presented them with a wall of unbridled, hegemonic leftism. Indeed, we have to hope that they are not all committed fanatics immune to reasoned rebuttals of the leftist monologue, for if they are then our cause may well be lost. A handful of personal acquaintances of mine who drift around the left but who have, other than minor mutterings about Brexit and Boris, scarcely uttered a political statement in their lives, have, within the last few weeks, unloaded a deluge of social media condemnation of police brutality and decrying “institutional racism”, all with the “#blacklivesmatter” hashtag. A few even donned placards and took part in the protesting. True enough, most will be content to merely virtue signal rather than do anything that actually makes a real difference, and most have already reverted to posting “selfies” and worrying about the fact they cannot get a haircut during the COVID-19 lockdown. But they are not fundamentally bad people. Read more
Viruses and Property Rights
By Duncan Whitmore
In recent post on the LRC blog, Michael S Rozeff has attempted to demonstrate that pro-freedom arguments made in terms of self-ownership, private property, or the non-aggression principle are ill-equipped to handle a problem such as a contagious virus. It is not entirely clear whether Rozeff is arguing that “property rights solutions” are inherently unable to address such matters, and/or whether they are merely unpersuasive compared to other arguments that libertarians have at their disposal (such as utilitarian arguments). Either way, however, much of what Rozeff says is severely wanting.
Libertarians who attempt to apply 100% body ownership to every situation run into insoluble problems. They frequently try to solve them by deciding what is aggression and what is not, or equivalently who has rights or not, or equivalently whose 100% body property rights are being violated. Sometimes the suggested solutions involve odd behavior that looks immoral, and the confusing and arguable rejoinder is that body ownership theory is a theory of rights, not morality.
In the first place, it is misleading to characterise the libertarian position as one of “100% body ownership” for it conveys the impression that anyone should be able, quite literally, to do whatever they like with their bodies. The correct position is that you should be able to do what you want with your body provided that it does not physically interfere with the body or property of another person without that person’s consent. Rozeff, both here and later, seems to ignore this basic but important qualification. Read more