Liberty and Society – a Reply to Ben Lewis
By Duncan Whitmore
In a recent post on this blog, the present writer offered an explanation as to why the intellectual accomplishments of Austro-libertarians have been disproportionate to their relatively meagre success in effecting real world change. We concluded that the attempt to merely spread ideas of the justice of non-aggression and the truth of “Austrian” economics is, in spite of its importance, not enough. Libertarians must also learn how to mould these ideas so that they speak to people’s aspirations within the prevailing conditions in which they live.
In a short post on the blog of Bastion Magazine – a relatively new publication which shares similar intellectual and political priorities to those of Mises UK – Ben Lewis has chimed in with something similar, addressing what he calls “the inconsistency of libertarian consistency” – that while conservatives, according to him, concede that libertarianism is a more logically consistent philosophy, this feature does not necessarily make the latter a superior system of thought should it be also inconsistent with “the real life nature of man and society”. These sentiments are in the same vain as three of his earlier blog posts where he discusses voluntary social relations, social duties and his reasons for being a conservative.1
To be fair to Lewis, not every view examined in this essay is necessarily one that he has stated explicitly and it would be wrong to ascribe to him a belief in every matter that is subjected to criticism. However, in the interests of thoroughness, we will examine not only what Lewis has actually said but also that which could be reasonably interpreted or inferred from what he has said.
…and What it Must Do
By Duncan Whitmore
Anyone who has taken the time to study in depth the wealth of scholarly literature of Austro-libertarianism cannot help but be enthralled by the intellectual treasures provided by our school of thought. Not only have we uncovered a body of knowledge which – especially in comparison to mainstream social science – is rigorous, scientific, coherent and interdisciplinary, but, as the true successors of classical liberalism, we have an inspiring vision of the future that can sweep away war, conflict, strife and poverty while propelling the human race to unheard of heights of peace and prosperity. Indeed, for many of us Austro-libertarianism has been the most joyous and rewarding discovery of our lives, providing a sheltered harbour in a world which would otherwise leave us adrift in a sea of chaos.
Unfortunately, we are forced to admit that the intellectual accomplishments of Austro-libertarians are disproportionate to our achievements in effecting real world change which, by comparison, are almost miniscule. Although most forms of direct socialism have been discredited by the disaster that was the Soviet Union, we are today living in a world of unprecedented state power which the majority of the population, buoyed by a sense of control instilled by their occasional visits to the ballot box, views as entirely legitimate. It is bad enough that the modern nation state has accreted to itself power and functions that ancient kings and emperors could only dream of; but we are confronted also by a pervasive attitude that any difficulty, problem, error, injustice or whatever that life may choose to throw at us – including our own personal foibles and failings – is always the state’s responsibility to solve. The problems of paper money, the welfare state, boom and bust, public “education”, crippling regulation, disastrous overseas wars and all of the other ills bred by the state are not going to be vanquished when the majority of the public regards this institution as the magic carpet that will whisk us all away to the land of milk and honey. Read more
Why Libertarians Should Read Mises
By Duncan Whitmore
There is little need to point out to members of the forum bearing his name that Ludwig von Mises was one of the most passionate and influential defenders of the free market in intellectual history – the lynchpin of a tradition running from Carl Menger in the late nineteenth century to the active members of the flourishing “Austrian” school today. Many libertarians – including the present author – first found their enthusiasm for the philosophy through contact with Mises’ work and, in spite of the undeniably titanic influence of other great men in the field (such as Murray N Rothbard), it is Mises who remains the primary inspiration of many an intellectual career within Austro-libertarianism.
Mises made relatively few pronouncements that were concerned specifically with ethics, his intellectual endeavours being focussed mainly on developing and expounding economic theory and epistemology. It is true that he regarded this theory as the basis for an unflinching advocacy of what could then be called liberalism – an aspect we will explore in detail. However, he did so on the basis that, in general, “people prefer life to death, health to sickness, nourishment to starvation, abundance to poverty” and that praxeology and economics “teaches man how to act in accordance with these [presupposed] valuations”.1
Many libertarians share this attitude and believe that the enormous increase in the standard of living that would be afforded by the free market provides its strongest justification. Indeed, it would be futile for any strategy for achieving a libertarian world to omit this powerful argument – particularly when it becomes clear that the established elite are using the existing corp-tocracy to enrich only themselves, causing the siren song of socialist alternatives to grow dangerously louder. Read more
Capitalism and Equality
By Duncan Whitmore
In several recent posts and a podcast on this blog1, Rev. Rory McClure has provided some robust and insightful assaults on the leftist quest for equality. For too long it has been widely believed in mainstream circles that equality between human beings, in one form or another, is some kind of virtue to which society ought to aspire and that rank inequality is a measure of severe injustice that needs to be corrected by state action. Even though the worst excesses of inequality – such as the rising value of assets owned by the rich as a result of worldwide money printing – are, in fact, products of a state corporatist system, the perception that some people will be wealthier than others in a free market continues to provide an almost instinctive impetus towards some kind of socialism and re-distributionism. Rev. McClure has performed an important service by not only demolishing the view that inequality is a handicap for lovers of liberty but, above and beyond that, by demonstrating how inequality is, in fact, something to be embraced and cherished.
To add to Rev. McClure’s important arguments this essay will first subject the aspiration towards some kind of perfect or immediate equality – i.e. the forced attempt to render all people absolutely equal now with today’s stock of wealth and resources – to a specifically praxeological critique. However, we will also demonstrate that even if someone desires a more approximate or gradual achievement of equality – such as the so-called “equality of opportunity” – it is, in fact, statism, socialism and any kind of redistributionism that should be abandoned while, instead, those who seek to create such equality should embrace a social order that maximises the production of wealth. That social order is, of course, free market capitalism. Thus it will be shown that, even on their own terms, advocates for greater equality should be free marketers. Read more
(Author’s Note: Tom Rogers recently made a comment, on a thread about the forthcoming UK election, asking for “plausible and realistic ideas that can be put into action and that will appeal to ordinary working people.” Despite my strong aversion to politics as it exists today, and to politicians of all stripes and all parties, I thought it might be good to set down my best stab at exactly that. Hence this draft outline of a “party manifesto,” intended to spark thought and discussion.
I thought of several possible names for the party – the Good People’s Party, the Sanity Party, the Peace and Justice Party, perhaps even the Zero Agenda Party. But I eventually settled on the “Live and Let Live Party.”)
Today, I’m going to look at tolerance, particularly in the spheres of religion and politics. And I’m going to conclude that a world based on political and religious tolerance would be a far better place to live than today’s world of out of date, failing states and superstates.
This essay arose out of three recent posts at the Libertarian Alliance blog, all on or related to the subject of religious tolerance; by Keir Martland, Stephen Moriarty and Sean Gabb. For which, I thank all three; though I’m not replying specifically to any one of them. Read more
I’ve just returned home from a journey. It was one of the best journeys of my life. Planes, trains and automobiles carried me to the end of Europe; and back. Except for the last mile. But that’s a story in itself.