Liberty and Truth – Why Statists should Bear the Burden of Proof
By Duncan Whitmore
During the admittedly few years in which I have been writing on Austro-libertarian topics, one matter on which I have not put pen to paper is the justification for liberty as a fundamental political principle. I have spent much time pointing out the effects and implications of liberty (and of alternative orders) on a wide range of issues from free trade to sound money, from law to culture, and from immigration to the NHS; for many readers, these will, I hope, be persuasive. But what is the one, big reason that elevates liberty head and shoulders above all forms of statism and socialism as the just cause towards which we should strive? Which argument would blow out of the water any attempt to establish tyranny and despotism? Why have I never attempted anything of this magnitude?
One reason for this apparent omission is that I am yet to think of something that I could say on the topic that has not been said elsewhere, and better. Rather than wasting the reader’s time by repeating what has been written before, I prefer to confine my own writing to matters on which I feel as though I am making at least some kind of new contribution, however small.
To be frank, though, the overriding reason derives from an intuitive sense of repulsion triggered by interfering do-gooders and busybodies: that is, if I am getting on with my life peacefully and quietly, my instinctive reaction to the appearance of some prying meddler is that he should mind his own business. Moreover, I do not see this as a one sided obligation: I am quite willing to return the favour by minding my own business when it comes to the affairs of other people. In fact, I couldn’t care less about what other people are doing with their own lives so long as it isn’t bothering me. Such an instinctive “live and let live” attitude is, no doubt, the initial impetus that drives most libertarians towards the philosophy of liberty.
Statism: Conspiracy or Incompetence?
By Duncan Whitmore
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
– Hanlon’s Razor
In some recent essays examining the factors that have brought us to the political, social and economic conditions in which we find ourselves in 2020, we mentioned briefly the role of conspiracies, concluding that it is not necessary to speculate upon their existence in order to explain our current situation. This essay will not examine the phenomenon of conspiracy theories in great detail. Instead, we will look specifically at whether the possible existence of a conspiracy among the global “elite” that aims to reduce the entire human population to enslavement offers a convincing explanation for major societal changes that tend towards a crushing of freedom.
The common theme of conspiracy theories is that certain key events are planned, directed or orchestrated deliberately by establishment figures in order to achieve a specific, underhand purpose while being passed off either as mere accidents or as the responsibility of other parties. Thus, it is essentially a form of historical revisionism that is antagonistic to those who have an interest in maintaining conventional historical understanding, and so the latter normally deploy the term “conspiracy theory” as a slur so as to dismiss any explanation of an event that differs from that of the official, approved narrative. Indeed, following the enormous increase in state power as a result of government responses to COVID-19, the term has been used to pigeon-hole opponents of “lockdown” measures, particularly after popular protests which were attended by well known conspiracy theorists such as Piers Corbyn and David Icke. Generally, however, such opposition is now being voiced in mainstream terms by those whose credentials make them more difficult to ignore, and so the “conspiracy” element has not received a great deal of attention. No Austro-libertarian can doubt, though, that the power of the state has increased many times over throughout the past century or so, often in response to specific events. It is, therefore, important for us to diagnose correctly the causes of this seemingly unstoppable trend if we are to have any hope of reversing it.
In spite of the fact that it is an unhelpfully pejorative label with a tendency to capture both the serious and the spurious within its ambit, we will continue to use the term “conspiracy theory” to denote revisionist theories which, unlike some proven or persuasive theories, have failed to gain acceptance as accurate historical explanations. Continue reading
Why Libertarians Should Read Mises
By Duncan Whitmore
In Part One of this series of three essays exploring the significance of Ludwig von Mises for libertarian thought, we examined the specific place that Mises holds in our tradition, and outlined the unique sophistication of his utilitarian theory in favour of freedom compared to that of other theories that can be grouped into this bracket.
In this part we will turn our attention to a detailed analysis of the action axiom – the keystone of Misesian economic theory – and its implications for concepts that we readily encounter in libertarianism.
Somewhat ironically, it was largely as a result of his influence that the wertfreiheit of Mises’ praxeology was regarded as a separate discipline from the search for an ultimate, ethical justification of liberty – a belief that was sustained by Murray N Rothbard.1 In more recent years, Hans-Hermann Hoppe has probably come closest to providing a link between the two through his derivation of “argumentation ethics” within the praxeological framework, and his identification of the pervasive problem of scarcity – a key praxeological concept – as underpinning any system of ethics.
Nevertheless, one may conclude that a full reconciliation, or synthesis, between the two is still wanting and that there remain other important commonalities to which this essay will seek to provide an introduction. Some of what we will learn below will have implications for a general understanding of right, and that the truths we reveal are inescapable for any political philosophy. Others will be specifically pertinent to libertarianism and will provide us with insights as to how we can further the libertarian goal. Continue reading
Matthew John Hayden
Value is the sentiment we place upon the utility we will or will not gain by achieving certain possible states, such as cuddling with a lover, having a long soak in a hot bath, taking a walk, playing a video-game, or the act of wandering from shop to shop buying things as retail therapy. This makes value bigger than utility, though it includes utility. Utility is actual satisfaction arising from the change of state from less satisfying to more satisfying that we achieve by acting. It is entirely a mental phenomenon. It exists only in the mind and thus is subjective to the individual. If this seems offensive to any Marxist or other objective value theory advocates, sorry, but reality dictates that value is subjective. It’s over.
Matthew John Hayden
An Austrian method can show us the nature of our madness. We act to transfer from a present, less satisfying state to a future, more satisfying state. We do so continually, because no sooner have we arrived at one satisfaction we realise there is more to do. And that holds true until death, for better or worse. This has all been established already, so now it’s time to attempt to understand how humans respond to scarcity, being as that is one of the two conditions placing constant and variable limitations upon what can be enjoyed or achieved at any given time and place during our finite lives. This formless all-thing called scarcity is what makes us economise and so is the basis of economics itself. Scarcity is defined economically as the condition in which each use of a resource has the effect of impairing subsequent uses of that resource in some way. Continue reading
Matthew John Hayden
Economics rather sucks. Not because of some deficiency of the impulse to understand human action, but rather because the vast majority of economists have little time for any real human actions at all amidst their vast anonymous modelling of group behaviours without reference to the actual people in those herds. This might be why the economics establishment stared at their feet when the Queen asked them why they didn’t see the late crisis and recession coming. As to the great work at hand, and the struggle it represents, it behoves one to remember the basis for our worldview, to remember that it is something that has been arrived at through philosophical rationalism, that is mental deduction. This makes us a tribe of rationalists rather than empiricists. The positivism of the economic mainstream and of Post-Keynesianism can seem very scientific – it is the method of natural science after all – but for social science it is utterly inadequate for one simple reason. It hasn’t proved or disproved anything. Verification and falsification are not enough when there is no laboratory in which to repeat experiments. We will have to turn elsewhere. Continue reading