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Monday, May 04, 2009

The Church of Property

These thoughts are a culmination of a process that began months ago when I started examining the libertarian street’s position on various issues. The most notable of those examinations was looking at the relationship of libertarianism and social conservatism: a topic that this article will expand on.

Libertarianism is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Its ideas are starting to permeate into the mainstream. Which is good. What is not good, is the flag-bearers of libertarianism. That is, its opinion leaders and the nature of the movement.


I believe in property rights. They are to me -- like most libertarians -- an extremely important facet of my philosophy. But unlike most libertarians, my faith in property as the solution to all social discord is, well, less than firm.

From the Libertarian Church of Property (LCP), comes the notion of private authority; a curious beast that serves as the basis for the libertarian alignment with social conservatism. 

I say it’s a curious beast, because private authority seems to imply a sort of trump card for justifying all sorts of unjustifiable things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  

I brought my wife to the Manning Centre Networking Conference where she engaged with a thoughtful libertarian, and asked about women’s rights in the context of a libertarian society; as someone who has felt victimized by sexism, the explanation emanating from the LCP was less than enduring for her. It went something like this: “if people unreasonably exclude a member of society simply on the basis of an immutable trait like gender or race, it will lead to a market opportunity that will be exploited by others.”

Now, I know that many libertarians honestly believe this -- in fact, I do to an extent. But I have yet to run into a single person who views themselves as an oppressed group that has done anything but laugh off this economic-technocratic response. And why wouldn’t they? It’s asking someone for patience where they have no reason to have any; I’m sorry you suffer from social exclusion for the colour of your skin, but my libertarian free market ideology will sort it out in the end!

This is essentially the argument libertarians make. That’s it. It’s all there. Move along. Nothing else to see here. You might as well say: suck it up and deal with it, dumb bitch! -- in the end, the response will be much the same. 

To make matters worse, socially liberal libertarians bend themselves into pretzels trying to find common ground with the exact people who are so threatening to people like my wife.

It makes my life quite hard, and has turned me into nothing more than an apologist for libertarianism. And it makes me ask, why should I be?

There are socially liberal libertarians here at the Western Standard who lean over backwards to welcome social conservatives into their movement by effectively saying: hey social conservative, be a libertarian, and you can have your own homophobic private community, where the gays will be cast out, banned from “private community” and demonized within the community and to its children and future generations. This is a the vision of the libertarian utopia according to some.

It’s perfectly understandable to me, why my wife will never truck with libertarianism as long as this is the line of reasoning, and it’s plainly clear to me that libertarianism is well on it’s way to becoming the de facto social conservative apologist movement with glaring mascots like Ron Paul.

I reject the definition of libertarianism that is compartmentalized to a political framework. I reject it because it’s an incomplete thought, that fails to account for the cultural forces that enable a political disposition in the first place. I reject the social conservative who calls themselves a libertarian while asserting that gays and lesbians are immoral human beings. Why? Because I reject the idea that any human being acting in their own self-interest, in a voluntary relationship, which harms no one, is an immoral act. 

Social conservative libertarians believe they can take that principle and then add a series of special pleadings that are only defensible insofar as some piece of religious scripture validates them.

Socially liberal libertarians on the other hand, also seem to place an irrationally low level of suspicion on the propensity of these social movements to seek political legitimacy in the long run. There’s absolutely no reason to believe they won’t. For this reason, there’s no reason to believe that liberty will be of any enduring quality in a movement that embraces abject bigotry -- or in the case of libertarians, turns a blind eye to it and places it in the capable hands of "market forces".

So I say this to you my social liberal libertarian socon apologizers: good luck with that. I’ll be busy over here promoting liberty through a humanist lens, so I can actually sleep at night and have a wife who can relate to me.

Posted by Mike Brock on May 4, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink


Mike, what is personal automony if not the authority to make decisions with respect to one's life and property?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-04 4:58:29 PM


That's fantastic, and I agree 100%. But what I accuse you and others of doing, is making the mistake that you can expect others to hold that same principle in kind.

The fact that you hold it as a matter of faith, that socially regressive movements will respect this principle indefinitely, and not seek political legitimacy is purely an article of faith. You can qualify it no other way.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 5:01:42 PM

Matthew, I'll do you one better:

Say I buy a plot of land--which is a philosophical problem in and of itself: who has the authority to sell land to begin with? the state?

Glazing over that dilemma which I assume will reduce itself to finders-keepers or something ridiculous, I'll continue...

So I buy 25 square km of land, and establish a private gated community.

I sell land to business entrepreneurs, families, and individuals. I essentially establish a privately-owned town. Except, I only allow in heterosexuals; people are screened about their sexual orientation at the gates. Those who profess to being homosexual are turned away.

I've had libertarians make the argument to me that this is acceptable. Except, of course, I ask, what the hell is the difference between that privately owned town and a publicly owned town? Any attempt to lay out the distinction philosophically falls flat on it's face. But I invite you to try.

The fact I've met socially liberal libertarians who view this arrangement as workable, is why I use the term: Church of Property.

What if a single person managed to buy up most of the property in Austria? Would it be okay then? When does it stop being okay? When does the distinction between private authority and public authority break down? When does a private authority become an de facto state that is functionally no different from the current political arrangement we find ourselves in to day--if not a worse arrangement?

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 5:06:47 PM

I hold nothing as a matter of faith, Mike. Like you, I want to create a culture in which people respect the autonomy of others.

The principle of non-agression toward non-agressors enforced by law will ensure that "socially regressive movements" can not infringe on any peaceful lifestyles.

You're looking for a fight, where there is no fight to be had, Mike.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-04 5:15:41 PM


I know you believe that. I'm not challenging it. But I gave you a concrete scenario by which to pose one (of my many) dilemmas I have with the notion of private authority.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 5:17:40 PM


You raise some good points. There is another I like to raise in this context:

Market forces can erode racism, but they can also foster it. The non-racist landlord who lives around racists may discriminate against blacks -- effectively acting like a racist in order to ensure that he can rent out all of his rooms. If blacks are few and far between, and renting a room to one means most of the others go empty, the rational landlord may very well set a policy of not renting to blacks.

To me, this smacks of an injustice that is worse in its own way than racial discrimination itself. Over the long run, perhaps market forces will favor the non-racist landlord. But that's one heck of an assumption.

It's been a while, but I remember reading about how in the past there was less racism than anyone thought in some places in the U.S. The problem was, each tolerant person thought he was the only one, and feared backlash from other whites if he revealed himself. That, too, is an example of market forces at work: if I perceive there is more demand for racists, then I'll pretend to be a racist (even though, deep down, I kind of think it is wrong.)

The market is great, but there is more to justice than efficiency.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-05-04 5:23:46 PM

Mike, private authority is intrinsic to self-ownership and autonomy. You don't really have a problem with private authority, you have a problem with the illiberal exercise of that authority.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-04 5:23:49 PM


You're not addressing the dilemma though. When does my theoretical, privately-owned town become a problem?

Let me further qualify it: everyone living in the town is voluntarily there, but they just don't let gays in. They're effectively an autonomous community. They are not engaging in any violence. Just systematic social exclusion behind the wall of private property.

If a gay child is born within the community, the property owners ask them to leave; they are cast out beyond the walls onto... public property.

If you're going to stand behind private authority/property, you either agree with this scenario, or you don't. Which is it?

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 5:27:47 PM


That's an excellent point, and yet another reason to question why libertarians want to ignore these questions.

The fact is that libertarians seem to want to leave these questions up to the market is enough for most people to cast aspersions over libertarianism as being effectively a political ideology that provides safe harbour for bigotry.

And let's be clear: most people on the left do think this, and it's why they'll never take a serious look at libertarianism. Also, it's why the gay and lesbian community will by and large not take a serious look at it either.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 5:43:40 PM

Let me also add to that, not only does the left have these suspicions, but socially liberal libertarians actually play into that perception.

Why? Because they button their nose when it comes to issues like homosexuality, for fear of "alienating" the social conservatives. And yes, some social lib libertarians here at the WS have admitted this to me in private conversation. You know who you are.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 5:46:22 PM

Mike, you and I have discussed at length the nature of the state, and we have also gone through many examples of private exclusion. Since we are not convincing each other of anything, or coming to any respectful understanding, I leave you to ably debate this matter with all comers.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-04 5:50:37 PM

Matthew and Mike:

Let me pose a question to you both that might help focus the discussion. Plus, I'm curious about what you'll both have to say.

Set up for question: Property rights might be thought of as a bundle of different rights, but surely the most important for the libertarian is the right to exclude. Prima facie, if I own X, then I can block anyone else from using X. If X is land, I can demand that others walk around rather than through it. If X is a pen, I can forbid other people from using it without my consent.

Now private authority, if it means anything, means having the right to exclude anyone and everyone. But it also means having the right to exclude whatever else is true. Thus, if X is a watering hole in the desert, one of many, and one day all the others dry up, this does not change my right to exclude others from drinking from my watering hole.

Nozick himself says some funny things about this right to exclude, and at times he suggests that in the scenario I just sketched, the right to exclude might contract a bit. One might be obligated to allow others to drink if you've got the only watering hole left.

But it's this unlimited, absolute right to exclude that seems to be the sticking point here. Some of us (I include Mike here, and he can exclude himself if he wants) think that the right to exclude others from your watering hole is a bit different from the right to exclude others from using your organs without your consent.

If I understand Matthew right, he sees no divide: to accept a right to exclude others from using your kidneys is to accept a right to exclude others from using your watering hole. Self-ownership is seamless, absolute, and it can be projected into external objects in some way, like a force field wrapped around one's body and one's stuff simultaneously.

Unfortunately, the force field metaphor is precisely what makes Mike's Australia example possible. Or suppose (to take an example from Eric Mack as I recall) I buy all the land around Sally's house, which - to take the metaphor - means now there is a moral force field around her house. But let's make it a literal bubble: I put up walls of plastic stretching into the sky, all around Sally's house.

Given the right to exclude, Sally is obligated not to try to break through those walls. It would be morally wrong for her to cross over my land in an attempt to get food or water.

But of course I haven't coerced Sally, haven't done anything unjust to her from a libertarian point of view. At the same time, my actions have effectively crippled her autonomy.

So the question: suppose we accept that there is no divide between self-ownership and stuff-ownership. It's one force field and it applies to both you and to the stuff you've labored on (or something like that.) This means that when Sally cuts through the plastic, she's done violence to you. This means -- I'm assuming -- that you would be fully justified in shooting her in the head as she tries to make her escape. After all, she just tried to break into your property with a blow torch!

Intuitively, was it permissible to shoot her?

Now assume that there is a divide between self-ownership and stuff-ownership, one that works out in this way: self-ownership is absolute. No one can use your kidneys without your consent. But stuff-ownership is not absolute. Every once in a while, when it's necessary to give someone any shot at all of living an autonomous life, the stuff force field can be bent, manipulated a little.

In this case, if you refuse to ease your force field to accomplish some moral goal or protect certain values, Sally does nothing wrong when she ignores the field, and you are not justified in shooting her. Rather, you've committed murder, because you used violence in a way that, under the circumstances, was not permissible.

I think the latter understanding of property and the right to exclude will appeal to more people. In addition, I'm not sure libertarians need to accept the single seamless force field view of property. For example, I'd argue that we do need to be able to take ownership of bits of the world if we are to live autonomous lives. But we can live autonomous lives without the ability to exclude others, under all circumstances, no matter what else is true about the world.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-05-04 5:50:58 PM

These are interesting points for a theoretical discussion about justice. There's a bit of incoherence and messiness here as well, but it is a blog post, so I forgive easily.

I'm more concerned with the non-theoretical, practical dimension. If you think it's a big problem for libertarians that there exist racists, do you also see it as a problem for non-libertarians that there are racists (and bigots)? It seems worse, in my mind, that we set up political institutions with a boatload of power when we know, in advance, that there are racists and bigots who will try to be put in charge.

This problem is a comparative problem. We have a libertarian market approach, which isn't perfect, and a statist approach, which isn't perfect either (isn't it naive to believe that only non-racists and non-bigots will get political power?) So which would you prefer if you were subject to bigotry and racism? I'd go with the libertarian market solution.

This isn't a problem for libertarians, in particular. This is a problem for everybody. There is no political philosophy that easily deals with racists, bigots, sexists, and homophobes. I think the libertarians have the best of all the imperfect approaches.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-05-04 5:58:52 PM


I swear, I tried to make the discussion more theoretical! Eric Mack!!1!

But you've got a good point, except it's missing one important piece:

Peoples' attitudes are not exogenous to the behavior of the state. Rather, sometimes, the state can change attitudes, and not even through direct indoctrination.

Brown v. Board of Education changed attitudes. Sometimes, all that's necessary is for someone or something to break through the fears people have, to show them that the sky isn't going to fall if gays can marry, or if black children attend the same schools as white ones.

I don't think this point can easily be turned back against the social liberal. If fear of the unknown keeps us clinging to a certain way of doing things, once the fear is proven groundless going back is difficult. Once people know the sky isn't going to fall, you have to work hard to reinspire the fear and ignorance that led them to support racist policies in the first place. This isn't to say it can't be done - from what I've read, Germany was quite tolerant toward Jews before the rise of Nazism - but it takes a catastrophe.

And the point can just as easily be turned against the libertarian: if a catastrophe can usher in a new regime of hate and fear, what makes people think a libertarian regime could survive it without descending into the same kind of madness?

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-05-04 6:09:43 PM


I think you describe the dilemma perfectly. And it is extremely complementary to the point I'm trying to make about the Church of Property.

I think the distinction can be more finer-grained than "stuff". Rather, we're talking about land and the idea of public space.

Some libertarians do not believe in public space, as we've discussed before. They believe the sidewalks and roads should be privately owned. Which to me, is like Wahabbist Libertarianism; all the philosophical points are interpreted to the extreme, and all problematic scenarios are cast aside as being secondary to the moral and ethical assertion.

Your example of a bubble around Sally's house is poignant. And I note that most libertarians simply want to avoid the issue, because they are terrified that they might have to admit the state might have to be given expropriation rights to rectify the problem. That's too scary to contemplate.

The problem with libertarians is the fixation on the state itself as being the only enemy of liberty. The idea of private authority has the potential within libertarian tenets to actually establish a new state that isn't libertarian at all. Which turns libertarianism into a vesicle to deliver people into privately owned totalitarianism.

You can assert the non-aggression principle all you want, but then you have to deal with pragmatic matters like: what happens when private interests exceed the power and scope of the state, and/or have political influence and/or control of the state. Then you've just delivered yourself into bondage.

This is my problem. And it's an important discussion. Libertarians need to wake up and address it. Because our political opponents are not satisfied with the answers we're giving them.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 6:16:27 PM

Congratulations, Mike, on an articulate and thought-provoking post. If this is what you're like after a shot of caffeine, then may I recommend one of those coffee-dispensing plastic helmets.

That said, your post also highlights the single greatest obstacle facing libertarians as they attempt to enter the mainstream: their nihilistic contempt for morality, religion, and virtually all extant social and cultural institutions.

There were two influential political philosophies in the 20th century that advocated a "clean start" for society. The consequences of those examples do not encourage one to welcome another.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-05-04 6:21:40 PM

Well hot damn, Mike, this was a thoughtful and not bad essay. You went a little squirrelly as you went on but there is thought behind it and you are clear, this is good. I'm glad you brought up the intentional community scenario because I would too.

There is nature as well as nurture basis for homosexuality, it is usually not something you choose in this age as it can be a rough row to hoe (there has to be a pun in there somewhere).

We've all read enough history to know that teh ghey's acceptance among societies has waxed and waned throughout history, ergo there is some nurture to it.

That it is also genetic raises other issues; gays differ with straights in many different ways. Intellectually, it is documented they do worse at geography, for example, and we needn't mention the arts.

The consequence being that it is not the buttsecks per se which is a problem for some people such as me, it is any number of other factors, and has nothing to do with the Koran or Vedas or Sutras or Talmud or whatever, religion for the large part is not the show stopper.

It is the conduct of gheys, the politics of gheys, and as I have mentioned before, the snark of the gheys, to name 3 perfectly good examples of why they rub us the wrong way sometimes. There are more, and some more reasoning behind it, beyond the scope of this response.

So, people can dislike gays for reasons other than religion or buttsecks. They just don't like them, as is anyone's prerogative, and it is not the state's business.

An analogy: card counting in blackjack. Not cheating or illegal in itself, the house still bars card counting and takes countermeasures - against what? Using your brain, period. Calculating, which is what you are supposed to do. Still, the house doesn't put up with it, they know the numbers and so do you and it's not gonna happen.

Same with teh ghey. Of course, not all ghey are bad, I have had plenty of ghey friends and co-workers over the years. But if a person were to develop a community as in your perfect example, I have no problem whatsoever if someone were to discriminate because in essence it - discrimintation - is a calculation. You're a computer guy, you smell what I'm cooking here, if you know that x demographic group has a y percent chance of being z, and that number is too high for your liking, you are doing what insurance companies do every day, you decline their business or perhaps charge a premium.

That's only half of what you are saying though, the other half being that libertarianism will be a tough sell for women, gays, minorties, all of whom are under-represented in the libertarian movement at the moment. White male sausage party, in other words.

You are suggesting you have no problem with the state, or community, enforcing regulations to prevent "sexism", "homophobia", and "racism" (I don't recognize any of these terms or concepts as valid in the slightest, by the way, but we're on your court).

I can't think of what they might be, can you give a few examples of regulations that a feminist or gay radical or non-white person might want in the community example you give above? Employment equity? Hate crime laws? Human Rights Commissions, minus the hate speech stuff?

I believe your views are incompatible with libertarianism and it is you who must leave and renounce libertarianism, not the laissez-faire types like me who think the state has no business telling me how to think, or calculate, or with whom to do business, or hire, or like. I believe your views are gratuitously oppressive, gays and women and non-whites can make their own damned communities.

Which raises another point: by making each cohort responsible for their behavior they have incentive to be better human beings. When you make it verboten to discriminate against or even criticize teh gheys, it gives them no incentive to be good. This, I submit, is what is happening in modern society. Repeal all laws and regulations banning discrimination tomorrow and I guarantee we will all get along much better very quickly, because we will all be responsible for our behaviour, not just straight white males.

Some of the stuff Epsilon, a young woman, has said here has been banhammer material that she wouldn't have gotten away with if she didn't have tits, to be blunt. This is a perfect example of how special status has corrupted the morals of certain cohorts of society. We fail them, and society, when we give them training wheel type laws treating them differently.

Don't assume the purest of motives on the part of the gheys, women, and non-whites, some of them are out there for as sweet a deal they can get - I might be too - and if it means manufacturing sympathy they'll do it. I read an interview with the LTTE leader from 1986. He mentions genocides, plural, against his people in the interview. The Tamils are again calling the war a genocide, the third one by my count and I'm sure there are many more. That's a lotta genocides, perhaps too many. Just to give an example.

I don't enjoy being judged but even I'm mature enough to understand it serves a purpose, and a Darwinian one at that. Judge and prepare to be judged, not too harshly, but honestly and always. After all, if we do not judge, we can hardly be said to be using judgment, let alone good judgment.

Good post, you said what you meant clearly and didn't get too squirelly. If you would be so kind to give a few examples of special laws your community would have to prevent discrimination I'd like to see them. Heck, being single and self-employed, I, a social conservative (which is to say laissez-faire who f*cks girls 15 years his junior from teh internet), can stay up all night chatting with you, a married libertarian (which is to say outright Marxist in what is basically a private property-renouncing master-slave legal relationship) if you want, what say? ;-)

Posted by: Some Commenter | 2009-05-04 6:25:02 PM

"Brown v. Board of Education changed attitudes."

Can you prove this empirical statement, Terrence?

It's not possible that in the free market of cultural ideas, racial prejudice was found wanting? I would argue that the state was merely catching up with changing attitudes, notwithstanding noisy pockets of resistance hiding behind the state.

You asked me the same question with respect to prostitution. Is the state in fact an artiber of morality? I argued the wide spread use of drugs and the easy access to prostitution, two prohibited products, would suggest otherwise.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-04 6:25:37 PM

I think most libertarians simply do not express themselves very well. It comes down to a choice. Do you trust your society to correct injustices, or a select group of people?

In the above example. If most of society is homophobic, and this society has a statist philosophy, it is very unlikely that laws will be passed to protect homosexuals. In a socially conservative libertarian society, homosexuals will be discriminated against as well. The outcome would almost surely be identical. The difference maker, for me, becomes which society respects property rights.

On the other hand, in today's society, if landowners would openly discriminate against gays, it would take less than a week for there to be boycotts, protests, and all kinds of pressure tactics. Again, same outcome.

You cannot eliminate discrimination through laws. I also believe that many people make a serious error of causation. They assume that laws change attitudes in society. I would say that the reverse is true. Peoples' attitudes change, then the laws.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-05-04 6:27:50 PM

I agree that private vs. public tyranny is difficult to parse. It doesn't make a difference to me whether I can't, say, make a living because the state has a policy of not allowing Poles to work in these here parts, vs. an emergent order in the market with signs saying Poles can't work in these here parts.

But the solutions that we come up with will not lend themselves to institutional design *given* the existence of bigots or racists or jackasses of all stripes. If a town happens to be racist, who are they going to elect? A non-racist? Why would anyone think that? And will they permit, say, you to design their institutions for them? I doubt it.

We might say that we ought to build non-racism into our institutional design. That's swell. Now, who's going to embrace our new non-racist institutions? The racists? No.

Of course, we might aggressively fight racists, bigots, and others who wish to harm (or despise) individuals merely on the basis of their in-born traits (the most pernicious kind of character flaw, I think). But that's not a specifically political philosophy problem, that's a general cultural problem. So we'll need to be more careful about calling it a problem for libertarians, since it isn't. It's a problem for "leave well enough alone" or "live and let live" types of people, who are not exclusively libertarian, even if there is a lot of co-extension.

Perhaps the real problem is the one you allude to -- failure on our part to recognize that private property is alone an insufficient resolution to the problem (for those of us who see it as a real problem). But that takes us, I think, away from a political discussion and into the area of a social/cultural discussion. Maybe what's wrong with libertarians is precisely what you say is wrong with us -- we fail to engage the social/cultural discussion, especially since so few non-libertarians are familiar with the fine-grained distinctions between a political philosophy and a social/cultural philosophy. Maybe we need to be more vocal in the cultural marketplace.

I accept that criticism. And I accept the responsibility that it implies.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-05-04 6:39:47 PM

You cannot eliminate discrimination through laws. I also believe that many people make a serious error of causation. They assume that laws change attitudes in society. I would say that the reverse is true. Peoples' attitudes change, then the laws.

Charles, I think both Terrence and I 100% agree. You're missing a lot of nuance in what I'm saying. In fact, I basically concede this when I say: "I reject it because it’s an incomplete thought, that fails to account for the cultural forces that enable a political disposition in the first place."

What I'm criticizing Charles, is socially liberal libertarians who think that in order to maintain a "broad libertarian movement", it is incumbent upon them to keep their mouth shut about homosexuality, for instance.

I've said many times, on the podcast, in other posts: if you want to change politics, you have to change the culture. It's time for socially liberal libertarians to get into the culture war, rather than sitting on the sidelines and saying "the morality of gays and lesbians is a private matter". It may be a private matter, insofar as political rights go. Neither Terrence or myself are arguing for some sort of authoritarian override of the right to hold an opinion or speak your mind. We are asking the question: are reasonable limits on property rights and association rights, when the decision to not rent to someone is purely because of the colour of their skin, or refuse patronage to two gay men who come into a restaurant?

We think it's a valid question to ask.

I'm not even saying that I outright agree with anti-discrimination laws. But I am not outright against them, either. It doesn't seem like something we should jump into being dogmatic about, before we flush it out. That's what we're doing.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 6:43:18 PM


The thing is, I don't see the same distinction between political philosophy and culture that you do. I think there's something incomplete in political theories.

I do not possess the discipline and time to expand on these statements. But I will nevertheless make the claim: there is a broader ethical framework of which both culture and politics fit into.

I believe that institutional religion played this role for most of civilization. And during the Enlightenment, a line was arbitrarily drawn between two domains. I'm not sure the line belongs there, and I think the only reason we drew the line in the first place is we didn't feel we could make people accept the ultimate conclusions if we didn't.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 6:52:03 PM

"If a gay child is born within the community"

We socons question whether such a thing exists, to a degree that would be an issue anyway, and in any case we don't encourage children to have sex, do we?

I had a classmate who we all knew in grade 4 was gay, he was not out per se - out as in openly dating and flaming, if I may use that term - until 18, but he was pretty, well, gay, from an early age, and was perfectly well liked and accepted by most, if perhaps teased a bit more than others but nearly always outside of earshot.

That may not be the worst thing, would it? Keep it on the down low to a degree, send him on down to Toronto on his 18th birthday to live, and it's all good.

We also had a gay English teacher too, I mean fairly flaming, and everybody liked him, myself included. He used a bit of discretion, the giggles among children were kept to a minimum, by threat of pulled ear if necessary, I see no problem here, and all of this took place before employment equity or the contemporary gay lobby - yes, this is a valid term - had arrived.

Perhaps no no-gay communities would be necessary or exist if we went back to the old days, seems to me special laws designed to prevent "homopobia" are causing more "homopobia" than ever existed, same with feminism, same with race hustling.

Posted by: Some Commenter | 2009-05-04 6:54:13 PM


I'm searching Google Scholar at the moment and haven't found anything definitive either way about Brown. There is a lot of evidence that the Supreme Court can confer legitimacy on a policy by endorsing it.

Here is one paper:

Clawson, Rosalee A., Elizabeth R. Kegler, and Eric N. Waltenburg. "The Legitimacy-conferring Authority of the U.S. Supreme Court: An Experimental Design." American Politics Research 29.6 (2001), 566-591.

If it can confer legitimacy in some cases, why not in others? There's at least evidence that SCOTUS can affect public opinion - and, perhaps, be an arbiter of morality (the social scientists don't talk that way, of course, and they're careful to point out that there are lots of variables.)

But one thing: I didn't mean to imply that Brown changed everyone's attitudes, or that attitudes hadn't been changing before the decision. Maybe public schools would have desegregated on their own. Or maybe it was inevitable that some other court decision, on different grounds, would have struck down segregation.

(There's a book on this subject I haven't read, but some legal scholars have taken it upon themselves to articulate a different constitutional basis for Brown, perhaps a more rigorous one.)

All I wanted to point out, and perhaps Brown was a bad example, is that public opinion and political action are intertwined. The Supreme Court in particular (there have been a lot of studies on it because of its unique position) may be able to alter public opinion in subtle and important ways. One way, I suggested, was getting past the fear of the unknown that sometimes motivates people to resist change.



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-05-04 6:59:09 PM


Of course, we *require* a cultural view to inform our political views. We *require* an ethical theory in order to have a political philosophy in the first place.

But political philosophies are multiply realizable. You can endorse this or that institutional design for many different reasons (different ethical commitments and different cultural preferences). This is why the distinction is so important (vital, in fact).

I call it the "ought/state gap," and I think libertarians have a difficult time defending their view precisely because people fail to distinguish cultural/ethical views from political views. They think it's a package deal. So you get comments like Shane Matthews above, because of a fundamental failure to see this distinction.

What people don't understand is that it is possible to be socially conservative, and politically libertarian. It is possible to be socially liberal, and a libertarian. It is possible to endorse utilitarianism, contractualism (Rawlsian, Narvesonian, Scanlonian, etc.), natural rights, welfarist, etc. etc. *and be a libertarian.*

But because people assume that a libertarian is a person who has some specific cultural/ethical beliefs, they think it's all right to put them all into one box and tie it up with a neat bow.

Some examples:

Here is the goal: Maximize utility. That is our ethical commitment, say. How do we do that in practice? Empirical assumption: Strict private property and free markets lead to best outcome in terms of utility. Therefore, I endorse libertarian political institutions for these non-libertarian reasons.

Here is another goal: Eliminate racism, bigotry, homophobia, hatred of "the other." That is our ethical/cultural commitment. Empirical assumptions: Anti-discrimination laws promote discrimination, rather than work against it. Empirical assumption number two: Strict private property and free market gives the oppressed a private space, and the opportunity to make a living even in a racist environment better than all the alternatives. Therefore, I endorse libertarian political institutions for not obviously libertarian reasons.

We need to mark the difference between our ethical commitments, our cultural commitments, our empirical assumptions, and the political institutions that we will endorse. Otherwise, people will get terribly confused, and will see package deals everywhere.

But, at any rate, it still matters that we engage the cultural debate.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-05-04 7:16:19 PM

Lest I be confused: The "I" in the "Therefore I endorse libertarian political institutions" is a hypothetical "I." I am not a utilitarian.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-05-04 7:25:25 PM

"What people don't understand is that it is possible to be socially conservative, and politically libertarian."

Yes, and I suppose I'm saying it's not enough to believe that the gays and lesbians are the walking damned, and turn around yourself and call yourself a libertarian.

I just don't comprehend how someone can simultaneously promote social exclusion and political inclusion. It sounds too fishy to me. I'm yet to hear from a socially conservative libertarian who can philosophically reconcile it in a satisfactory way.

I'm saying it's not enough to say your a libertarian who teaches your kids to stay away from the homos.

I'm basically accusing such a person of being a wolf in sheep's clothing, I guess. And I challenge a socon to convince me otherwise.

If Ron Paul is an example of a socon libertarian, then I'm very frightened. :)

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 7:27:00 PM


Shane is congratulating Mike Brock on making a case -- his case, the conservative case -- for why the state should not be a neutral observer of moral questions.

It is Shane Matthews who has won this debate.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-04 7:28:56 PM

Shane is congratulating Mike Brock on making a case -- his case, the conservative case -- for why the state should not be a neutral observer of moral question.

Except, of course, that's not the case I've made at all. The case I've made is for libertarians to engage in the cultural discourse and challenge illiberalism in both culture and politics.

There's a fair bit of nuance in there, and you really need to read my support for statism into it.

The only place you can make a case against me for supporting a degree of statism: is the potential role of regulating the dispensation of services and property insofar as their use therein has the practical effect of limiting liberty, as in the case Terrence laid out.

And if that is to call me a statist in a pejorative way, then I assume you're an anarchist then. :)

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 7:33:31 PM

In summary Mike does not support private property rights while he does support the state sponsored social engineering. If that is libertarian, then you can keep it. A landlord should have the right to decide to whom he or she will let. There is already lots of discrimination in this area, but that it seems is okay since it does not pertain to homosexuals. A few examples of accepted discrimination I note on a fairly regular basis are: couples with children, singles, smokers, drinkers and younger people. I may not like this and not agree with it, but it should be the right of the landlord to decide. Most landlords simply want to avoid letting to those likely to wreck or thrash the place along with those likely to fall behind on their rent.

Private property rights are no different that freedom of expression and of the press. Either they exist and are honoured or they do not. You cannot have partial rights, for that is already the problem.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-05-04 7:57:16 PM


With all do respect: there is a significant difference between discrimination on mutable vs immutable human traits. The attempt to draw the moral equivalence between discriminating against someone for being gay, and doing it because they smoke is insane. Absolutely insane.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 8:05:38 PM

"I just don't comprehend how someone can simultaneously promote social exclusion and political inclusion."

Well you manage to; you dislike Christians and socons and presumably Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and pretty much everyone except a few million butthead atheists. In Buddhism, for example, if you are with a girl and you see a monk and wish to make merit, anything the girl gives to the monk she has to give to you to give to him, women aren't allowed to touch monks, who are 100% men in Asia btw. Most monasteries and traditional teachings regard homosexuality as sexual misconduct.

"It sounds too fishy to me. I'm yet to hear from a socially conservative libertarian who can philosophically reconcile it in a satisfactory way."

Don't care about political inclusion, neither do you - don't tell me if Ned Flanders shows up in your community you're renting to him, I don't believe you - apparently. It's not just a one way street here, "rednecks" and Christians and fat people and ugly people get discriminated against all the time, no big whoop, gays are not special.

In kindergarten in our community they are making kids promise not to be mean to gays for a day. Seems a little young, but anyway, now it's ok to pick on the fat kids, the stupid kids, etc., etc., but not "gay kids", if such a thing exists at 4 or 5 years of age. Teachers in elementary school do display teh ghey flag on their desk proclaiming their classroom to be gay friendly. The Royal Bank tried that for a week with their staff, realized it was boneheaded, and nobody has tried it since in the Canadian corporate world that I am aware of. Hate to see the gay agenda fail with adults so they move in on children, and that is what is happening.

Liquidity of citizenship - a reciprocal one - solves many problems. Some parts of Antarctica remain unclaimed, maybe buy out a few arctic islands and such.

Posted by: Some Commenter | 2009-05-04 8:08:33 PM

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-04 7:28:56 PM

Whaaat? Mike loses again?

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-04 8:16:00 PM

Mike, with all due respect please read again my comments for I did not limit the examples of accepted discrimination to smokers. You seem quiet obsessed with homosexual rights for some reason, but if it makes you happy it is fine with me.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-05-04 8:24:51 PM

"You seem quiet obsessed with homosexual rights for some reason"

There's a very good reason for that: homosexuals are the ones most targeted by social conservatives these days. Even more so than women who have abortions. Which is kind of funny, because homosexuals have no abortions.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 8:28:29 PM


Homosexuals often compare their struggle with that of blacks.

I only have one question.

Who would want to have a homosexual as a slave?

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-04 8:28:58 PM

set you free,

You represent your socon brethren well.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 8:51:11 PM


Thanks for the compliment.

I'm just a humble human being in search of the truth.

I've never owned a slave, much less a homosexual.

Far as I know, nobody's ever owned me.

Since I was born with the gift of free will, I have no need to battle imaginary fairies in the sky.

My life is the sum of my choices and I am satisfied with the choices I have made that have given me inner peace.

Self-control is unbelievably liberating.

Once, again, thanks for noticing.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-04 9:19:01 PM

set you free,

I wasn't being serious with the complement.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-04 10:10:28 PM


That makes sense.

Your are never to be taken seriously.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-04 10:14:35 PM

Quote: But I have yet to run into a single person who views themselves as an oppressed group that has done anything but laugh off this economic-technocratic response. And why wouldn’t they?

Because you haven't attacked the inconsistencies in their argument!

Isn't forced coercion pretty oppressive? How can government address any problem, except with another type of oppression/coercion; the enforcement of the rules they make up to deal with 'oppression'? Why should we all be oppressed, to deal with some other oppressions? Letting the free market sort it out is an answer that is valid and consistent because no oppression or coercion is involved. No one is oppressed. Oppression, ie. forced coercion is wrong. By arguing that comprehensive oppression is acceptable to deal with some types of oppression is illogical. You can't solve any kind of oppression, with another kind of oppression. You violate the non-aggression axiom, or you do not.
An analogy to your wife's argument is that the free market can't work in supplying food because no one is there to dictate where the food is coming from and who gets it. Well of course not. That's what freedom is. She is expecting you to answer where and when and how much bread will cost if, in this example, she and you were moving from a command economy to a free market economy. It's unanswerable because it takes the process of capitalism to function to answer the question and provide the food. All we know, is that it will accomplished through voluntary association, without the used of coercion and implied or actual violence. Egalitarianism ultimately leads to tyranny. You either believe in tyranny, or freedom. A difficult argument to understand, but it's not like there isn't a vast pool of evidence to conclusively prove that freedom works and tyranny doesn't.
The law of unintended consequences applies to all state interventions. Shouldn't members of 'oppressed groups' be most fearful of coercion and 'cookie-cutter' bureaucratic solutions? And then there's blowback these groups have to worry about if coercion plays a role in determining a 'solution'.
Any member of an 'oppressed group' should be asked if oppression/coercion is wrong or not. If any oppression is acceptable (like any that theoretically would be used to deal with the oppression the feel exists against them), then why isn't the oppression against them acceptable? They can't just replace one type of oppression with another. Oppression is wrong, or it is not. Ask her to make up her mind and stop being inconsistent.
Any system that inconsistently allows values to determine action (this oppression is less oppressive than this oppression), eventually becomes tyrannical.
Read 'The Anti-Capitalist Mentality' and Mises' other 60's books to understand the psychological forces the state uses to argue for their coercive methods. Unfortunately your wife has fallen victim to their fallacious misrepresentations and inconsistent and unscientific reliance on values.

Posted by: Frank Gas | 2009-05-04 10:28:54 PM

Some Commenter and Frank Gas:

Think you're onto something with your ‘buttheaded atheist' statement along with what causes feelings of oppression.

Those two observations are much closer to the reasons for the hatred that drives inner turmoil and need for rebellion.

I mean, who in their right mind would like a God that's a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor? And, who wouldn't rebel against somebody who punishes disobedient humans with death?

Yet, that's where theologians of Western Christianity have taken an early understanding of a loving God who came to earth to save us from illness and death, turning him into a torturer.

Who wouldn't want to escape the oppression of that flawed understanding and become an atheist? No rational human being would hate something that does not exist.

Yet, the hate that destroys inner peace exists because the true nature of God remains hidden from those unwilling to break through the veil of lies to find the truth.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-04 11:13:49 PM

Mike Brock,
I understand the point of your post and its a relevant point. However, I am one Libertarian who objects to any decision making process by anyone that might be based on gender or culture.
In fact it is my view (and hope) that the concept of individual liberty can not work unless each of us gives creedence to the fact that we are "all equal" under law. If we can not give others the same respect we demand for ourselves, then the Libertarian doctrine will fall on its face on that alone. Therefore, if anyone who calls themselves a Libertarian can not give respect the same way he / she demands it...then they are not much of a Libertarian.

Posted by: JC | 2009-05-05 6:37:21 AM

Well this has been the best damned thread ever at WS, give yourselves a round of applause.

"Therefore, if anyone who calls themselves a Libertarian can not give respect the same way he / she demands it...then they are not much of a Libertarian."

This sentiment has been expressed repeatedly in this thread and seems pretty ipso facto to me. You want to be a libertarian and a "progressive" Mike and it cannot be done, pick one or the other. Feel free to be a gay sex marriage radical and a virulent feminist - you too Terrence Watson - but don't expect anyone to take you seriously when you say you are libertarian, because you are not. Hey, I wish I could call myself a libertarian too, sounds cool and trendy and politically correct even, but I'm not, so I don't call myself one, and neither should you.

It is for you to leave the libertarian movement and embrace your true nature, and not for you to piss on the carpet inside the big tent, so to speak, and cause strife and division in a camp where you don't belong.

No harm, no foul, we just disagree on a key issue, but agree on many others. There shouldn't be this much strife, let's just have the damned debate, as we are doing (and well, I might add) in this thread, and be done with it instead of endlessly hurling insults at each other back and forth. You and Terrence support limited coercion to attempt to correct what you perceive to be problems of "racism", "sexism", and "homophobia", we don't, there is nothing left to argue.

Posted by: Some Commenter | 2009-05-05 7:42:07 AM

Mike Brock,

I actually did catch the nuance. I agree with you that socially liberal libertarians need to speak out more.

I did, however, seem to get the impression that you are for certain restrictions on property rights based on race and sexual orientation. I was responding to that. Perhaps I was mistaken. In that case, my apologies.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-05-05 8:21:08 AM

Some Commenter,

Libertarians are people who call for minimal government and maximum individual freedom. Having a debate about what those minimums and maximums are does not make you not a libertarian. It is fair to say however, that I am a civil libertarian. So is Terrence, and so is someone like Will Wilkinson.

The definition of libertarianism you're trying to hold me to seems more reminiscent of minarchism or anarcho-capitalism.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-05 10:09:10 AM

Mike...don't you feel self-oppressed by all those labels and classifications?
btw...the problem of bigotry is more psychological then political. You can not force tolerance on people in institutional way and if you do it is only for a short time while the backlash is more severe.

Posted by: xiat | 2009-05-05 11:19:09 AM

Well said, JC and xiat.

It takes quiet a jump to go from the topic of private property rights to riding the horse of the radical homosexual lobby, but it has happened once again I see.

The big lie remains the claim that homosexuals are the most oppressed and discriminated against group, when they represent such a small minority while having the highest average income. In fact they are over-represented in the entertainment industry from movies to television. Sodomy long ago ceased to be criminal in Canada and now their lifestyle is being promoted as normal and acceptable. Still for the radical ones, this is not enough it seems, so we get the lie that to reject the life style is to discriminate against the individual with the result of inventing a new word - homophobic. If a new word is required, then sodomophobic would be more appropriate. This does not help the cause of tolerance.

For most people their identity is not based on their sex, their sexual preferences, their colour, size or shape, and that includes both lesbians and homosexuals I have known and worked with. These same people were respected and accepted in the work place like anyone else, but it was the person who was respected not his or her sexuality.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-05-05 11:48:03 AM

A freedom to indulge in self-destructive behavior is no freedom at all.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-05 11:54:08 AM


Something to consider. When racists or sexists are punished for engaging in sexist or racist behaviour -- the correct response (for those of us who value women's equality, or are opposed to bigotry) is not to have them punished by laws... but rather instead to shun such people.

Freedom of association is a value that far too many libertarians overlook when they are analyzing these problems.

Boycotts and shunning are appropriate responses to people who have chosen values that you find repugnant. So long as they have not instigated force or fraud against you -- they have not harmed you.

The problem with the so-called libertarian movement at this very moment in time in Canada however is that some people don't actually care about racism. In fact - unfortunately, most libertarians in Canada are very cozy with out and out bigots and think nothing of joining with them in common cause.

The cause in this case being -- the Ezra Levant and others so-called "free speech" movement.

I am really not that worried about the HRC going after me. I am careful about what I say. I don't run around trying to sell books and make a career out of being an obnoxious bigot. I realize that just because people have the right to be morally repugnant jerks - doesn't mean that I want to encourage such behavior.

I fully get where you are coming from on this Mike - except that I DO trust that the market will sort things out -- when it comes to having to deal with racism and sexism. On the other hand -- it is a chosen value of mine to NOT associate with, sanction, promote or endorse racist jerks.

Unfortunately - however, while some libertarians in Canada give good lip service to the idea that "racism is a primitive form of collectivism" and do not indulge in it themselves - they do indugle in associating with people who do. It's obviously not that important to most of the libertarians in Canada or - they would not be making the choice of values that they have.

And that's why you won't see me on this anti-CHRC bandwagon. I've researched the issue enough to understand that many of the people that Warman has prosecuted via the CHRC had it coming. NOT for being racists - but for agitating for and advocating violence against various groups of people.

Such people should have been prosecuted by the criminal code, police and courts... but for now, these dangerous loonies who have actively planned online to murder people like myself simply because I am not a white person -- have been restrained by the CHRC in some measure.

It's not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination -- but for now -- in reality - in actuality... racist bigots (For example, the "Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team) pose far more of a clear and present danger to me -- by attempting to invoke violence and hatred against me and my children.

Some people might disagree. But, I would wager if they are of a non-white ethnicity and they read the kinds of things in the CHRC Transcripts that I read at richardwarman.com The kinds of things that, for example The Candian Ethic Cleansing Team was working hard to accomplish-- they would be far more scared of the bigots than they are of the CHRC.

In this instance -- there is no real "libertarian group" in Canada that a person like myself can join or participate in. Such groups - online are innundated with people who are more than happy to support, sanction, tolerate and promote bigots.

Until recently- I would have considered this very place - The Shotgun in that category. Thankfully there has been some major housecleaning...

The market has yet to provide Canada with a place where there is a libertarian community that does more than give lip service to being anti-racist.

You guys are making a jolly good effort...
But it's very hard to really believe it -- with some of the posts I have read in the past few days - promoting various things.

Posted by: MW | 2009-05-05 12:01:45 PM

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