The Shotgun Blog
Sunday, June 14, 2009
The existence of evil: the real divide between libertarians and social conservatives
Hopefully, this post won't offend anyone, libertarian or conservative. My intent is not to assess the truth of either of these views, but merely to determine the degree to which they are compatible.
While I'd like to offer definitions of both positions -- both libertarian and social conservative -- doing so would immediately embroil this post in debates I would like it to avoid. In any event, I don't have an exhaustive definition of either term, and descriptions of social conservatism, like this one are worse than useless. Rather, I would like to suggest one point, only one, on which libertarians and social conservatives differ. They may differ in other respects, but this one difference can explain much or all of the variance between the two positions.
There is a common view, and it used to be more common, that politics is a matter of applied morality. Relatively speaking, the idea that "you can't legislate morality" is of recent vintage, and even the people who now declare their allegiance to it probably don't believe what they are saying. Not really; but it is a fashionable thing to say, and so the fashionable left says it. Repeatedly. Until it becomes nauseating.
There can be no complete separation between politics and morality. To take a trivial example, murder laws track the moral prohibition on killing. The distinction between murder and manslaughter depends on our suspicion that malicious intent adds to one's moral responsibility.
The question, therefore, is not whether morality should drive politics, but the degree to which it should do so. On one end of the scale, law prohibits every immoral act, and political institutions are used to ensure that people make good choices for their lives and the lives of others. On the other end, politics is completely detached from morality, or even opposed to it, so that citizens are commanded to act immorally.
We want to find a principled basis for stopping somewhere between these two extremes. The libertarian has one, or thinks he does: law is violence, and so it is fitting that it be used only to prohibit violence. Violent actions are particularly immoral -- or immoral in a special way -- and this is why the line must be drawn at this point and no other. The libertarian claims that only part of morality should drive politics, the part that prohibits violence, but that otherwise government and morality ought to be kept at arms' length.
Thus, while the libertarian may recognize that there are better and worse ways to live, he will only make use of the law when it is necessary to protect people from the violent actions of others. He may believe, and be right to believe, that non-violent drug users tend to live poorly from a moral point of view. Their lives may be shallow and empty, but as long as they refrain from inflicting violence on others, the law will not intervene. So says the libertarian.
The social conservative has a different perspective. Despite what some may think, I have quite a bit of sympathy for that perspective, and hopefully that will prevent me from drawing a caricature. First, the social conservative recognizes that those who live poorly often encourage others to live poorly. The very presence of the non-violent drug user can lead others to live worse lives than they would otherwise. Moreover, a culture of irresponsible and intemperate drug-abusers will be unable to sustain a commitment to important values and principles, including ones the libertarian hopes to rely on. The law can prevent this, and should prevent it.
The libertarian has a response to this way of thinking. Rational persuasion, social stigma and economic forces will keep people in line, the response goes. The invisible hand will ensure that society does not sink into a miasma of cannabis smoke. Violence is unnecessary.
There are reasons to reject this response. Some are rooted in history (China's experience with opium is an oft-cited example.) But grander than history, tradition and theology teach another lesson: evil exists, and that's the way most people like it. Running counter to the magnetism of rationality or the pull of the invisible hand, there is evil. Indeed, evil, reason, and economics sometimes work together, reinforcing each other, birthing new, more efficient kinds of perversions and devastation.
"Of course evil exists," the libertarian declares. "Violence is evil, isn't it?" Of course, that's not what the existence of evil means to the conservative, or not only.
What does it mean for evil to exist? I think one of Dostoevsky's characters, the narrator of Notes From Underground, had it about right: humans really like to do what they know they ought not do. If a person realizes he is living poorly, this may be precisely the motivation he needs to encourage others to live the same way. If another recognizes that it would be better, all things considered, if he did X, he is just as likely to spurn X in favor of Y. This is not the banal evil of Hannah Arendt, but the primal evil, the first evil, the evil of Milton's Lucifer, who once declared, "Evil, be thou my good!"
If humans are enmeshed in this kind of evil, born into it, then rationality and economic forces will be insufficient to curtail the destructive impulses of the masses. Evil, by this standard, becomes rational: absent the violence of the state, it is rational for the drug addict to create other drug addicts, and for the corrupt to corrupt others. For the "supply" of evil to be curtailed by diminishing "demand" -- there must be diminishing demand for evil, not an ever-increasing appetite for it.
The libertarian draws the line. The conservative says, "That's not good enough. It permits too much evil to flourish. And evil will eventually wipe away that line, too, and the result will be more violence than you ever thought possible."
At this point, the libertarian has a response: "You are right that limiting the role of government permits evil to flourish. You have to accept that. The alternative is a more powerful government, one that can use its power to create more evil. Limiting government, keeping evil on an individual scale -- that's the better bet." I've come to think that this response is a dodge.
I call it a dodge. Why? Because it's not necessarily the better bet. There is no evidence that allowing individuals to spawn as much evil as they please (except violence) results in less evil. There is no evidence that governments, given the constitutionally-limited power to quash evil, will all turn into versions of Nazi Germany. In addition, the conservative can agree with the libertarian that governments given an unlimited mandate to quash evil will themselves become evil. But that is not what the conservative wants; what he wants is not unlimited power but some power; not the ability to crush evil no matter the cost, but the ability to nibble at evil, around the edges, and to keep it on a leash.
Outside prohibiting violence, the libertarian thinks government ought to leave evil alone. The conservative thinks government ought to engage it -- defeat it -- sometimes. The choice is not that of liberty or fascism, but that of freeing evil from political control, trusting other forms of social control to fully contain it, or giving government a role in doing so.
It should be noted that the liberal and the libertarian do not necessarily clash in this way. The liberal -- and here I mean the modern, "progressive" variety -- does not believe in evil the way the conservative does, as John Kekes has pointed out. To the liberal, evil does not exist, or at least does not exist as a natural force. For example, the non-violent drug addict is not evil, but sick. Terrorists who kill children are not evil, but the product of corrupt institutions and U.S. foreign policy. Naturally, people are good, or at least decent; if they don't act that way, it's because other, un-natural forces are at work (like religion, with its scrupulous, stifling moral codes, etc.) It is not freedom but that lack of it that causes people to behave in an evil fashion, or so says the progressive.
While this way of thinking can be traced at least as far back as Rousseau, it's unfair to put all the blame on him. If people have a natural inclination towards evil, then we should expect people to be drawn to ideas that glamorize that inclination and denigrate the institutional forces that, in the past, kept it in check. In this respect, Rousseau is just a scapegoat, and we might as well blame Satan.
But, in some sense, the liberal and the libertarian agree that more individual freedom is the answer to the problem of evil. Leave people alone, let them make decisions for themselves, and they'll end up seeking the good and shunning the bad. This is why I said there is no real clash between the liberal position and the libertarian one, at least as far as evil is concerned.
If I'm right, then the root of the conflict between libertarians and social conservatives is an old one. This is not to say that libertarians can't believe in evil as thoroughly as conservatives do. However, I'm not sure they can believe in it in precisely the same way.
Let's consider the example of violence. Often, violence is an evil. But almost no one (except maybe the progressive liberal) thinks that violence can't be put to good use. If a small amount of violence can prevent a great amount of evil, then that might be reason enough to support the use of violence. Fortunately (here, libertarians will disagree, and I will disagree with them), modern government has gotten quite good at being economical in its use of violence. The barest threat -- the frown of the police officer; the possibility of an tax audit -- is enough to get most people to comply.
Thus, the very efficiency of the modern state, its ability to use small amounts of violence for very great effect, makes it difficult to sensibly reject unleashing the state against the threat of evil. If you believe in evil, of course. The libertarian who both believes in evil and believes that the state should not be unleashed to combat it has the burden of explaining why. In what follows, I'll call the libertarian who believes in evil (beyond the infliction of violence) a conservative-libertarian, and attempt to meet the burden he bears.
Here is one explanation: violence is evil to such a degree that its use can never be sanctioned, not even against (by implication) lesser evils. The drug user lives poorly and encourages others to do the same, but we do even worse if we bring violence against him.
This has to be the comparison the conservative-libertarian has in mind: using violence against people who live evil lives is worse than allowing them to continue and spread their evil. But if this is the idea, then, frankly, it sounds silly. A tiny amount of violence, directed at a few, evil people, to prevent them from spreading their evil further. And still, that's too much? On every occasion? But why? What makes a small amount of violence -- neutered, and under the control of legions of bureaucrats -- so bad that it can never be used in this way?
What the libertarian needs to say, I think, is that it is an injustice to use violence just to get people to make good choices. That it is wrong to force people to live good lives. That we cannot use the smallest amount of violence to make the world a better place. But this sounds absurd, and must sound absurd to social conservatives.
Thus, I submit that the libertarian, to avoid this absurdity, cannot believe in evil the way the social conservative believes in evil. He must believe in evil the way liberals believe in evil: that it is unnatural, and that more freedom will, over time, lead to less of it. This is not to say the libertarian can't believe the drug addict is living poorly, that his life would be better if he made different choices. But he must believe that, given sufficient freedom, the vast majority of people will not choose to follow the drug addict into perdition. Evil is always the exception and never the rule.
Shane, I'm really curious as to what you'll think of this post. The conversations we've had served as a model, at least to a degree. Hopefully I haven't invented a straw conservative, as I was trying to be sympathetic.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-14 5:16:42 PM
I don't believe in evil, in the religious sense, as some sort of universal force. I also don't think that people are naturally good.
I do think the state should be limited to ensuring people don't use violence against each other because I think people can, and should, be trusted to make their own decisions, regardless of whether others think them good or evil. Some people think doing recreational drugs and having sex with prostitutes is evil, others do not. Who are we to judge right and wrong as long as no one is getting hurt?
It is due to my belief that people are not naturally good that I think we should have less government involvement in our lives and in the economy. The beauty of the market economy is that it accepts that people are naturally greedy and self-centered and harnesses this in order to make everyone else better off.
Posted by: Jesse Kline | 2009-06-14 7:46:35 PM
At some point, I'll write a follow up post addressing the kind of view you espoused, which -- I don't think I'm wrong about this -- you find more often in liberals than conservatives.
But if you believe in evil as present and pervasive, you're also going to think that people engaged in destructive ways of life (e.g. the drug-addict) aren't always going to admit or even see the true nature of their lifestyles. That's just the way evil works.
So you're not going to trust people to pick good lives -- at least, not without some help from a surrounding culture that's informed, nuturing, and willing to condemn evil unambiguously. In other words, the culture better not be broadcasting a "Who am I to judge?" message, because people will take advantage of that permisiveness to choose the worst lives they can.
The conservative is more than willing to answer the "Who's to say that X is evil?" question, drawing on tradition and human nature to do so (or on religious bigotry, as Mike Brock would surely add.) And as soon as we go to the place where we're no longer willing to make such judgments, I think we've left the social conservative behind.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-14 8:21:57 PM
When one says that you cannot legislate morality, much depends on what he actually means. I have stated the same in the sense that you cannot force a person to be moral through legislation. However, I also recognise that the foundation of any legal system is based on morality. What varies of course is whose version of morality it is based. I tend to agree that on a whole most vice laws should not exist, but there is a large difference between the state not criminalising victimless vices and the state rewarding bad behaviour. An example (yes I know it is certain to draw the wrath of some) is homosexuality between consenting adults. A truly neutral state would neither criminalise it nor condone it. It would allow those who reject the life style the freedom to express their views, the freedom not to associate and the freedom to deny access on private property. They would never however have the freedom to use or to promote the use of violence to enforce their views. Homosexuals would also have exactly the same freedoms.
I prefer to stay clear of labels, such as libertarian or social conservative, since I find so little consistency in the people identifying with one or the other. For example I find some in both camps who ignore or deny human nature. Be they fundamental atheists or religious people who are fundamentalist, they both believe that human nature is perfectible while denying that we are all capable of the most extreme evil or the highest good. They thus promote either a theocracy or a secular totalitarianism in order to accomplish their earthly utopia. Both invariably resort to persecuting, incarcerating and killing those who do not conform.
Posted by: Alain | 2009-06-14 8:25:09 PM
You make some good points, especially regarding labeling. I started out trying to define the two terms, and found it was next to impossible. The most I could do was contrast them, in some small way.
You're right that there are some religious folks who seem to want to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth, and perhaps they do think of themselves as conservatives.
In a sense, they might be: they believe that some lives are evil, and that, left to their own devices, people will choose evil over good. The difference might be that sensible conservatives recognize that the most you can do is "keep evil on a leash." You can't eliminate it. You can't bring about heaven on earth. But, at the same time, you can't let it run its course unobstructed.
At the same time, I did appreciate John McCain's answer to the question he was asked by Rick Warren, with regard to what we should do about evil: confront it, negotiate with it, etc.
McCain said, gruffly, "Defeat it." Obama's answer was quite a bit longer and I don't even remember most of it. That one answer revealed something about both conservatives and liberals, at least in my mind.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-14 8:45:31 PM
It would probably be useful to define evil, and define the intended function of government.
Whether your ethical framework was delivered to you by parents, religion, culture, or personal investigation, no two people's ethical frameworks are identical. However, there can be common ground. Ethics are the touchstone by which one judges good versus evil. Since ethics vary – especially at the grayer borders – so, then does each person's evaluation of good and evil. Finding that common ground where all agree on evil is harder as the number of people involved increases.
Limiting the governmental or legal definition of evil to "initiated physical force by one citizen towards another" avoids the ethical calculus required when asking to government to enforce everyone's set of ethics on everyone else.
This leads me to considering the proper function of government. Is it to "combat evil"? What is its charter?
Given the events of the last decade or so as an American, I've found myself reading more of the founding its documents and the philosophies that inspired them. In the American Declaration of Independence I was struck by a passage which I had read before, but hadn't fully appreciated:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed…"
Governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. The people delegate just powers to a government in order to accomplish something. What? "In order to secure these rights". America's founders instituted government TO SECURE RIGHTS. They did not institute government to fight evil. They did not institute government to control bad people.
While this is strictly an assertion by America's founders and by no means intended to be a statement of universal fact. I find I wholeheartedly agree with the concept. I do not expect you to live for my sake, or up to my definition of good, or to eschew my definition of evil – so long as neither you nor I initiate force upon each other and threaten our unalienable rights.
"The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
-- Robert A. Heinlein
Posted by: Akston | 2009-06-14 8:55:28 PM
I don't believe that most of us are inherently evil or good. There is sufficient evidence to convince me that many of us are intellectually lazy. We do not take the time or the effort to search for and recognize the "good". If we find it we tend to follow the first rule of plumbing and do what appears on the surface to be the easy route. This will invariably lead us to the wrong conclusion. Then, like the purchaser who has bought a lemon (car) we rationalize our actions and never expend the energy to recover. Living an life of integrity requires moral courage, something that is sadly lacking in many of us.
Posted by: DML | 2009-06-14 9:05:38 PM
Good Grief!! One of the definitions of evil according to social conservatives is...'living poorly'? Have I got that right?
If so, it's not that libertarian minded folks don't believe in evil they certainly do, but they wouldn't lump making poor choices or living poorly in with it.
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-14 9:06:53 PM
I wouldn't say that living poorly is the definition of evil (and I didn't mean to imply that it was.) But shunning virtue and goodness creeps close to evil, even if it doesn't involve inflicting violence on others. Encouraging others to do the same probably qualifies completely.
This all assumes, of course, that there is something like "objectively better or worse ways of living", and that we should, other things being equal, try to live good, virtuous lives.
From talking to conservatives, I get the impression they'd be willing to leave, e.g., Marc Emery alone if they thought his brand of "evil" would be confined to his own life. But they know (or believe) that corruption has a way of spreading until it affects society as a whole.
I'm waiting to hear from Shane, but I'm pretty sure he's said something like that on occasion. Or maybe it was somebody else who supported the drug laws.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-14 9:17:30 PM
Can't a person's belief system be a mixture of both social conservatism and libertarianism? In addition, social conservatism sometimes means different things to differnt people. In New Zealand, we have three main parties(ACT, National, and New Zealand First). All of them have a mix of libertarian and social conservative policies. Furthermore, some of them differ greatly on what would be a conservative position.
1.) ACT describes itself as a free market liberal party. It supports reducing the top corporate and income tax rates to 15%. It wants to reduce the GST to 10%. It supports school vouchers and a taxpayer bill of rights. The party is firmly for gun owner rights. It supports the reestablishemnt of private prisons. On a free vote, the party voted 5-4 for legalizing civil unions. It also supported legalizing prostitution. Yet, the party also has some rather conservative positions.
It is the toughest on crime and supported a 3 strike law. It also supports zero tolerance policing and seizing criminals assets for victim reparations. In addition, it supports expanding the New Zealand military to 30,000(more than doubling it).The party also opposed the ban on smacking children. Finally, an independent survey showed that most ACT candidates are pro-life.
2.) National is the largest center-right party. It wants tax cuts but as large as the numbers ACT calls for. The same is true on defense. It wants parents to have more say in their childrens education but will not make any statements about vouchers. It takes no real position on guns. It
has adopted ACT's crime policy. Also, most of its members are pro-life and anti-stem cell. It has butted heads with ACT on the Civil Union bill, the Prostitution bill, and the anti-smacking ban.
3.) New Zealand First is the final significant right-leaning party. It supports tax cuts but opposes free trade. It wants to help small businesses but condemns multinational corporations. It calls for helping the elderly but keeping out asian immigrants. It is supportive of gun rights and takes a tough position on crime policy. It calls for supporting the traditional family. It's leader Winston Peters is mixed race(Maori and White) and a former National Party man who rambles incessantly about asian immigrants destroying New Zealand culture. He also has a thing about giant corporations taking control of the country. He views the other two parties as too close to big business.
So, we have three parties with differing views of conservatism. For example, New Zealand First wants to wall the country off from the outside and promote traditional New Zealand values. Meanwhile, ACT is the most supportive of reducing the size of government but also adopts the hardest line on crime and defense which are not libertarian, right? National has parts of each but is not as hardline. Which is the true libertarian? Which is the true conservative? It comes down to individual choice doesn't it?
Posted by: Ian | 2009-06-14 9:50:51 PM
Terrence, that is one of the most masterful pieces I have ever seen you craft. Well done!
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-14 9:52:12 PM
"shunning virtue and goodness creeps close to evil, even if it doesn't involve inflicting violence on others."
I don't eat as well as I should, and have been shunning regular exercise for at least five years now(probably more). Trying to make ends meet with three kids a (mostly) stay at home wife and three levels of government breathing down my neck is keeping me kind of busy.
Never the less eating well and exercising regularly can objectively be said to be more virtuous than what I am doing. Does this make me evil?
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-14 9:56:11 PM
F.J., the only evil that libertarians acknowledge is the existence of government in any form.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-14 9:59:21 PM
Or almost evil?
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-14 10:00:27 PM
Or almost evil?
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-14 10:01:22 PM
"F.J., the only evil that libertarians acknowledge is the existence of government in any form."
If that is what you believe then you really don't know libertarians.
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-14 10:34:28 PM
Thank you, Shane. I truly appreciate it.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-14 10:44:25 PM
"If that is what you believe then you really don't know libertarians."
Then set me straight. Most libertarians on this blog have yet to define a government or government policy--any government, any policy--in any terms except as an evil to be eradicated. And you are the most vocal of all in this regard.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 12:51:17 AM
Faith on the providence of Government is dangerous. Like faith in the providence of that other Claimant to Omnipotence, it defies all known evidence and experience. Sorry to disillusion you.
The State, by definition, claims a MONOPOLY on the use of coercive force within a geographical region. What makes you expect an entity that claims a monopoly on one form of "evil" to do good, even even on balance - and supposing the True Human Good could be defined.
I have only one question: What planet do you live on?
Posted by: Grant Brown | 2009-06-15 12:57:03 AM
I think the conservative agrees with you about the danger of government, which is why he doesn't support a government with an unlimited power to smite evil-doers.
But he also perceives a danger in leaving evil without any political opposition. Why can't there be a balance? A government with a limited mandate to combat those evils recognized as such by tradition and common mandate?
That's not my position, but I can see the sense in it.
Of course, if the idea of an objective human good is rejected, and "good" is reduced to "whatever satisfies a person's preferences", then my post doesn't apply. But that would be an even larger divide between conservatives and libertarians than the one I identified.
If libertarianism vs. conservatism is really subjectivists vs. objectivists, any attempt to bridge the gap will be completely hopeless.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-15 3:18:21 AM
Thank you, Grant, for confirming my statement. What do you say to Grant's reply, F.J.?
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 6:24:24 AM
How does one objectively define evil for all individuals in a country? By what standard?
Posted by: Akston | 2009-06-15 6:30:59 AM
Interesting piece that really doesn't get libertarians at all. Some of it smacks of the typical conservative hit-piece that makes us libertarians to be no better than socialists.
The wanting to meddle gene in social conservatives help create the modern organised crime movement (thanks to booze prohibition) and is continuing to sustain drug lords all over the world (drug prohibition). Rather than accepting that some people are stupid and let them get on with killing themselves with drugs, you have to meddle. So-cons are just as meddling as the socialist they just derive their "mission" to meddle from a religious drive.
So-cons are happy to collectively the entire population because of the few idiots who abuse or misuse something or are mentally unstable. So-cons treat the population as either naive children or idiots incapable of dealing with life. In that sense they are no different than socialists.
So-cons think the best of people are shocked when they turn out bad. Libertarians are naturally and properly cynical of their fellow man and act accordingly.
Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge | 2009-06-15 6:42:35 AM
Akston, evil is usually defined as malevolence and a desire to make others suffer, or at least a depraved indifference as to whether one's actions cause others to suffer.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 6:53:16 AM
For myself, evil does exist but only when someone deliberately goes out to harm someone else. I honestly cannot fathom, for example, how someone doing drugs can be evil. It may be stupid behaviour, but evil?
So in essence I'd have to agree with you, we obviously don't define evil in the same way.
Posted by: Charles | 2009-06-15 6:54:33 AM
Andrew, what did I get wrong about libertarianism?
1. Violence is evil
2. Since laws are backed up by violence, they should only be used to prevent or respond to violence.
3. Therefore, laws should not be used to limit or quash non-violent forms of evil, if there is such a thing.
That's about right, isn't it? I know some prefer the term aggression to violence, but that doesn't seem to matter in this context.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-15 7:00:07 AM
"don't all define" ... sorry
"the only evil that libertarians acknowledge is the existence of government in any form."
True for anarcho-capitalists or anarchist-socialists, but I don't this defines most people who post on this website.
Posted by: Charles | 2009-06-15 7:00:59 AM
In this post, the "primal evil" I had in mind can be defined as a deliberate shunning of virtue and pursuit of vice, regardless of long term cost to self or society.
Of course, we still need to know what defines virtue and vice, but I left that open. Around here, enough libertarians have told me that they agree (roughly) with conservatives about what virtue and vice involve. They just disagree about what the state should do (if anything) about non-violent evil.
That was my starting point: supposing that a libertarian does agree with the conservative about virtue and vice, can a laissez-faire approach to non-violent forms of evil be justified?
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-15 7:07:02 AM
"... They just disagree about what the state should do (if anything) about non-violent evil..."
hm " if anything? " are you still on that 911 as the home number of the Nanny State stuff??? this resolves a lot of mystery as libertarians defend Marc Emery to the steel gates of prison--I never knew why otherwise sane people slipped into irrational thinking. Its this obsession with violence- and as long as your heros don't hit anybody they are doing everything correctly. The moral thermometer here is slaps and punches, the hallmark of the gradeschool bully..
So if criminal intent and social corruption is done with a " hands to oneself " policy every other excess, corruptive act of fraud or acting as distributor of toxic, dangerous and/or otherwise undesireable things to other people is just fine with you guys. Sheesh.. And then you jump on anyone who dares to define toxic-dangerous and especially " undesirable.". Well OK then.. thats why Libertarianism will always be an endangered species ,, its lack of discernment passing itself off as open minded.
And if Libertines are still standing shoulder to shoulder with their Bi Polar Prince of Pot since his surrender and four star absurd TV interviews last week ... well maybe you will regroup at the nearest restaurant when your freedom hero # 0003 drops out of formation . and when you get a chance, move all the lower numbered freedom heros up one notch.
Posted by: 419 | 2009-06-15 7:59:04 AM
"Then set me straight. Most libertarians on this blog have yet to define a government or government policy--any government, any policy--in any terms except as an evil to be eradicated."
When it comes to economics this is true, libertarians would like to see a separation of the economy and the state in the same way that we have a separation of church and state and for the same reason.
But that does not mean no government at all, it means a more minimal government than we have now.
The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.
But a government that initiates force against men who had forced no one, the employment of armed compulsion against disarmed victims, is a nightmare infernal machine designed to annihilate morality: such a government reverses its only moral purpose and switches from the role of protector to the role of man’s deadliest enemy, from the role of policeman to the role of a criminal vested with the right to the wielding of violence against victims deprived of the right of self-defense. Such a government substitutes for morality the following rule of social conduct: you may do whatever you please to your neighbor, provided your gang is bigger than his.
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-15 8:32:43 AM
"For myself, evil does exist but only when someone deliberately goes out to harm someone else. I honestly cannot fathom, for example, how someone doing drugs can be evil."
Depending on the drug, it can be evil because getting hooked on such drugs can and does have ill effects on the people around the addict, not just the addict. The addict knows this, and knew it going in, but did not and does not care. Hence, evil.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 8:42:09 AM
Now one of my problems with the Liberitarian position on pot is that the argument gets framed as having the freedome to do the wrong thing. I want more freedom (such as being able to sell my own wheat for instance) so that I can do the right things for myself and my family( like buy my own medical insurance). But as Ghandi once said, " Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."
When government gets to involved in deciding what are good or bad choices for people the worse things get because they usually get it wrong. I am told the government can do a much better job than I could selling my own wheat yet when I look across the border into an open market I find that many times I could have sold all my wheat on the worst day for the worst price and still done better than the government did. On their best day they still only net me a below average return. Yes if I sold my own grain I might make worse decisions, but it is highly unlikely.
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-15 8:43:22 AM
"True for anarcho-capitalists or anarchist-socialists, but I don't this defines most people who post on this website."
And I think it does. Rebuttal?
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 8:43:39 AM
"Depending on the drug, it can be evil because getting hooked on such drugs can and does have ill effects on the people around the addict, not just the addict. The addict knows this, and knew it going in, but did not and does not care. Hence, evil."
No, it is not evil unless the addict somehow initiates the use of force. That is the line that must be crossed.
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-15 8:47:04 AM
1. The reason the economy and the state are not separated is because the lessons of the early 20th century, not least of which was the Great Depression, showed us the downfalls of such a laissez-faire approach. Granted, without government restriction, meteoric rises in wealth were possible, as evinced in the 1920s. But when the party ends and the hangover begins, it's one hell of a hangover. While the New Deal was a failure, government regulation of the economy does serve to take the harder edges off of it. There has not been another depression as bad as the 1929 since.
2., 3. The problem with that is that a government performing even those minimal duties would require some form of revenue, meaning taxes in some form would have to be levied. Since the government has to use the threat of force to ensure compliance (who would pay tax if they didn't have to?), we have already run afoul of point number 3. Policing also requires the threat of force, miring us further. And then there is schooling: compulsory, public, and free. Plus the child-labour laws which keep children in school and out of the factories to which some parents would doubtless send them if they had the choice.
Your model of government may have been possible in Jefferson's 18th-century rural America, F.J., but not today. If that is truly how you want to live, I suggest you overcome your aversion to religion, if you have one, and move to an Amish community.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 8:53:11 AM
I must say Shane you have an amazing ability to get almost everything wrong.
The Great Depression was caused by Government interference and it was the worst in places where the government interfered the most.
The voluntary taxation issue is so far down the line from where we are now it doesn't need to be discussed but it is most certainly possible.
And the one thing about force/violence that you so-con's always seem to get wrong is that it is not evil in and of itself. It is wrong to initiate the use of physical force against someone. But one certainly has the right to use it in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. That is the job of the police.
You seem to believe that the ends justify the means that you can do something wrong(use force against those who have done nothing to you) to achieve a so called 'greater good'. Well you can't.
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-15 9:11:30 AM
"You seem to believe that the ends justify the means that you can do something wrong(use force against those who have done nothing to you) to achieve a so called 'greater good'. Well you can't."
And as far as I can tell that is the biggest difference between Libertarian types and Social Conservatives. Social Conservatives seem to have a great desire to use the governments monopoly over physical force not to protect peoples rights but to violate them in an effort to create their perfect world. To force people to be "better".
This is wrong and it is immoral. You can certainly encourage people to live better lives but once you step over the line and start forcing them to do so you are the one who is in the wrong.
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-15 9:21:07 AM
"Plus the child-labour laws which keep children in school and out of the factories to which some parents would doubtless send them if they had the choice."
My kids were recently 'forced' by your supposedly superior public school system to clean up other peoples property. And there are countless examples of where our kids are forced to volunteer their time and effort in the public system.
In contrast there is no reason to believe that a persons child would be a slave in a system that puts individual rights at the top of the priority list. Your argument is a red herring.
Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2009-06-15 9:26:41 AM
Well Shane, I can't speak for others but I can speak for myself. I'm not an anarchist. The state should exist but in a very minimal form, to protect its citizens rights. It should not be interfearing in the economy or in peaceful activities.
"Granted, without government restriction, meteoric rises in wealth were possible, as evinced in the 1920s."
Hey Shane. When was the FED created? Have you ever bothered to look at how much money it was printing?
Posted by: Charles | 2009-06-15 9:33:16 AM
"I must say Shane you have an amazing ability to get almost everything wrong."
Uh huh. This is not going to be one of your better efforts; I can tell that much already.
"The Great Depression was caused by Government interference and it was the worst in places where the government interfered the most."
Actually, it was caused by the stock market crash. The Roaring Twenties bubble burst, and since there had been no regulatory limits on how big that bubble was allowed to get, its breaking was catastrophic.
By the way, since government intrusion today is even worse than it was in the 1930s, do you have an alternative explanation for why another Great Depression has not recurred?
"The voluntary taxation issue is so far down the line from where we are now it doesn't need to be discussed but it is most certainly possible."
What are you basing that on, F.J.? Would YOU pay tax if you didn't have to? Would you pay more to make up for those who didn't? If you can say this with a straight face than you are totally delusional.
"And the one thing about force/violence that you so-con's always seem to get wrong is that it is not evil in and of itself. It is wrong to initiate the use of physical force against someone. But one certainly has the right to use it in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. That is the job of the police."
But the police are also allowed to arrest you for non-violent crimes, and even to shoot you if you do them no hurt but merely approach in a manner they decide is threatening and refuse to back off.
Yes I can, yes the government can, and moreover, yes the government does. Sucks to be you.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 10:22:15 AM
"My kids were recently 'forced' by your supposedly superior public school system to clean up other peoples property. And there are countless examples of where our kids are forced to volunteer their time and effort in the public system."
"In contrast there is no reason to believe that a persons child would be a slave in a system that puts individual rights at the top of the priority list. Your argument is a red herring."
Yes, there is, actually--children are minors and therefore have only very basic rights.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 10:24:06 AM
"Well Shane, I can't speak for others but I can speak for myself. I'm not an anarchist. The state should exist but in a very minimal form, to protect its citizens rights."
"Hey Shane. When was the FED created? Have you ever bothered to look at how much money it was printing?"
Have you looked into the Brazilian hyperinflation yet, Charles? You know, the one spawned by massive borrowing to built their new capital city?
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 10:25:30 AM
You know Shane. I don't think it's hard to understand what the libertarian belief is here. There should be laws that punish those who hurt others (murder, fraud, theft, etc.). It's been explained over and over on this site.
"Have you looked into the Brazilian hyperinflation yet, Charles? You know, the one spawned by massive borrowing to built their new capital city?"
What's your point exactly? The only way that hyperinflation (or any inflation) can occur is if the money supply is increased at a faster pace than the economy can grow. The 1920's madness was created by an overly expansionist monetary policy coupled with government guarantees on a bunch of loans? Sound familiar?
Anyway, this is getting off topic.
Posted by: Charles | 2009-06-15 12:02:15 PM
Didn't read the whole post. You've oversimplified the libertarian view of evil. I think it is better summed up as "interfering with the pursuits of others through force or fraud is evil."
-- Hurting self by taking drugs (not evil)
-- Violently attacking a forest to make furniture (not evil)
-- Selling a pound of flour as a pound of cocaine (evil)
-- Having an abortion (depends on whether the libertarian in question considers the fetus a person)
-- Putting your competition out of business by spreading rumors about them (evil)
-- Putting your competition out of business by having a superior product (not evil)
"violence = evil" is nowhere even close to accurate, and that idea seems to form part of the basis of this post.
Posted by: K Stricker | 2009-06-15 2:14:34 PM
So for example, what substances voluntarily ingested by an adult citizen should be controlled or prohibited by government? Heroin? Cocaine? Marijuana? Alcohol? Trans fats? Junk food? Poison?
How would a social conservative arrive at the line?
Posted by: Akston | 2009-06-15 3:47:48 PM
Probably by starting with the one that affects judgment -- an individual's own meager defense against evil -- more than the others. But the sheer level of destructiveness would also have to be considered.
Fatty foods tend to be unhealthy, but at least they leave people with the judgment necessary to know they are unhealthy. And, while they can mess you up, at least it's not permanent. Exercise is always an option.
Like I was saying, I don't think the point is to eliminate evil, but to contain it. It's the belief that legal containment might be necessary that separates the conservative from the libertarian.
Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-15 4:22:21 PM
"It's the belief that legal containment might be necessary that separates the conservative from the libertarian."
I would agree that it's one of the differences. It's been my experience that one man's line where an action becomes evil can often be slightly or wholly different from another's. That difference is based on each man's ethical framework. When laws shift from defending citizen's rights to enforcing one man's ethics over another, one can as easily be the "enforcee" as the enforcer. And the lines are always drawn by subset of the country and imposed on a dissenting subset.
And whether the subset of citizens which established the socially conservative law is a majority or just a vocal minority, that subset is comprised of citizens who are not necessarily wiser, more saintly, or even better informed than the citizens they intend to control. They are simply more powerful, owing to their use of governmental force.
Social conservatives support governmental coercion to contain social evils, socialists and communists support governmental coercion to contain what they see as the evil of disproportionate distribution of wealth. Same means, different end.
Many historical atrocities start as small and well-meaning encroachments and abuses of power.
Posted by: Akston | 2009-06-15 5:05:50 PM
"You know Shane. I don't think it's hard to understand what the libertarian belief is here. There should be laws that punish those who hurt others (murder, fraud, theft, etc.). It's been explained over and over on this site."
The most commonly accepted liberties--those of speech, press, religion, conscience, and so forth--are traditionally violated not by individuals, but by the state. So in effect you're saying that the role of the state is to protect the people from--the state. Nice bit of circular reasoning.
"What's your point exactly? The only way that hyperinflation (or any inflation) can occur is if the money supply is increased at a faster pace than the economy can grow."
The printing of money is but one step on the road to hyperinflation, and is never the root cause. That's my point. As you seem to now realize, but can't quite force yourself to admit. I'd drop it, but you won't let the matter rest.
"The 1920's madness was created by an overly expansionist monetary policy coupled with government guarantees on a bunch of loans? Sound familiar?"
The 1920s madness was a classic economic bubble. The exact causes of the Depression are still being debated. Experts remain divided, and in spite of your iconoclastic posturing, you're not going to convince me that you know better than the best economic minds of two centuries.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 6:14:28 PM
"Many historical atrocities start as small and well-meaning encroachments and abuses of power."
True. But on the other hand, if we seriously contend that any regulation or restriction has the potential to start us along the road to Auschwitz, the only solution is anarchy.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-06-15 6:21:10 PM
"True. But on the other hand, if we seriously contend that any regulation or restriction has the potential to start us along the road to Auschwitz, the only solution is anarchy."
I'll agree to avoid Godwin, though the road leads where it leads. Whether we start down it, and how far we tolerate going, is up to us.
Perhaps "any regulation or restriction" is an inaccurate reading of the point. Are there classes of regulation and restriction? Or are they all of the same type? Can we discern differences? Blurring the lines between protecting rights and enforcing some group's ethical world view actually facilitates movement between anarchy and totalitarianism. When all restrictions are the same type, more is just more. When there are classes of restrictions, some restrictions may be off the table.
I prefer a government which is constitutionally constrained to defending citizens' rights over a government which is used as a cudgel to enforce one group's ethical world view over the rest.
Posted by: Akston | 2009-06-15 7:24:16 PM
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