Friday, January 7, 2011

A Simple Statement

The core idea of the libertarian philosophy is simple:
That all persons are equally free to live their lives as they see fit.

The "equal freedom" principle has a corollary: no person is entitled to initiate force against another.

Both statements, taken together, form a philosophical yin and yang, an image of positive and negative in the same way the dark image in an Escher print is the outline of the exact same image in the white space.

As an organizing principle for a society, libertarianism supports the rule of law, limits on government power, fairness in jurisprudence, and property rights. If a society attempts to operate without this as an organizing principle it leads to unlimited government power, pressure group politics, plastic rules of fairness in court, and no security of person or property. Many of the great democratic/republican convulsions of the 1700's and 1800's had a strong libertarian core. They were revolting against the despotism of kings and dictators who respected no rules of human fairness. Today, there is only a faint shadow of libertarian principles in old words, barely understood, written on faded parchment. The recent reading of the Constitution by the House of Representatives was a concrete demonstration of pious recitation without comprehension.

On a personal level, however, libertarianism is alive and strong. I would go so far as to say that most people, regardless of where they live, understand and practice libertarianism in their personal lives. In fact, I doubt any civil society can long survive without a firm foundation in the interpersonal respect for each other's person and property.

Wherever you go, the rules of interpersonal relations are the same:

Don't hit, don't hurt, don't murder.
Don't steal.
Don't cheat.

The world continues to function because people everywhere practice these rules. A homeowner can keep a nice lawn because of the reasonable assurance no one will drive on it and do 'donuts' in the middle of the night. A shop owner can put goods in easy reach of strangers because he is reasonably sure the strangers will pay for them instead of steal them. An employee will do work for an employer for two weeks because of reasonable assurance they will be compensated at a specified time in the future. A pedestrian will walk down a sidewalk with the reasonable assurance he will not be accosted by thugs.

All of this is possible because each person carries within him a small voice saying: treat others and their belongings with circumspect respect. When enough of a society practices this principle, there is civil tranquility.

There are examples, however, of places where 'reasonable assurance' is not so reasonable. East St Louis. Detroit. Liberia. Why? It's not because people in general have rejected the idea of personal libertarianism. If that were the case, there would be a free-for-all of stealing, assault, and murder without a regret expressed. But because the majority of people living in those cursed places recognize the gross unfairness imposed on them by crooks and thugs, it can be said that their repugnance at the violence and criminality is their statement of desire for libertarian civility. Even most crooks realize what they do is harmful to others and try to hide their actions from view. Only the sociopaths have no consideration for others.

If people took their personal libertarianism and extended it to politics, the resulting government would concern itself only with protection of persons and their property from violence, theft, and fraud. The courts would focus on restitution to victims where possible, not vengeful punishment or coercive behavior modification. Incarceration would be limited to those who cannot be safely allowed to walk the streets: sociopaths. Unless a society is dominated by sociopaths, it is unlikely to need much of a government.

Why is it our politics is so unlibertarian? Because the people have been taught for over 100 years that there is something magical about governments and government officials. The Progressive Era included a faith in experts, bureaucracy (not always a pejorative word), and concentrated government power. The result was a disconnect between our personal lives and our political lives. We would never, personally, put a gun to our neighbor's head, take half of his money, and consider it our right to do so. However, we have accepted the idea that we are justified in doing the same thing as long as we have our 'representative' do it for us. We know it is not our business to force our neighbor to live only in a manner that we approve of, but we feel righteous demanding that our representative licence, tax, regulate, and punish personal lives. We would call it murder if we personally pulled the trigger to intentionally murder an illiterate farmer on the other side of the earth who has never done us harm, yet we demand our representatives put in motion a killing machine that accomplishes the same thing, and we wave flags and 'support the troops' in their misbegotten mission. Personally we respect each other and our property, politically we cancel that respect by endorsing government theft and murder.

(It should be no surprise that the people who tell us these actions are right and justified are themselves sociopaths. See the parallels between politicians and sick sociopaths below:

I will blog on this angle another time.)

Personal libertarianism, practiced consistently, leads to a political system and policies very different from the ones we currently live under. I venture to say that only personal libertarianism can save us from the continued confiscation and despotism we are enduring.

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