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THOMAS FLEMING: Abuse Your Illusions
Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture ^ | January 2002 | Thomas Fleming

Posted on 02/04/2002 12:00:14 PM PST by ouroboros

Walter Block is a libertarian without guile, a theorist who refuses to confine his classical-liberal analysis to strictly economic questions. Liberty is liberty, he would argue, and value is value, whether we are deciding a question of zoning or a case of censorship. Honest man that he is, he opposes both zoning and censorship as acts of government infringement upon our liberties and as the forced substitution of other people’s values for our own. In a recent online editorial, Professor Block offers us a rigorously libertarian (to be accurate, we should say “liberal”) answer to the moral questions raised by stem-cell research.

Block is well known for defending the indefensible, and he takes the novel position that recycling fetal parts for research and medicine is morally acceptable, so long as the “parents” (i.e., those who supplied the genetic material) are unwilling to rear the child and there are no other takers for the fetus.

As a good libertarian, Block takes it as a given that we have no “positive obligations” to other people except not to harm them deliberately. Unborn babies, even from the point of fertilization, represent human life, but they are in the position of a wild cow that no one has “homesteaded”—i.e., domesticated and claimed ownership of. Therefore, if the parents choose not to rear the child and offer it up for adoption but find no one willing to assume the burden, they have the right to kill it—just as they would have the right to kill a born child.

Block’s morally revolting conclusion is not the problem. Many libertarian arguments lead to repugnant conclusions about marriage, drug use, pornography, and common civility, and their conclusions do not always remain in the realm of speculative theory. It is what Block (and perhaps most libertarians) take for granted—the underlying assumptions—that are really horrifying. Let us begin with the obvious: the ease with which human beings are equated with animals, not to mention the unproved assumption that human relations can be reduced to “homesteading.” In fact, the entire concept of homesteading requires us to regard human social life as consisting of unrelated individuals who find themselves on a frontier where there are no kinfolk, no laws, no customs—in other words, in a Lockean state of nature that has never existed.

Notice, too, the blithe indifference to facts of law in the treatment of his bovine metaphor. An animal coming out of nowhere is an uncommon experience, and children—whether the identity of mother and father is known—have two parents. In fact, the proper point of comparison is with calves that belong to the people who own the cow and the bull. Such calves are not at all open to homesteading, which would amount to rus-tling. In Ireland, the broad application of such a principle started a war, when St. Columcille refused to surrender a copy he had made of a biblical manuscript. The high king declared the calf went with the cow, but neither the saint nor his powerful clan agreed, and when the carnage ended, the horrified Columcille went off to Iona to found a monastery and save civilization.

But the principles of law and the facts of history are of only the slightest interest to libertarian theoreticians such as Walter Block and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who are both to be applauded for their candor and for the rigor with which they have applied libertarian principles beyond the point of common sense. Timid ideologues grow fainthearted as they approach the abyss, but purists keep on marching until they have revealed what lies at the end of the road. Just as the 19th-century classical liberals, in pursuing the principle of radical individualism, led Europe and America straight to socialism, they are now leading us down the road to Soylent Green.

Libertarian theory, as Ludwig von Mises insisted, was a morally neutral science. Certain courses of action might well be regarded as suicidal, but “praxeology and economics do not tell a man whether he should preserve or abandon life.” If some libertarians find the conclusions offensive, they might begin to reconsider the premises.

Most American conservatives (and many self-described libertarians) would say something like this: “I agree with the libertarian analysis of money and banking and economic liberty, but on social, cultural, and moral questions, I defend ‘traditional moral values.’” This was, more or less, what was meant by “fusionism” in those distant ages so long ago when there was a conservative movement whose chief “theoretician” was Frank Meyer at National Review. Quite apart from the obvious problem that fusionism simply did not work (there are scarcely any fusionists under 60 years old), it is—or rather was—based on a false distinction. As Walter Block and other true liberals are fully aware, libertarian economics is only an application of libertarian social and moral theory. Mises makes the point emphatically in the introduction to Human Action, a work which is widely regarded as the libertarian “bible.” Economics, says Mises, is the application to markets of “praxeology,” a science of human behavior, based on the subjective theory of value “which converted the theory of market prices into a general theory of human choice.”

If the general theory is false and evil, the economic version of it must be—however much we might want to believe otherwise—equally false and equally evil. Suppose we reached that conclusion—what then? Would we all become socialists or national mercantilists or Green agrarians? That is, apparently, what libertarians want us to believe: Either sign on to their ideology or be declared an enemy of human freedom. Such a fate, however, is reserved only for people who cling to the slender reed of classical liberalism as the sole support of a free society. People loved liberty, even economic liberty, long before Adam Smith (much less Ludwig von Mises) ever propounded his fallacies. Our search is for truth, not for a comforting ideology, and the things we love that are real and true—our wives and children, the freedom to buy, sell, and compete in the marketplace—cannot be defended with illusions.

Unfortunately, much of the liberals’ credo is summed up in the Guns ’n’ Roses album title, Use Your Illusion. Rather than taking up actual transactions between real human beings, liberals take their stand on abstract concepts like the Market, Freedom, and Value. “Freedom to do what?” we ask. “Freedom to choose,” answers Professor Friedman. “Choose what?” we persist, like rude children. “Whatever you like,” they answer (provided you do not harm anyone, though—as we see in Professor Block’s case—they have a rather narrow construction of harm that can exclude the death of innocent people.) It comes down to a question of value, which (at least for adherents of the Austrian school) is entirely subjective. You like Greek vases; I like baseball cards. I would not give a nickel for your black-figure pot signed by Euphorion, and you would give less than that for an original Joe DiMaggio, unless it still had the bubble gum.

This theory of subjective valuation is, perhaps, the linchpin of the Austrian/libertarian approach, though not all liberals (particularly left-liberals such as John Rawls) have achieved the terrible simplicity of Ludwig von Mises, whose entire “science” of economics and praxeology is based on it. “Ultimate ends are ultimately given,” says Mises, “they are purely subjective.” Now, Mises might simply be uttering a fatuous tautology of the type, “I want what I want what I want . . . ,” but since he is at pains to defend his position as a breakthrough in the history of thought, we have to assume that he thinks he is saying something important, not just about economics but about human nature.

The breakthrough seems to boil down to this: In assessing human behavior, we are not entitled to go beyond the fact of human actions, which are assumed always to be carried out rationally in the pursuit of what the individual wants. Some of what he wants and pursues might be self-destructive, but “the notions of abnormality and perversity . . . have no place in economics.” At first glance, this seems to be the typical sophomore’s reductionism that insists that man has no free will because there is a material cause for everything, to which the junior’s usual response is to ask why materialist ideology is not subject to the same analysis. In the case of subjective valuation, the juniors might ask Mises why the theory of subjective valuation should not be viewed as merely a means for accomplishing Mises’ own desire for money or prestige.

Mises might answer by arguing (as he does in Human Action) that human rationality, the mental mechanisms by which we achieve our desires, has evolved through natural selection to conform to the nature of reality—and that is the best answer a materialist can give. However, if Mises were really interested in human nature, as he says he is, it is strange that he gives no evidence of having studied history, biology, or anthropology. Even his psychology is of the crudest type—he quotes Locke as an authority.

The problem is that there are two Ludwig von Miseses: the Mises who claims to be offering a scientific account of human action (particularly in economic terms), and the Mises who fervently believes in the principles of 19th-century liberalism—minimal government, human individualism, the elimination of such obstacles to individual fulfillment as the Church, aristocracy, traditions, etc., the “right” to do as one chooses, even if society or other people regard it as “perverse.” Amazingly, it turns out that Misesian methods of analysis—which are purely rational, objective, and scientific—confirm the liberals’ value-free vision of society down to the last detail. His “philosophy,” in other words, is actually propaganda in the service of ideology.

Mises’ liberal bias is very clear whenever the subject of morals or religion comes up. “Ethical doctrines . . . intent upon establishing scales of value . . . claim for themselves the vocation of telling right from wrong.” People who believe in right and wrong are obviously fools. So are Christians whose economic ideals, he advises us, are similar to Marx’s. As indifferent to moral theology as he is to history, Mises conflates the teachings of Pope Pius XI, a reactionary as hostile to socialism as he was to liberalism, with those of Archbishop William Temple, a modernist as well as a liberal-socialist Anglican.

What really mattered was Mises’ singleminded commitment to eliminate all objective judgments of value. This is the opposite of what all Christians and traditional conservatives believe, and it is by no means unfair to Mises to point out that his principles are entirely inconsistent with Christianity. When Russell Kirk complained that the Mt. Pèlerin Society, whose central figure was Mises’ student Friedrich Hayek, taught dogmatic liberalism and opposed Christianity, the best that its defenders (George Stigler among them) could do was to cite the presence of several Christians in the group. This is a little like defending the Nazis from the charge of antisemitism on the grounds that there were a few Jews in the party.

Like Marxists and Freudians, liberals have created a closed system in which every question is answered before it is asked. If all moral, social, aesthetic, and political questions can be reduced to what an individual happens to prefer, then there is no objective basis for truth, beauty, and right. I think we all know where this gets us, because we are living in the amoral world that liberals created. Rejecting the really valuable contributions made by liberal economists and political analysts, we have completely accepted their childish and dangerous philosophy. Far from representing an innovative principle subversive of the regime, Mises’ theory of subjective valuation is the highly respectable platitude on the lips of guidance counselors, therapists, and pornographers. It is the “Playboy philosophy” for college graduates.

It is not that there is no subjective aspect to value, but, if we step outside the hermetically sealed system, most of us acknowledge that much of what we value—food, shelter, clothing, weapons, tools, good health and good looks—are essential to survival and reproduction. Individuals who do not “value” food simply die and eliminate themselves from the discussion, and societies that fail to value weapons (or sex) quickly disappear. In crude terms—I am scarcely a better philosopher than Mises—value has what Darwinists would describe as an adaptive element.

Mises concedes this point only to trivialize it, but a student of human nature might construct a theory of value—and of money—out of sociobiological research. What is money, after all, but a measure of value, and if there is an adaptive significance to value, why could money not be treated as marking increments of adaptive success? X amount of gold might be the equivalent of so many children (or percentages of children) begotten or, more precisely, the units of caloric energy expended on the mating process. In lower species (such as hummingbirds), there is research that shows a male bird has to invest so much caloric energy into acquiring the food it needs to survive. The “surplus” value (i.e., the excess of energy) can be converted to mating and territorial behavior. Although human beings are almost infinitely more complicated than birds, a similar calculus might be developed that would firmly set material human values in a biological framework that would fulfill the liberal dream of reducing human life to the dimensions of the mathematical sciences. It would also, unfortunately, explode all the human fantasies based on illusions like “economic man” and expose the hollow pretensions of such libertarian slogans as “free markets/free minds.”

A moderate liberal might retort: Very well, then, but even in the matter of food, clothing, and shelter, different people want different things. Of course they do, but how much of what they want is really based on individual preference? Hans drinks beer, and Pierre prefers wine: Is it an accident that the German is a beer-drinker, while the oenophile is French? Ah, says our moderate, but some Germans do drink wine. Yes, and many of them come from regions that historically produce good whites. If we take the case to the extreme, we shall have to concede that the tastes of the average American, for example, are nearly always determined by the general culture of America and by the regional or ethnic or religious subcultures to which he belongs. Only a few trivial points—a fondness for pink shirts or skinny neckties—can be attributed to his individual eccentricities or peculiar experiences. For the most part, then, what Mises regards as judgments of subjective valuation are really an expression of either natural necessity or broader social values. The individual’s subjective contribution would seem to be negligible. The necessary conclusion to this line of reasoning would be to recover, in all our social, political, and economic thinking, a healthy balance between the autonomy of individuals and the stability of the society that actually creates those individuals. The libertarian project of setting individuals free from the constraints of families and communities could then be seen for what it is—as subversive of individual liberty itself as of society.

Liberals are fond of ridiculing the utopian projects of Marxists, who thought they could build a world without social classes, and of traditionalist conservatives, who are accused of yearning for the simplicity and community of a medieval social order. What they conveniently choose to ignore is the fact that the liberals had their chance. In the second half of the 19th century, liberalism was the dominant ideology of the West. Britain, the United States, Austria-Hungary (and, at times, even France and Germany) pursued the liberal agenda. They lowered tariffs, whittled away the privileges of the Church and the nobility, and gradually bled social institutions and moral traditions of their vitality. Britain undoubtedly prospered as a whole; the bourgeoisie became rich, and, for the most part, wages and working conditions for the lower classes improved.

Working men, nonetheless, were un-impressed. Torn up from their rural and regional roots, stripped of their allegiance to nobility and the Church, indoctrinated with the grim teachings of utilitarian and liberal philosophies that told them to look out for number one, the lower classes began turning to socialism before the end of the 19th century. Liberalism was dead in England before World War I and in America before 1932, and its doctrines were only to be revived, briefly and in adulterated form, in the years of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who have both been followed by socialists and state capitalists. Nothing could be more utopian and more naive than to believe that the failed liberal experiments of the past will be tried again in the near future. If Mrs. Thatcher, who regarded Hayek as a prophet, could not make it work, no one can.

Neither Thatcher nor Reagan were liberal dogmatists; both had their conservative sides, and both were willing to maintain a high level of socialism in their countries. Mises apart, it is hard to find a pure liberal. The greatest critics of liberal dogma in the glory years of the Victorian Age were themselves disgruntled liberals like Sir Henry Maine and Fitzjames Stephen, and even such radical individualists as John Stuart Mill, Albert Jay Nock, and the great Murray Rothbard were intellectual or social elitists who had to compartmentalize their beliefs: here, a radical commitment to individual liberty; there, a set of convictions about good manners, classical education, and moral responsibility. The really thoroughgoing liberals—such as William Godwin or Ayn Rand—were disgusting and unreliable people.

Economic liberty and political liberty are part of the good life to which many of us aspire, but they are not universal givens or precious jewels picked up by the first men living in a state of nature. They are the hard-won cultural achievements of the Greek and Roman, English and American political thinkers who discovered and expounded them and of the soldier-farmers who defended them. In other societies, freedom is as little prized as the principles of logic, and in abandoning the West’s moral, social, and cultural traditions, liberals make it im- possible either to defend the liberties we have left or to recover those we have lost, and so long as “conservatives” attempt to base their defense of liberty on liberal grounds, they will continue to fail as miserably as they have failed over the past 50 years.

Mises’ most famous student came to understand part of the problem. Although he professed high moral standards, Friedrich Hayek had little problem, apparently, in dumping his wife of 23 years and abandoning his children. His Arkansas one-sided divorce (which was really an act of repudiation) drove Lionel Robbins, one of his closest friends and colleagues, to resign from the Mt. Pèlerin Society. In the years that followed his divorce, however, Hayek increasingly came to realize that economic liberty itself had to be rooted in some principle that lay beyond subjective value, and at the end of his life—and against the wishes of some of his libertarian friends (so one of them told me)—he published The Fatal Conceit, a book that permanently gives the lie to liberal amoralism. But even Hayek’s search for the moral and cultural preconditions for economic liberty put the cart before the horse. The free market is not an end in itself but a part—albeit an important part—of the good life. Trapped in the constrictive mind of Enlightenment rationalism, Hayek could not solve the problem he set for himself, but his thought represents a major step away from the nihilism of 19th-century liberalism and toward the sane grasp of reality held out by those who seek a truth that lies beyond the whims of fashion and the promptings of our glands.

Copyright 2002, www.ChroniclesMagazine.org
928 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61103


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Editorial
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1 posted on 02/04/2002 12:00:15 PM PST by ouroboros
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To: Mercuria;diotima;sheltonmac;Askel5;DoughtyOne;tex-oma;A.J.Armitage;x;Campion Moore Boru;junta...
ping
2 posted on 02/04/2002 12:31:25 PM PST by ouroboros
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To: ouroboros
He confused the subjective theory of value with relativism to his own advantage. The two are not the same. His refutation of the subjective theory of value doesn't cut it, either. Of course valuations of goods aren't made by some disembodied, radically individual intellect. The will is determind by wants, and wants are heavily influenced by things external to the person himself; this in no way undermines the subjective theory of value, and I can prove it. He left out a major determining factor in how people assign value to a good: number. The more there are, the less highly it's valued. It's called marginal utility, and it was proposed along with the subjective theory of value (and is dependent on it) by Karl Menger.
3 posted on 02/04/2002 12:57:50 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: ouroboros
The article is a mishmash of mischaracterizations masquerading as refutations.

Fleming starts off by dismissing Walter Block’s (admittedly-bizarre) theory of fetal ethics by claiming that mothers and fathers are property. “An animal coming out of nowhere is an uncommon experience, and children—whether the identity of mother and father is known—have two parents. In fact, the proper point of comparison is with calves that belong to the people who own the cow and the bull”. Of course he never answers the obvious questions. Who are people the property of? Does the owner have the right to do what he wants with the foetus? Whatever you might think of Block’s case, this is not a refutation, unless you accept the argument that all people are slaves.

Having thus disposed of Block, Fleming then sets him up as a strawman who he uses over and over again to impugn all of libertarian theory. His refutation of Block lead inexorably to “if the general theory is false and evil, the economic version of it must be—however much we might want to believe otherwise—equally false and equally evil.” Neither the premise nor the conclusion is correct. He did not refute the general theory and, even if he had, the specific theory could still hold true.

Having now proven to his satisfaction that all of libertarianism is false, the next statement follows easily. “People loved liberty, even economic liberty, long before Adam Smith (much less Ludwig von Mises) ever propounded his fallacies”. This is the article’s only reference to Smith and his “fallacies”.

Fleming then spends several pages expounding on Mises’ theory of value. Mises’ theory was actually quite simple, almost a tautology. People want what they want and they make choices based on their wants. Fleming’s description of Mises is reasonably accurate, if loaded with negative buzzwords and phrases. Personally I find it almost impossible to see how someone could argue with Mises’ characterization. It is a self-evident truth, an axiom of the behaviour of the reasoning man.

Fleming does argue though because, as we all know, people are property like cattle.

This is where he starts to seriously get off track. He claims that people make decisions, not based on their wants, but on their values. “Only a few trivial points—a fondness for pink shirts or skinny neckties—can be attributed to his individual eccentricities or peculiar experiences. For the most part, then, what Mises regards as judgments of subjective valuation are really an expression of either natural necessity or broader social values. The individual’s subjective contribution would seem to be negligible.”

This actually is true. But it is in no sense a refutation of Mises. What is the difference between a ‘value’ and a ‘want’? Why do people hold the values that they hold? Fleming never asks these questions, let alone answering them.

Instead he says that “in abandoning the West’s moral, social, and cultural traditions, liberals make it impossible either to defend the liberties we have left or to recover those we have lost.” (Notice the conflation of libertarian and liberal, a sleight-of-hand in which Fleming indulges repeatedly. The modern liberal is really a bastard son of classical liberalism - AKA libertarianism - and Rousseau's theories of the benevolence of the state).

But Fleming has it completely backwards. It is in abandoning liberty that conservatives make it impossible to defend those Western moral, social, and cultural traditions we have left or to recover those we have lost.

Which leads inexorably to his final and greatest error: his complete misunderstanding of the message of Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit. By the end of his life Hayek had become a humble individual. He rejected both the labels conservate and libertarian, describing himself as an “Old Whig”. By this, he meant that he was a believer in the ethics of our ancestors, taking the year 1800 as a snapshot of history. Fleming may well agree with Hayek on this point. This is why some conservatives claim Hayek as one of their own.

There is, however, a key difference between Hayek and modern conservatives like Fleming. Hayek did not believe in the old traditions because they were “right”. He believed in them because they were. Fleming says “They are the hard-won cultural achievements of the Greek and Roman, English and American political thinkers who discovered and expounded them and of the soldier-farmers who defended them.” Maybe so, but why did they “achieve” these particular values and fight for them?

Hayek has the answer with yet another apparent tautology. They chose them because they work, and he believed in them because they chose them. So how do we know they work? Because they were tested in the marketplace of ideas and cultural memes. Hayek said “between our instincts and our reason, we have our tradition”. Our traditions are the distilled wisdom of the ages. That which works is that which survives to be re-used by other men. That which doesn’t work disappears into the dustbin of history.

The grease that the marketplace uses to sort good ideas and bad ideas is called “liberty.” Men must be allowed the right to determine what works best by trial and error. Successful ideas and memes flourish. Bad ones die.

Frank Meyer understood that libertarianism and conservatism worked together. He failed, though, to understand why. Liberty is not more important than other values. Family, community and what used to be virtue are all more important. Conservatives understand this, as too many libertarians do not.

While other values may be more important to running our lives, liberty is unique in it is the foundation on which the other values stand. Unless an individual has the liberty to determine what is right and wrong for himself, he is not a man. What's more he ceases to be virtuous and his faith in his family and community fade. Lose liberty and you lose all.

I would argue, and I think that Hayek would agree, that the decline in Western values over the last two centuries is due precisely to the lack of marketplace discipline. The West has become fat and lazy because of the huge advance it enjoyed over other civilizations. As new cultural memes are introduced, they spread without check. The state abets the spread of those memes which have the most popularity or the most political influence. The issue of whether they actually work is secondary if, indeed, it is considered at all.

The fundamental mistake of modern conservatism is to turn to the state – that tool of the socialists – to impose that which is moral, instead of leaving it up to the market to do so. No Burkean would ever have claimed that the answer to drug abuse is to imprison the abusers.

4 posted on 02/04/2002 1:19:23 PM PST by Architect
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To: Architect
Good job. I'm seeing more of these hit pieces in the conservative press. Without exception, they lift sentences from detailed, recondite texts of hundreds of pages and proceed to extrapolate false premises from them, and draw on extruded, bizarre hypotheticals as justification for the existence of multi-trillion dollar super-states.

I suppose the philosophy of liberty really has some folks worried.

5 posted on 02/04/2002 1:38:53 PM PST by SteamshipTime
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To: SteamshipTime
I think libertarians, at least the ones you'll find on this forum, view liberty as a 'right'. While this may is true, talking about rights is generally a tactical error. The only possible argument in favor of statism, whether left statism or right statism is utilitarian. The statists all want to deny you your liberty in pursuit of some higher goal, whether it be to help the poor as the lefties want or to enforce virtue as the conservatives claim.

Worthy goals certainly. But it is very important to get across the message that the only way to achieve these higher goals is through freedom. Both Mises and Hayek were utilitarians. They believed in freedom because it works, not because it's a right. Coercion never works and always leads to still more coercion. That was the message of Hayek's most important work The Road to Serfdom

6 posted on 02/04/2002 1:52:27 PM PST by Architect
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To: ouroboros
Ping!!
7 posted on 02/04/2002 2:21:12 PM PST by mafree
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To: ouroboros
Block is nuts. I would hate to oive in the world Libertarians wish for. It would be 1/4 Hugh Hefneer, 1/4 drugs, 1/4 anarchy, and 1/4 human predatores.
8 posted on 02/04/2002 2:53:26 PM PST by RLK
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To: RLK
Happy with the status quo then?
9 posted on 02/04/2002 3:35:26 PM PST by Pay now bill Clinton
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To: Architect
Bravo!
10 posted on 02/04/2002 5:05:59 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: Architect
Excellent analysis. I've seen garbage like this from Fleming before though.
11 posted on 02/04/2002 7:26:51 PM PST by annalex
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To: ouroboros
Another great thoughtful article. The paleoconservative-paleolibertarian marriage (Greek Orthodox?) has always had theoretical incompatibilities. One can say that government should be minimal and neutral, but if one shows one's self to be neutral between right and wrong, the trouble starts. A conservative assumption is that without the state's support vice, we will be more virtuous, or at least less vicious. If libertarians agree all is well. If they don't care whether they are virtuous or not, a falling out is inevitable.

One thing I do notice about some libertarians: the theory is always uppermost. On subjects like immigration libertarians sometimes act like the last supporters of the theory of the Ptolemaic theory of the universe, with planets and stars moving in circles around the earth. The math doesn't add up, so they add ever more circles, circles within circles with in circles in the hope that it will come out right, rather than scrap some of their theoretical assumptions.

The good thing, though, is that some times an open and honest airing of differences can have a positive effect. The hard core in both camps won't be swayed, but some of us in between will take both sides into account and maybe make a better judgment.

The reason for the falling out between conservatives and libertarians that we see at Free Republic is that, at least in the sphere of ideas, socialism has lost and markets have won. Given such a situation, it was inevitable that the two camps would turn on each other over which really had the very best answer.

If the idea of increased state power really is coming back, some conservatives and some libertarians will find that they have more in common with each other than with the other side. But then some may find themselves on "the other side" if we are too enticed by the new government programs.

The terms of the conflict won't be over whether markets alone are sufficient, though, but once again over whether the state is too large and intrusive. So we'll find out that we were friends all along (bitter debates over drugs will continue, though).

12 posted on 02/04/2002 8:32:12 PM PST by x
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To: x; Architect; ouroboros
Hey x snicker, I suggest you read reply 4.
13 posted on 02/04/2002 10:02:08 PM PST by philman_36
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To: ouroboros
Good essay. It's why I prefer Roepke to Mises.
14 posted on 02/04/2002 11:32:01 PM PST by Pelham
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To: Pay now bill Clinton
Happy with the status quo then?

--------------------------

Whether I'm happy with the status quo is irrelevant. Each person or party must be judged on its absolute merits without regard for the worst standards of comparison. To substitute one kind of insanity for another makes little sense.

15 posted on 02/05/2002 5:30:01 AM PST by RLK
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To: ouroboros
Thanks for the ping, O. Where you been anyway?

Fleming's overlong treatises always give me the mental picture of a man carefully reading and analyzing several long works on economics, political theory and history, then deciding to write about what he has absorbed and stopping to huff some airplane glue before sitting down at the keyboard.

16 posted on 02/05/2002 6:11:35 AM PST by Twodees
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To: philman_36
When you have stopped snickering maybe you can make use of your liberty to contribute to the discussion, rather than pointing to reply 4 and saying "Yeah, what he said." These arguments have been going on for a long time and it's not likely that one piece of rhetoric that you find particularly crushing or fine will convert those who aren't already believers.

Will libertarianism make us better or more virtuous? Will it restore or renew Western civilization? Try it and see. Make an experiment and see how it works out.

I'm skeptical. Some people will be virtuous anyway. Some may find that bearing all the consequences of their actions makes them more responsible and ethical. Others will remain as they are, with the virtues and vices that have been common to human beings in all ages and under all systems. Some may find out that they will be able to get away with more under libertarianism and become more vicious.

There will be those who see their opportunities and take them, and others who recognize that they will finish last in the competition, and act accordingly. Probably, as in Victorian times -- or today -- society would split into one group that is industrious and responsible and another that is unindustrious and improvident.

A libertarian order would have the same trouble with criminals and with disputes between individuals. Would the law courts be any less crowded? Would the prisons? A libertarian "society" would have a political opposition which desires to establish its own order and values, as any society does. Or would proclaiming the libertarian order set it in stone and deny the citizenry the right of changing it. In that case, new problems would also arise. If political disputes are denied other channels for the redress of grievances, revolts would arise. The dissolution of government might bring armed camps or warlords.

What is meant by libertarianism is problematic. If it's a movement to decrease the size of government when possible and effective, most Americans would probably agree with that. What's often meant is a utopian moral or religious faith that doing away with government or trimming it down to a shadow will solve long standing human problems. And this is much more doubtful.

Those who are familiar with socialism and its faith that abolishing private property will make people community-minded and virtuous, have grounds to question whether this form of libertarianism abolishing forms of all forms of coercion of the individual will make people virtuous and responsible. To the extent that we are know about life before the welfare state, we can also be skeptical.

Human beings are too varied and human nature too strong and deeply rooted to assume that such automatic transformations will occur. That's not to say that such knowledge means that we can authoritatively assert that libertarianism won't work, just that we have plenty of reason not to say that it will definitely produce the effects its supporters claim for it.

17 posted on 02/05/2002 9:22:55 AM PST by x
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To: Pay now bill Clinton
Apparently RLK is being forced to take drugs, have sex, and is being stalked by roving gangs of Libertarians.
18 posted on 02/05/2002 9:28:01 AM PST by breakem
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To: ouroboros
One thing, lately, has been troubling about the paleo insistence that libertarians are for 'open borders,' and then they decide to define it downwards as for "support of cheap labor" coming across the border. The politcal speak continues into trans-national corporation and the natural economic behavior they take with an interest in the bottom line and the stock holder, without regard to the 'culture tax' it imposes when a manufacturing plant leaves a town to head for the cheap labor of Mexico.

On the surface, a fair political argument, but a libertarian who thinks about the issue will not start downward like a gun-grabber asking a 2nd Amendment Absolutist whether they support individual ownership of nuclear weapons. The libertarian would structure the question as, should individuals be free to leave, i.e. Is an 'exit tax' Conservative? (Republicans support an exit tax for individuals but not corporations, but that is common ground for paleo's and libertarians alike.)

I think that line of thought will reveal some true differences between Conservative and Libertarians on equal political ground rather than a battlefield of the authors choosing where he makes the libertarian seem like a utopian fool.

And yes, for full disclosure, I'm a Chronicles subscriber.

19 posted on 02/05/2002 1:09:03 PM PST by JohnGalt
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To: x
Will libertarianism make us better or more virtuous?
I don't know and doubt if I'll find out in my lifetime. The two "Big Boys" will never allow it to happen out of self interest.
Will it restore or renew Western civilization?
Second verse, same as the first.
I'm skeptical. Some people will be virtuous anyway.
No, you're x, not skeptical and I'd rather be philman_36 than virtuous anyway. Imagine going through life with the last name of anyway.
Probably, as in Victorian times -- or today -- society would split into one group that is industrious and responsible and another that is unindustrious and improvident.
Welcome to 2003, drop the minus 25, oh say Waylon I do smell a false smoke.

...you can make use of your liberty to contribute to the discussion...
There is the problem...You want to tell me what to do with my liberty. I'll do as I wish with it, thank you very much! Ogre! That is why it is called liberty.
How about a full belly laugh next time instead of a snicker? Would that be better?
BTW...you ask good rhetorical questions too.

20 posted on 02/05/2002 5:26:14 PM PST by philman_36
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Comment #21 Removed by Moderator

To: Okiegolddust; Architect
I had little to add to what Architect posted in #4.

The circuitous phrase you quoted is the very definition of freedom. If Fleming finds it puzzling, then there is little Fleming can say on the subject, is there?

22 posted on 02/06/2002 6:09:38 AM PST by annalex
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Comment #23 Removed by Moderator

To: Okiegolddust
Good analysis. You have a valuable talent for seeing beneath the surface, rather than just responding to it.
24 posted on 02/06/2002 10:38:58 PM PST by x
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To: x;Okiegolddust;A.J.Armitage
This article is a hatchet job.

The author starts by claiming, as I pointed out, through an amazing series of rhetorical flourishes that because people are property this means that Adam Smith is fallacious. A total abuse of logic.

He finishes off by claiming that Hayek's The Fatal Conceit is somehow a repudiation of libertarianism provoked by his divorce. What nonsense.

In between, as AJ points out, he confuses Mises' theory of Subjective Value (worth) with the idea that values (ethics) are subjective. He then wonders why Mises' did not believe in Situational Ethics! There is no one more ethically consistent than libertarians, yet Fleming accuses them of being relativists. Is he really this stupid?

If you wish to defend this piece of crapola, you need to address the points that AJ and I brought up in our #3 and #4.

You may dispute Mises' and Hayek's contention that liberty and the marketplace support family and community while the state destroys them. Even if you are right, that has nothing to do with the points AJ and I brought up. And, BTW, it has been tried out. Throughout history.

25 posted on 02/07/2002 2:59:32 AM PST by Architect
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To: Okiegolddust
Architect rather hilariously invokes Edmond Burke as his allie for drug legalization.

Where do you get the idea that Burke would have favored prison for drug abusers? He was a conservative. Drug use was not illegal in his day. I think he would have viewed prisons themselves as monstrous. The modern "penitance-iary" was not invented until the 1830s, you know.

My point was how much supposedly-conservative thought has moved in the last two hundred years. The traditions of our ancestors are largely dead, destroyed by the rise of the state. If "conservatives" think they are conserving anything, they are wrong.

26 posted on 02/07/2002 3:17:49 AM PST by Architect
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To: Architect
Read over the subsequent posts and you'll see that enthusiasm for this article has waned. I was impressed by Fleming's article originally because I agreed with its general criticisms of libertarians. Judging by his posts Okiereddust felt the same way, but then came to feel that it was more rhetorical, emotional and disorganized. Rereading the piece it was clear to me that he was right about the emotional character of the article and Fleming's tendency to get carried away. Read Okie's post and you'll find that he's not defending Fleming any longer.

I am not an economist and am not qualified to judge as regards Menger, Mises or the subjective theory of value, but I do think that Fleming is on to something regarding contemporary libertarians and their attitudes towards morality, though he doesn't do all that much better than I could at expressing it. You and #3 may very well have a point that a subjective theory of value (worth) is not a subjective theory of values (ethics). But what then is Mises theory of ethics or his attitude towards it? There is no reason why Mises should have such a theory since he works in a different field. But if he is taken to be so very important and essential a thinker by many, would the absence of such ethical views and the glorification of Mises have a harmful effect on the ethical views of his votaries? There does seem to be a gap between the suspension of judgement over value and the assertion of values that can and should be addressed by those who know more about it. Fleming addresses his doubts in a polemical anti-libertarian fashion, but he does express concerns that can and should be handled in a less confrontational fashion.

While I can't judge post #3 or the beginning of your post #4, the end is pure emotional rhetoric of the sort that one accepts or rejects more on faith than on anything else. There's nothing wrong with that, and it was very well written, but it's worth pointing out to those who find it convincing, that it's assertion rather than anything definitively proven or even supported by your earlier argument. There's nothing wrong with being a convincing writer -- and you seem better at it than Fleming -- but your reply #4 contains enough "rhetorical flourishes" of its own, impressive to those who already agree, but not convincing to those who don't.

27 posted on 02/07/2002 8:12:58 AM PST by x
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To: Okiegolddust
If liberty is really dependent on family, community and virtue, lose these things and we also lose all. To the extent libertarians define liberty as something independent of anything else (their conditioning from modern liberalism) , as they sometimes seem to do, their sense of liberty is false and their ideoogy is bogus.

I think Fleming starts wrong with his question, "Freedom to do what?" That's the wrong question because it treats freedom as a positive quality, a presence, when in fact freedom is the absence of something undesireable. So the right question is, freedom from what, and the answer, at least in the political sense, is oppression, or unjust coercion, or harm to one's person or property except as punishment for a crime (to a libertarian all three of these say the same thing).

So your identification of freedom with family, community, and virtue is also mistaken. Freedom is an absence, and those are some (but by no means all) of the things that go into the good life. Freedom is not the be all and end all of life. It's obviously better to have both positive goods and the absence of evils, than just the absence of evils. It is, however, the be all and end all of politics. Fleming makes a mistake here, too. In other essays he called the good life the end of politics (although he mentioned the good life here, I don't think he went quite that far this time). It's a mistake with a venerable history, but still a mistake. The government is necessarily an institution built on violence; the best we can hope from from it is that the violence will be directed only at those who deserve it.

Its odd though. Fleming and his libertarian opponents at times act like two political candidates debating, who try as they can to disparage the other's position really can find surprisingly little to substantatively disagree on in a policy or ideological sense. The differences seem more cultural/preferential, in a way that makes it difficult to discuss. Like many things in politics - the campaign of Gore vs. Bradley, of Buchanan vs. Dole, of Bush vs. McCain.

There's a lot to that. Maybe it's why he fails to really refute libertarianism. If he did, he'd undercut himself, too. Instead he muses on Walter Block, and then starts calling the general theory "false and evil", without anything to actually back that up.

28 posted on 02/07/2002 10:56:08 AM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: x
I am not an economist and am not qualified to judge as regards Menger, Mises or the subjective theory of value, but I do think that Fleming is on to something regarding contemporary libertarians and their attitudes towards morality, though he doesn't do all that much better than I could at expressing it. You and #3 may very well have a point that a subjective theory of value (worth) is not a subjective theory of values (ethics).

You don't have to be an ecomonist to know the basics.

On Fleming's point about libertarians' attitude to morality, it depends which libertarians you're talking about. Maybe some of the people at Reason, but the writers for, say, RazorMouth.com would have a totally different set of attitudes.

29 posted on 02/07/2002 11:04:56 AM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: Okiegolddust; Architect; x
Okie: If liberty is really dependent on family, community and virtue, lose these things and we also lose all.

x: a subjective theory of value (worth) is not a subjective theory of values (ethics).

Putting liberty in the same list with positive values such as family, community and virtue, is an ontological error. Liberty is an infrastructure that enables values, just like the Internet is an infrastructure that enables creation of WWW content.

Thus the interdependence between the two is not symmetrical. Values depend on liberty because a coerced behavior that conforms with values possesses no values. Coerced family is no family; coerced virtue is no virtue. Liberty depends on values not ontologically but practically: if men have no virtue, they will gradually lose their liberty. But we can imagine (all too well) a free man without virtue. The opposite is not true: the only way to ascertain a slave's virtue is to see what he does when free.

30 posted on 02/07/2002 11:09:20 AM PST by annalex
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To: A.J.Armitage
freedom is the absence

Funny how we cross-posted the same idea. See #30.

31 posted on 02/07/2002 11:11:22 AM PST by annalex
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To: x
You and #3 may very well have a point that a subjective theory of value (worth) is not a subjective theory of values (ethics). But what then is Mises theory of ethics or his attitude towards it? There is no reason why Mises should have such a theory since he works in a different field. But if he is taken to be so very important and essential a thinker by many, would the absence of such ethical views and the glorification of Mises have a harmful effect on the ethical views of his votaries?

In libertarian theory, a clear line is made between private ethics and public ethics. Each man should govern himself by the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. A virtuous man should live by this maxim. He should be a good father and husband, as the right would want. He should help the poor and the less fortunate, as the left proclaims.

While this dictum is an excellent guide for your own life, you make a serious mistake if you attempt to force others to apply it to theirs. It is, in fact, a violation of the Golden Rule to attempt to force others to act virtuously. Would you like it if someone else forced his ethical priorities on you? Why should I be a family man, after all? Perhaps, like mother Theresa, I feel that a vow of chastity and dedication to the poor is more important. Or something I am better able to do. Similarly, the man who devotes himself to his family is honorable, even if he never contributes to charity.

Thus, you must be less ambitious when judging the morality of others. Instead of insisting that they do good, all you can ask is that they do not do evil. As the Buddha said “hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”. This negative version of the Golden Rule is what the libertarian calls the Principle of the non-initiation of force.

This, in a nutshell is libertarian morality. Forcing others to do good is a mistake which ultimately leads to totalitarianism. Conservatives understand that forcing people to care for the poor creates poverty. Why is it so hard to understand that forcing people to care for their family destroys the family?

One of the principles of the Common Law, that magnificent achievement of a free market in law, was that a man could not be forced to care for his children unless it was under his own roof. When that principle was violated in the 1920s, the stage was set for the modern catastrophe called divorce. The state had invented a new form of the family in which a man could be forced to continue to act as husband and father against his will while his wife abandoned her duties. Unsurprisingly, many women do precisely that.

Mises and Hayek were intensely ethical men. Most libertarians are. Imposing your ethics on other people is, in itself, unethical. Show by example or by argument. But never use force.

32 posted on 02/07/2002 3:52:24 PM PST by Architect
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To: Architect
That is a very well written summation. I don't find anything to disagree with in it. I do note that people do want to proclaim principles of this sort and give them some sort of authority above and beyond mere commercial transactions. They want some kind of official embodiment or institutionalization of ethical principles because of the fear that they will be lost amongst all the competing products and lifestyles available in the marketplace. Some critics miss this kind of enunciation or establishment of principles in the theories of libertarians they encounter. Other critics will want to institutionalize or establish more and more principles using government, though that doesn't usually work.
33 posted on 02/07/2002 8:39:06 PM PST by x
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To: Architect
"Fleming starts off by dismissing Walter Block’s (admittedly-bizarre) theory of fetal ethics by claiming that mothers and fathers are property. “An animal coming out of nowhere is an uncommon experience, and children—whether the identity of mother and father is known—have two parents. In fact, the proper point of comparison is with calves that belong to the people who own the cow and the bull”. Of course he never answers the obvious questions. Who are people the property of? Does the owner have the right to do what he wants with the foetus? Whatever you might think of Block’s case, this is not a refutation, unless you accept the argument that all people are slaves."

I disagree. Thomas Fleming most assuredly does NOT claim that "mothers and fathers are property".

Parents are capable of being guardians of their children in the full legal sense. However, the cow and bull that are the "parents" of a calf are not. Therefore the guardians for the calf are the owners of the cow and bull.

All Fleming is saying is that a fetus is to its parental guardians as a calf is to its owner guardians, rather than as a wild calf is to its wild surroundings.

What I believe that Fleming is trying to do is to point up the importance of relationships between humans. Libertarians tend to emphasize the importance of the individual to the point of deempasizing the importance of relationships among individuals.

Parents that bring a fetus into this world, whether they want to admit it or not, have a relationship with that fetus. In a better world, that relationship would imply certain resposibilities, such as not killing it or allowing someone else to kill it.

However, if the fetus is viewed as a rugged individual in the wilderness, then noone has a positive responsibility with respect to it. If it dies out in the wild, then so be it. If someone wants to save it, then they are welcome to try.

The reality, is that even if someone wanted to come along and save the wild fetus, they would be prevented from doing so. No amount of money, technology, or government coercion will allow one woman to take the fetus from another woman to bring it to term. In this way Block's analogy sounds even more silly.

Don't blame Fleming for pointing out not only the reprehensibility of Block's position, but the logical inconsistency of it as well.

34 posted on 02/09/2002 1:57:40 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: Architect
"Mises’ theory was actually quite simple, almost a tautology. People want what they want and they make choices based on their wants ... It is a self-evident truth, an axiom of the behaviour of the reasoning man. "

I strongly disagree, as I believe so does Fleming.

People smoke cigarettes even though they know they are increasing their chances of getting cancer. People don't take the time to put on their seatbelts even though they know they are slightly increasing their chances of worse bodily injury in a crash.

People basically do not reason well. People drink too much, smoke too much, watch too much TV, and spend too much time on FreeRepublic.

More to the point of Fleming's article, where do children fit into the scheme of rational decisions in the marketplace? Do we let kids buy all the candy their parents can afford, because thats what the kids "reasoned" this out?

Also, as transactions occur in the marketplace, relationships (sorry to have to bring up that nasty word again) develop among the rugged and rational individuals. People fall in love. People develop irrational hatreds based on feelings of having been had, e.g. buying a lemon from a used car dealer. And sometimes people decide to continue buying from a certain individual because they value the relationship they are developing more than the savings they could achieve through shopping around.

The problem with the special case of libertarian economic thought, which is a direct result of the problem with the general case of libertarian social thought, is the deemphasis on relationships and overemphasis on individuals.

We are not brought forth into this world as individuals, and none of us are capable of fully isolating ourselves from others once we achieve adulthood. We are not capable of making completely "reasonable" choices because we don't have all of the information, and we don't have the brain processing power to assimilate all of the information and process it to make that absolutely most effective decision. We just do the best we can.

And those that lean on their parents, siblings, friends, history, traditions, and community for help in making these decisions will tend to be a lot more successful and happy, than those who try to go it all alone.

Trying to create a world based on the fiction that people are independent agents is only going to lead to nonsensical results, i.e. the current state of things.

35 posted on 02/09/2002 2:22:22 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
Parents are capable of being guardians of their children in the full legal sense. However, the cow and bull that are the "parents" of a calf are not. Therefore the guardians for the calf are the owners of the cow and bull.

A calf has an owner, not a guardian, which is precisely what Fleming said. The calf's owner may do with it as he wants, and he does.

Don't blame Fleming for pointing out not only the reprehensibility of Block's position, but the logical inconsistency of it as well.

It is Block's position which is logical (if reprehensible). The Homestead principle says that things which are not owned belong to the first person who claims it. I may "homestead" a wild fish (e.g catch it) and eat it. I am not allowed to homestead my neighbor and eat him. That is called cannibalism, and polite people frown on it. What's the difference? The fish has no owner, but my neighbor owns himself.

Thus, the whole issue revolves around the question of whether a fetus is human or not. If a fetus is not human, then Block is perfectly right. Anyone may claim an abandoned fetus and do what he wants with it.

If, on the other hand, a fetus is human then it owns itself - and this is true even though it cannot care for itself. It has a guardian, not an owner, and you cannot homestead it. It is because you and I believe that the fetus is human that we disagree with Block, not because of Fleming's bizarre argument - which is both illogical and reprehensible.

36 posted on 02/10/2002 12:57:56 PM PST by Architect
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
People smoke cigarettes even though they know they are increasing their chances of getting cancer. People don't take the time to put on their seatbelts even though they know they are slightly increasing their chances of worse bodily injury in a crash.

Of course, they do. People have wants and they act in accordance with their wants. If someone smokes despite the danger, this obviously is because he has decided that whatever benefits he gets from smoking exceed the risk he takes. This decision may not fit what you call "rational", but the smoker has made this choice based on his own priorities. Similarly, the driver who refuses to belt up has made the decision to do so for his own reasons. This is why it's called the "Subjective Theory of Value".

We are creatures of free will. When a tiger kills its prey, it does so out of instinct. It has no more choice in this matter than does the victim. But when you decide to kill that calf because you like veal, that is a decision made by a being with free will - the capability to decide not to kill the calf.

This is Mises' point. Everything people do is freely chosen by the individual actor. If you decide to give into your instincts, that is a choice like any other. Personally I like veal. Which is why I eat it. I also happen to think that my likes supercede the rights of a dumb animal. Selfish, maybe. But that's my viewpoint.

37 posted on 02/10/2002 1:14:01 PM PST by Architect
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To: Architect
I tried really hard not to use the word "rational" in my reply to you. I believe strongly in free will, but I also believe that us being imperfect human beings means that we are likely to make unreasonable decisions.

Lately I've been trying to help my father who is on dialysis. Despite explicit instructions from the doctors, he refuses to follow their advice and causes himself harm on a daily basis. At first we tried everything we could to get him to do the "right" thing. But he would rather do his thing than the "right" thing. So be it.

We are currently living in a welfare state mostly as a result of the accumulation of bad choices by large numbers of American citizens. Large numbers of American citizens vote for Democrats, put themselves into situations where they depend on government programs such as Social Security, ignore the daily assaults on the Constitution, worship the memory of politicians such as FDR & LBJ, etc.

I would like to be able to just be a rugged individual and deal with this wave of stupidity and dependency, but I cannot do it myself. I must depend on others, and it helps if we have a common set of principles. And it helps if there are positive elements such as support for traditional morality and ethics, rather than just the "negative" injunction of "Don't tread on me and I won't tread on you."

The mob is already treading all over me, while simultaneously proclaiming that they are in the process of saving me from myself!

My belief is that we don't see anarchies around because those who chose to break up into smaller groups in the past got beaten into submission by the larger groups. We need to fight fire with fire. We need to create a large group linked by a common set of principles and values willing to go toe-to-toe with the socialists and statists.

A bunch of rugged individuals a la Jeremiah Johnson building their own cabins and catching their own fish in the forest, is just not going to cut it.

We have to take the risk of becoming the new mob in order to fight against the current mob running this country into the ground. This doesn't mean that we have to use the federal government to ratify and execute our program. But we do need to use some institution such as an invigorated fraternal order or such to combine our efforts in an effective way.

If the fascists at MADD can create a tidal wave of anti-constitutional legislation from the ripple of anger at the death of a loved one from a drunk driver, then we can certainly try to do likewise.

Whatever form that institution takes, it would be well for those who form it to look at the Libertarian Party as a good counter example! ;-)

38 posted on 02/10/2002 8:41:37 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: x
"Read over the subsequent posts and you'll see that enthusiasm for this article has waned"

I got in a little late, so now what you say is no longer true. I am quite enthusiastic about the article. Also, I believe that I have successfully countered Architect's argument. Read my earlier posts to see if you agree.

Whether we like it or not we are stuck in a web of complex relationships and all of the libertarian talk of atomic actors in a free marketplace is just not an accurate depiction of what is really going on. This is what I believe Fleming is getting at, and what Architect and Mises and other libertarians either can't or won't see.

39 posted on 02/11/2002 6:49:04 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: annalex
"Liberty is an infrastructure that enables values, just like the Internet is an infrastructure that enables creation of WWW content."

The opposite could also be said to be true: if you are not surrounded by primarily moral and ethical people what you are free to do, besides shooting back until you run out of ammo, is pretty limited.

"Coerced family is no family"

All families are coerced in the sense that they are determined by who had sex with whom and who was born as a result. People who recognize that they are "stuck" with their father, mother and siblings and behave morally and ethically with regard to them are freely choosing to do the right thing despite being presented with a fait acompli.

"the only way to ascertain a slave's virtue is to see what he does when free."

None of us are completely free, nor is anyone completely enslaved. Even a slave can refuse to follow orders. He may soon be hanged, but he can choose to resist nevertheless. Coalminers who had to work long hours in dangerous conditions could walk off the job any time, but they had few other opportunities that would guarantee food on the table for them and their families.

The reality is that we have to try and make the best choices we can given that we have been genetically created to prefer certain actions and things (regardless of their merit), conditioned by early childhood to prefer certain other actions and things (again, regardless of their merit), and we are currently surrounded by a sea of voices trying to get us to do still other things of questionable merit.

We are born stuck in a very sticky life and the more we thrash around in life, the more we get stuck. We are not individual atoms engaging in pure transactions with other individual atoms.

We learn from tradition that if we behave certain ways and limit ourselves to certain choices, we will have more choices in the future, e.g. if I don't become a drug addict I will tend to have more money with which to buy more useful stuff. So does the freedom proceed from adherence to good values, or do good values proceed from a free environment? I may agree with you that the relationship is not symmetric, but I don't think it is one of precedence either where freedom is given the greater precedence.

Besides if you've ever visited one of the Calvinist predestination threads, you might start doubting freedom exists at all! ;-)

40 posted on 02/11/2002 7:06:05 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
"Mises’ theory was actually quite simple, almost a tautology. People want what they want and they make choices based on their wants ... It is a self-evident truth, an axiom of the behaviour of the reasoning man. "

I strongly disagree, as I believe so does Fleming.

People smoke cigarettes even though they know they are increasing their chances of getting cancer. People don't take the time to put on their seatbelts even though they know they are slightly increasing their chances of worse bodily injury in a crash.

People basically do not reason well. People drink too much, smoke too much, watch too much TV, and spend too much time on FreeRepublic.

He mentioned "reasoning man", but I don't he ever said the wants on which choices are made had to be rational. And if he did, he was wrong. In fact, the existence of irrational, subjective wants is further proof of the subjective theory of value. You haven't refuted it, not can you, because it happens to be true.

If something is objectively worth $1,000, it's still worth $1,000 if the average household has 20 of them laying around unused. That's absurd, of course. People will subjectively value it less if there's more of it, and so the price will fall. They'll value it more if, say, it's the hot toy this Christmas; not strictly rational, but it's confirmation of the subjective theory of value.

More to the point of Fleming's article, where do children fit into the scheme of rational decisions in the marketplace? Do we let kids buy all the candy their parents can afford, because thats what the kids "reasoned" this out?

You let them buy all the candy their parents let them buy.

Also, as transactions occur in the marketplace, relationships (sorry to have to bring up that nasty word again) develop among the rugged and rational individuals. People fall in love. People develop irrational hatreds based on feelings of having been had, e.g. buying a lemon from a used car dealer. And sometimes people decide to continue buying from a certain individual because they value the relationship they are developing more than the savings they could achieve through shopping around.

...

We are not brought forth into this world as individuals, and none of us are capable of fully isolating ourselves from others once we achieve adulthood. We are not capable of making completely "reasonable" choices because we don't have all of the information, and we don't have the brain processing power to assimilate all of the information and process it to make that absolutely most effective decision. We just do the best we can. And those that lean on their parents, siblings, friends, history, traditions, and community for help in making these decisions will tend to be a lot more successful and happy, than those who try to go it all alone.

You mean that people might let subjective factors influence how they value something?

Let me note that people fall in love, have kids, develope loyalties, ect, without the need for a government program to get them to do it. If you were wrong, if people weren't naturally social, and if you could prove that going against nature on that point would be necessary, that might form a case against libertarianism, but the facts as you have correctly stated them do not form such a case.

And avoiding a lemon-selling car dealer is rational.

Trying to create a world based on the fiction that people are independent agents is only going to lead to nonsensical results, i.e. the current state of things.

Good thing libertarians don't want to do that then. We merely want people to be independent of the government, which is, of course, not the same as society.

41 posted on 02/11/2002 7:14:27 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
Besides if you've ever visited one of the Calvinist predestination threads, you might start doubting freedom exists at all! ;-)

Define free will.

42 posted on 02/11/2002 7:20:50 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: A.J.Armitage
I tried very hard in my arguments to NOT say that people make rational choices. I also made a point of not claiming that libertarians believe this either.

What I am claiming is that libertarians falsely believe that transactions between individuals in the marketplace of money, products, ideas, or even values are things that can be radically free.

Certainly neither of us believes that transactions in the current state of affairs are radically free. However, even if we had a truly constitutional limited government, transactions would still be encumbered by genetic predispositions, social conditioning, habitual behavior, peer-pressure, loyalties, traditions, the laws of physics, etc.

To say that everything is subjectively valued and traded accordingly is truly a tautology. Maybe economists didn't figure this out formally until the 1700's, but I'm sure it was considered basic common sense for centuries before that.

The above tautology, however, doesn't go to the point of Fleming's article. People will and have in the past subjectively made poor choices which have negatively impacted other members of society. In some instances we use government to discourage or prevent people from making such choices. In other cases we use social institutions such as families, church, fraternal organizations, etc. to get people back into line.

If libertarians truly just want "government" to be the only societal institution to not tell people what to do, then this is a rather simplistic philosophy. In most cases I want the mother or father of a child to be the one that tells them not to light matches near the neighbor's house. But in some cases I want it to be the police officer on his daily rounds. To say that only that institution which has the ability to make good on its threat (i.e. government) is prevented from exercising force, is basically a backhanded way of asking for anarchy.

People have never been radically free. People never will be. Asking for radical freedom may make libertarians feel good, especially since they'll never have to worry about ever having to try implementing such a plan ... in a real world.

43 posted on 02/11/2002 7:52:59 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: A.J.Armitage
"We merely want people to be independent of the government"

Define what you mean by government? What is the size of your tribe? Do you just what a police force to protect you from other potentially evil tribes? Or do you want a county sheriff to protect you from those other evil counties? Or do you just want a state militia to help enforce contracts with questionable companies in other states? Or do you want a national defense force to protect you from rogue nations and Islamic terrorists? Or do you want a world government to protect you from meteors headed our way and potential threats from aliens?

We live in a complex society developed over thousands of years. Sometimes the different governments get together and gang up on us. Sometimes they fight each other tooth and nail. Sometimes they occasionally ... but most assuredly accidentally ... work together for our benefit!

We need to work within the current system to lubricate the gears where they are stuck, and weld them together where they shouldn't oughta move at all.

Focussing your ire at a thing which isn't even one thing isn't going to solve anything. People wanted Social Security because they didn't want to have to support their parents in old age, or be supported by their children in old age. Of course all they really did was interpose a bunch of felonious and incompetent bureacrats in between their kids money and their retirement, but then people often make irrational choices.

Trying to slowly but surely push sysphean boulders like Soc Sec in the right direction is the best we can hope for. Expecting some laser light of pure logic to come down from heaven and disintegrate the rock into oblivion is just wishful thinking.

44 posted on 02/11/2002 8:03:03 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
I tried very hard in my arguments to NOT say that people make rational choices. I also made a point of not claiming that libertarians believe this either.

Well, you refuted it, so you must've thought it was worth something to say people are irrational. Maybe you were just illustrating the point about irrationality by refuting a position no one here's holding, but why you'd make that point's a mystery.

What I am claiming is that libertarians falsely believe that transactions between individuals in the marketplace of money, products, ideas, or even values are things that can be radically free.

Back, it looks like, to Fleming's idea that German beer-drinkers and French wine-drinkers refutes something or other about libertarianism. I don't know of any libertarians who think market transactions are "radically free" (whatever that's supposed to mean in the first place), and I don't see how proving they aren't does anything to libertarianism. Sure, people have to buy food. Does that mean we shouldn't have a laissez faire market in food? Hardly. It means we should have one. I really don't see the point here.

Certainly neither of us believes that transactions in the current state of affairs are radically free. However, even if we had a truly constitutional limited government, transactions would still be encumbered by genetic predispositions, social conditioning, habitual behavior, peer-pressure, loyalties, traditions, the laws of physics, etc.

I must not be seeing something here, but I really don't know what any of that has to do with the proper role of government. So the market will have to obey the laws of physics. No purpetual motion machines for us. I don't think any libertarians resent that. I certainly don't.

To say that everything is subjectively valued and traded accordingly is truly a tautology. Maybe economists didn't figure this out formally until the 1700's, but I'm sure it was considered basic common sense for centuries before that.

You'd be surprised. A lot of people held, and Marxists still hold, the labor theory of value, which is a mistaken extension of the labor theory of property (which, ironically enough, Marxists reject) further than it would go.

The political implication is this: if the value of something can be known objectively (by the amount of labor put in or anything else), then government planners are capable of finding that value out and therefore capable of making rational decisions. If, on the other hand, nothing is inherently worth anything, but only how much someone is willing to pay/work/sacrifice to get it (and this of course varies from person to person), central planners cannot know how much something is worth. If they can't know that, their plans are made in the dark, and will necessarily fail. This is what happens in the real world. Communism, of course, is a total failure, but lesser form of government interference generate lesser problems, in proportion to how involved they get. The more involved the government is, the less the market pricing system (which is, ultimately, the only pricing system) will function, and the less the government is capable of knowing. The bigger government is, the less competent it's capable of being.

The above tautology, however, doesn't go to the point of Fleming's article. People will and have in the past subjectively made poor choices which have negatively impacted other members of society. In some instances we use government to discourage or prevent people from making such choices. In other cases we use social institutions such as families, church, fraternal organizations, etc. to get people back into line.

But how do you make the choice between government doing it, and other parts of society doing it? Do you just go by your gut instinct? Libertarians have a principle to determine one from the other. Do you?

If libertarians truly just want "government" to be the only societal institution to not tell people what to do, then this is a rather simplistic philosophy.

That's not what we want. We just have an idea of exactly when the government ought to tell people what to do, or rather not to do. Only a crime against someone's person or property ought to be prohibited.

To say that only that institution which has the ability to make good on its threat (i.e. government) is prevented from exercising force, is basically a backhanded way of asking for anarchy.

There are libertarians who are anarchists, and that's not what they want. They want many institutions to exercise force to protect rights, and you could have a choice of which one to hire to protect you. There are, as you can no doubt imagine, a few problems with that.

People have never been radically free. People never will be. Asking for radical freedom may make libertarians feel good, especially since they'll never have to worry about ever having to try implementing such a plan ... in a real world.

I'm not sure what you have in mind by radical freedom. Freedom to choose your own roots, John Walker-style?

45 posted on 02/11/2002 8:52:10 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
Perhaps #30 to which you responded was too terse; however all the points that you visit in your #40 were already either addressed or clear from context. I understand that liberty depends on virtue as well as vice versa, but I note that virtue depends on liberty ontologically, while liberty depends on virtue practically. What does it mean? One can't speak of virtue unless the actor is a free agent (free among humans; God's foreknowledge of predestined human acts is another matter entirely; no Calvinist would deny the existence of political freedoms while maintaining the fallacy of free will). Thus if John got Jane pregnant and having liberty under law to either marry her or not, chose to marry her, then John has virtue. If John got Jane pregnant and his salary were garnished for child support under the law, then we can't say if he has virtue or not. The latter is "coerced family". When words "freedom" or "liberty" refer to moral obligations instead of legal ones, clarity suffers. A phrase like "none of us are completely free, nor is anyone completely enslaved" is true is some poetic sense, but it obscures the all-important distinctions between ethical and legal obligations.
46 posted on 02/12/2002 6:50:03 AM PST by annalex
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
Your screed against libertarianism has nothing to do with Fleming's article. Fleming's stuff is utter junk, ripe with combination of misrepresentations and logical fallacies.

As to what you say here, I've already responded to that in my post #4. But I'll repeat myself. Libertarianism is not about rugged individualism (although many libertarians are). It is not about selfishness being a virtue (although Ayn Rand's disgusting creed has far too many followers among libertarianism).

The Founding Fathers understood that the most important organizing principle of society is liberty. It is why the entire Constitution was about defending people from encrouchments on their liberty.

Liberty is about treating men as men. It is about working together voluntarily instead of under coercion.

Are you really so insecure about the values of your community and family as to believe that they would not prosper if subjected to testing in the marketplace?

47 posted on 02/12/2002 3:15:37 PM PST by Architect
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To: A.J.Armitage
He mentioned "reasoning man", but I don't he ever said the wants on which choices are made had to be rational. And if he did, he was wrong. In fact, the existence of irrational, subjective wants is further proof of the subjective theory of value.

Mises did point to Man's reason, but not to claim that the choices he makes are rational. Rather it is reason that allows man to make choices. If a tiger kills its prey and eats it, this is because of the tiger's instincts. The tiger can no more stop the act than his victim can. In contrast, when I kill a cow and eat it, this is because I chose to do so. I do it because I like steak and because I happen to believe, unlike the PC crowd, that meat is good for me. Someone, either the PC vegetarian or me, is being irrational. But we are both using our reason to make choices.

We merely want people to be independent of the government, which is, of course, not the same as society.

I can only agree.

48 posted on 02/12/2002 3:25:49 PM PST by Architect
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Comment #49 Removed by Moderator

Comment #50 Removed by Moderator


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