Skip to comments.THOMAS FLEMING: Abuse Your Illusions
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 peoples 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 homesteadedi.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 itjust as they would have the right to kill a born child.
Blocks 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 grantedthe underlying assumptionsthat 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 customsin 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 childrenwhether the identity of mother and father is knownhave 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 isor rather wasbased 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 behowever much we might want to believe otherwiseequally false and equally evil. Suppose we reached that conclusionwhat 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 trueour wives and children, the freedom to buy, sell, and compete in the marketplacecannot 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, thoughas we see in Professor Blocks casethey 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 sophomores reductionism that insists that man has no free will because there is a material cause for everything, to which the juniors 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 realityand 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 typehe 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 liberalismminimal 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 analysiswhich are purely rational, objective, and scientificconfirm 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 Marxs. 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 valuefood, shelter, clothing, weapons, tools, good health and good looksare 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 termsI am scarcely a better philosopher than Misesvalue 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 valueand of moneyout 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 pointsa fondness for pink shirts or skinny necktiescan 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 individuals 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 isas 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 liberalssuch as William Godwin or Ayn Randwere 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 Wests 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 lifeand 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 Hayeks 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 partalbeit an important partof 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
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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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Funny how we cross-posted the same idea. See #30.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! ;-)
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.
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! ;-)