Fleming starts off by dismissing Walter Blocks (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 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. 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 Blocks 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 behowever much we might want to believe otherwiseequally 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 articles 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. Flemings 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 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.
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 Wests 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 Hayeks 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 doesnt 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.
I suppose the philosophy of liberty really has some folks worried.
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.
Does what I want=what I should do?