Who’s a Libertarian?

A post I circulated during the mini-tempest concerning the speaker at the 2004 Libertarian convention. This was the beginning of my dissatisfaction with sharing air with Anarchists.


The tempest in a teapot concerning Boortz speaking at the National Conference isn’t about Boortz; It isn’t even about war vs. antiwar. If you go back and read all of T.L. Knapp’s “Life of the Party” series, it becomes plainly clear that the issue goes much deeper than that. It’s why the “Boot Boortz” camp have the audacity to suggest that those in agreement with Boortz should “…be shown the door”.

The issue ladies and gentlemen is this: is gov’t necessary or not? Does the structure we call gov’t serve a legitimate function in a truly libertarian society; or is each individual capable of governing themselves sufficiently to render gov’t as we know it useless? Let me explain why IMO, this is what is being argued about.

Libertarians don’t agree on whether or not gov’t should exist. On the one hand you have those who believe that gov’t is not necessary, and they offer suggestions for it’s eventual replacement by voluntary structures. Generally those that offer these types of arguments are known as ‘anarchists’. On the other hand you have Objectivists, and others who believe that gov’t serves a vital albiet limited function, and it should be maintained in some minimal fashion so as to preserve liberty. The label that has been generally applied to these types is ‘minarchist’. Not everyone accepts the above labels, and the current LP membership includes views, like those of Constitutionalists, that don’t fit in either camp.

The anarchist/minarchist schism has existed within the party nearly since it’s inception. There have been various attempts to settle disputes between the factions, none of them very successful. The most successful was the “Dallas Accord” in which the libertarians of the time agreed that they would not discuss whether or not gov’t was necessary, and focus on the more important issue of personal liberty. The agreement has worked until recently.

So, what’s changed? 9/11, that is what has changed. The foriegn policy blunders that the federal gov’t has committed for the last hundred years have come home to roost with a vengence. The ‘terrorists’ have declared war on us, and we are under threat. We are now faced with a situation that must be dealt with, and all of the effective options involve the use of gov’t power. The problem is this: If you acknowledge that gov’t has a reason to exist, then that reason will most likely include defensive measures designed to secure us from the agressive actions of others. No matter how you slice it, 9/11 comes under “attacks against the territory of the United States”, and we have the obligation to make sure that any more threats of that type are dealt with, and the guilty parties that conspired to conduct the attacks are hunted down and exterminated.

To further extend the logic chain, one can extrapolate several strategic reasons for a large ground force in the area that the attackers called home (the Middle East) and the benefit of soundly defeating the ‘biggest bully on the block’. Whether you agree with the strategy or not, it makes sense from a military standpoint… If you acknowledge that gov’t has a reason to exist.

However, if you don’t believe that gov’t should exist, then any action of the gov’t is damnable from the outset; and any action which benefits the gov’t directly (such as a war) is the worst kind of evil imaginable, and therefore must be denounced in the strongest possible terms.

…and that ladies and gentlemen is why the disagreement over Boortz speaking has taken on a life of it’s own. He has had the audacity to apply logic to the situation and determine from his own perspective that the threat posed by the ‘terrorists’ is sufficient to require actions against other countries. …and to further determine that the largest most vocal segment of the antiwar movement are also anti-american. To add insult to injury he speaks his mind about his beliefs to an audience of thousands, and categorizes himself a libertarian. As others have pointed out, on every other issue other than the war, Boortz is solidly libertarian. But because of this one issue, his belief that gov’t has a reason to exist, he can’t be a libertarian.

Now the anarchists are regretting ever ‘letting’ non-anarchists into their club; and some of them would like to institute a purity test so that the membership can be limited to those who profess correct beliefs. To hell with them. This is the reason why everyone who has an interest in furthering the LP NEEDS to go to the convention and actively participate in the sessions. The core of the party has been controlled by too few for too long. If we are going to succeed in changing the policies of the current gov’t, we are going to have to include more people, and gain influence. You don’t do that by kicking out those you disagree with.

For my part, I wouldn’t mind if they asked Rush Limbaugh to speak at the convention; it might make for some interesting conversation. It doesn’t even offend me when Bill Maher calls himself a ‘libertarian’. He just makes himself look like a fool to those who know better. To take exception to Neal Boortz speaking at the convention is more than a waste of time; it is the equivalent of picking the scab off of a festering sore. It will only delay the time it takes for the underlying disagreements to recede into the background where they belong…

-RAnthony

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most
intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
– Charles Darwin

Voting is not an Act of Violence

One of the members of a list I’m on is an example of the more vocal anti-voting Anarcho-Capitalist friends that I spoke of in The Vote. He’s rather fond of finding an article that addresses something he objects to, and throwing the file at his opponents as if the file will speak for itself.

Consequently, after posting The Vote to the list, I get the article Is Voting an Act of Violence? in HTML format, clipped right off the web page as a reply. Not one to waste such an opportunity, I decided to address the problems with the article both on the list, and to the author himself. So, with no further exposition, here are the salient points I wish to dissect.


Carl Watner wrote:

Each person, by voting, sanctions the violence used by agents of the State. The link in the chain of responsibility for that violence surrounds each voter when he pulls down the lever in the voting booth.

This point (which is the summary point of the entire article) can be easily shown to be in error. Casting a ballot for write in candidates that you make up on the spot results in a vote for a candidate that cannot hold the office; it is essentially a vote for none of the above. There is no chain of violence attached to such a vote. Casting a ballot for Libertarian candidates is casting a vote for those who have renounced violence as a method of political gain. There is no chain of violence attached to this vote either. Casting no votes for all propositions that expend tax dollars, or that criminalize behaviors not formally criminal (such as smoking and gay marriage) also carry no “chain of violence”.

Walking in to the voting booth and casting a blank ballot removes the requirement to pull the lever for anyone, at all. It also removes any associated endorsement of violence.

As for the resulting argument concerning funding the election itself; the election will occur anyway. It’s no different than putting a bullet in the head of a burglar who enters your house in the night. The election occurs, your opinion is warranted. Give them your opinion, even if that opinion isn’t one they want to hear. Unless you are a pacifist, there shouldn’t be a problem with responding in kind in a situation such as this.

Carl Watner goes on to say:

Voting is an act of presumptive violence because each voter assumes the right to appoint a political guardian over other human beings. No individual voter or even a majority of voters have such a right. If they claim to possess such a right, let them clearly explain where that right comes from and how it squares with the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable “Rights” of “Life, Liberty,” and Property.

This is actually the easy part to address. A person can choose not to vote, not to participate, and that is their prerogative. It would be an act of violence to force someone to choose his own master, or who he is going to associate with. So voting is and should be voluntary.

In the same vein, a person can choose not to self-govern, and for that reason some form of external governance will always be needed as a fall back position. For those people who will not govern themselves, there will be a government that can be applied to them, for the protection of those who can and do self-govern.

If there is going to be a government, someone must be selected (in some form or fashion) to enforce laws on those individuals not willing to respect other’s Life, Liberty and Property. The selection process is currently democratic in nature; ergo, you have to vote. And until there is some other way to select government for our own defense (a government in line with the founders intentions) voting is an act of self-defense; which can involve violence when it is required.

To object to violence done by one’s own hand in self-defense is to render oneself the slave anyone who is willing to do violence to get his way. If this is what you are objecting to, then I gladly distance myself from your opinion.

Free Talk Live: IP and Disney

Listening to the Wednesday edition of Free Talk Live on my Treo 650 today; listening to Ian pound Mark over the head for his support for Intellectual Property rights. (third day in a row, I might add…)

Generally, I agree with Mark on this issue. As an architect, I know that the thought that goes into design is a valuable commodity that needs to be protected. Otherwise the less scrupulous out there will simply wait for someone else to do the hard work of invention so that they can then profit from it at the inventor’s expense. Contrary to Ian’s assertions, I’ve not seen any evidence that people will do the months and years of work required to bring something to market unless they have reasonable confidence that they will make a profit from it. If anybody can copy a design and be free to sell it the day after it hits the market (or as in the case of the Chinese clothing ‘pirates’, even before it hits the market) then the chances for profit are greatly reduced. I don’t know of any business that stays in business without making a profit.

On the other hand, I don’t really believe that corporations (like Disney) should be allowed to hold rights to intellectual property. Those rights should be limited to real people, not legal entities that will continue to expect a profit long past the lifespan of the original author. Disney is a prime example of this, since their lobbying was instrumental in getting the latest extension to copyright terms passed.

There is a phrase that applies to the subject of Disney characters and the school mural that was the subject of rather heated discussion on Wednesday’s show. That phrase is “work of art”. A work of art is generally exempt from claims of copyright infringement. That doesn’t stop the corporations with lawyers and money at their disposal threatening people with legal action if their demands aren’t met. The truth is that the school blinked when Disney decided to play hard ball. If push had come to shove, Disney would probably have dropped the case.

Copyright terms expiring was the real reason for Disney going after public displays of their copyrighted works. Like Coke being synonymous with cola and Kleenex with facial tissue, Disney was fighting the battle of keeping their property from passing into the public domain; and they won that battle by passing new legislation. If corporations were excluded from owning these types of property, the entire battle could have been avoided.

[On the question from a listener concerning the objectivist opinion on the subject; as an objectivist myself, I think I can vouch for the fact that objectivists in general understand the need to protect the “mind’s contribution” to the creative effort]

Oh, and Ian, your disbelief in intellectual property doesn’t equate to the non-existence of intellectual property. But your willingness to steal other peoples ideas speaks volumes to the subject of why the MPAA and the RIAA are willing to go to such lengths to protect their investments.

For what it’s worth, this is one of those arguments that illustrates the very narrow difference between a communist (in the government-less nature of the word ‘commune’) and the little ‘a’ anarchists and the extreme edge of the Libertarian party. They would also tell you that ideas ‘should be free’, but I’m not willing to live in their version of utopia either.

Immigration Take 3

I was reading Thomas Sowell’s column ‘Immigration Evasion‘ and thought to myself “here I go again” someone else that I just have to say “hold it” to, and ask a few questions.

Questions like “Granted, Americans might do the jobs immigrants do now, at higher wages; but, would anyone be interested in paying the higher prices necessary to cover those higher wages?” When it comes to house construction and the months of time involved, we aren’t talking about small numbers.

Also, we may not need the immigrants to get the work done, but considering the number of fast food and convenience stores that I’ve seen with permanent jobs available signs out front, I don’t think the workplace is glutted with them, either. Nor do I relish the (once again) steep rise in prices that will result in a wage war over the dwindling pool of applicants.

I don’t know when he last looked for a job, either. The last time I went to apply for work, I most definitely had to show ‘papers’ to prove that I could work in the US. So the phrase ‘undocumented workers’ is an accurate description of them. The Amerca that Mr. Sowell refers to was one that I remember fondly, but it doesn’t exist anymore and barring the ‘illegal’ immigrants isn’t going to bring it back.

Ideally There Would Be No Idealists

So I get a response from Mr. Bylund the other day to my Blog entry, and I keep meaning to write up my own reply, and just never get around to it. I am a man of many passions (as this blog should quite readily show) I once spent an (in hindsight) inordinate amount of time on politics and political thought, but those days are quickly receding into the past. Much like the message he sent me.

Then, lo and behold, I notice he’s added comments to the blog entry itself.

Hello Mr. Bylund, I’m not ignoring you, I just think that achieving the anarchist ideal ranks somewhere behind science fiction fandom and humor (and living in the here and now) on the importance list. I establish my own values, just like I know and uphold my own rights; I don’t look to government to maintain them for me, but to abstain from violating them in the process of doing it’s legitimate work.

I read your comments through several times. This is the paragraph which I feel the need to specifically address:

To minarchists, the anarchist position is utterly utopian, perhaps even idealistic, and they conclude it would not work. Such a society could quickly degenerate into chaos and misery since there is no final arbiter in conflicts and no power to leash or control the evils unavoidably existent in society. The reasoning is that there needs to be something larger, but external to the market, setting the basic rules and enforcing them. Without the enforcement of rights, there are no rights.

The key phrase here is final arbiter. Government is legitimate, in my estimation, when it:

  1. Violates no rights in maintaining its existence.
  2. Acts only as the final arbiter in a conflict.

While I don’t know of any government that meets this criteria that is currently in existence, I believe that it is possible to attain (I would, in fact, refer to Nozick’s state as Government; because that is the word that fits the purpose being served) What I do hear from Anarchists that argue with me on the necessity of government is that they have a plan to substitute the structure that is government for another structure which does essentially the same job, but isn’t government. My counter argument will always be “a rose by any other name”; it is still government no matter what it is called.

When I point out to them that Anarchy is chaos, by definition; and that political Anarchy, to be true to its definition, would require that there is no structure (which I will always call government) in order for it to be called Anarchy,that the resultant society would be chaotic and prone to instability, which most likely would lead (and has lead in the past) to more repressive forms of government taking root, I’m told that I just don’t get it.

But I do get it. The anarchists want to use the word anarchy to serve as a figurehead for something that isn’t anarchy but will be different from the current government structure; a tactic which has and most likely will backfire again when acted upon. Which is why I bother to argue about this in the first place.

Utopian and Idealist visions have lead to some of the worst hell holes on the planet. During the time of the Russian revolution, Anarchists and Socialists were brothers in the same cause; fighting to bring change to a Russian society that, without a doubt, desperately needed it. The idealist Anarchists of the time thought that if they could just get rid of the Czar the social utopia of Communism (which is a governmentless form of society, an anarchy; at least as Marx envisioned it) would soon follow. I think history will show it turned out differently.

No, I’m not saying that Anarchists are Communists. The Wiki entry should plainly show, if nothing else, that Anarchists don’t even know what Anarchists are. Which is fitting, considering the definition of the word anarchy. Chaos is its own definition.

Every time I find myself butting heads with someone politically, I discover that the someone in question has some ‘ideal’ vision in his head concerning what should be the way things work; a Utopia for which they just won’t accept any substitutions. Unfortunately reality doesn’t consult with us concerning it’s inner workings. In an ideal world, there would be no idealists. That’s my idea of utopia. You can thank your lucky stars that I don’t believe in Utopias.

If we want structures to serve the purposes we intend for them, then we have to look at the constraints that reality places on us and design them to fit. Self-funding support bodies for essential government functions (i.e. the cost of police and fire departments being funded by the insurance companies and land owners that profit from their existence) is just one vein of thought on the subject. Government structures that don’t violate rights simply by existing in the first place.

Suffice it to say I’ve put some thought into this, and I doubt that there is much that can be said that will sway me from my opinion.

Immigration, take two

An Anarchist friend of mine suggested that I wouldn’t find anything to object to in The Libertarian Immigration Conundrum by Per Bylund. However, I didn’t get into the second paragraph without doing so.

On the one hand, it is not possible as a libertarian to support a regulated immigration policy, since government itself is never legitimate.

Mises.org

I don’t want to argue with anarchists, I really don’t. It’s counterproductive. I want government out of my life, they want government out of their lives, we shouldn’t have to argue about the little nit picky things like government legitimacy.

And then one of them goes and throws a bombshell like the above. For the record, there are two kinds (at least) of libertarians. One group freely calls themselves anarchist (technically anarcho-capitalist) and takes the above view. The other (far larger) group just wants less government interference in day to day life (Less government interference = more freedom) some of us freely use the label that Robert Nozick (that Per Bylund references in his piece) coined for us, “Minarchist”; which loosely translates into “The least amount of government needed”. Mr Bylund himself must therefore be aware that his sweeping generalization is in error, but he goes on with the article anyway based on this erroneous assessment of Libertarians.

The reason that open borders is the right way to look at immigration policy is pragmatic, not idealistic. Pragmatically, the cost to close borders is prohibitively high, just in monetary terms. The cost in lost privacy, freedom, etc. doesn’t even bear thinking about (which is why anyone that advocates closing the borders isn’t a libertarian) Realistically, we have never been able to close the borders, not even in a state of war.

Which is why we should just let ’em in. Get whatever information the control freaks think we have to have in order to track the new immigrants (fingerprints, DNA, retinal scans, whatever) and let them get to work. I don’t have time for fantastical arguments concerning natural rights and the ownership of the commons, those sorts of things can be saved for the day that the anarchists get rid of government. I doubt that I’ll be there for that.