Archive | July, 2007

No State, Please, We’re Irish

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Book of Kells Gerard Casey’s discussion of medieval Ireland, which I’ve previously mentioned here, is now available online.

A brief excerpt:

Political theory – and, I suggest, most political practice – is dominated by a myth to the effect that the state is necessary. … Such is the power of being first in the field (‘positioning’ in advertising terms) that the State can literally get away with murder if it can foster the notion that it is legitimate. … Irish society, organised on anarchical principles, lasted for almost 2,500 years! During that time it showed a capacity, vital to any organic and developing system of social organisation, to absorb alien elements and internalise them.

Read the whole thing.

By the Numbers

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

In the latest (August 2007) issue of Liberty, Bruce Ramsey writes:

A libertarian blog considered the argument, raised by antisecessionists, that a region can’t secede without paying back some common liability to the nation. The most obvious one is the national debt.

The blogger asked the reader to accept that argument for a moment, and apply it to the individual. Would we ban an individual from moving out of his country because he hadn’t paid his share of the national debt? No. It would be barbaric to do that. East Germany used an argument like that for why it wouldn’t let citizens cross the barbed wire. And so, if we would not apply that to an individual, logically we cannot apply it to a region. Therefore, a region can secede, irrespective of any liability to the country it is part of.

No Exit And I thought: here is an argument wholly uninterested in consequences – such consequences as what the liability is, how big it is, who was supposed to pay it, and who will have to pay it now. Such arguments absolve libertarians from having to think about any of that stuff. The principle is all that matters – though it occurs to me that if your principle allows you to get away with all that, maybe you have the wrong.

The argument also implies that quantity doesn’t matter. If one person can do a thing, 5 million can. But life isn’t like that. One dog defecates on your lawn and you are annoyed; 5 million do it, and you are inundated. Your problem is of a different quality. Quantity becomes a quality.

And yes, I know, there is the problem of drawing a line. The philosophers ask how many grains of sand it takes to make a heap, and I do not have the answer. But the fact is, there are grains and there are heaps, and they are not the same.

I suspect I may be the “libertarian blogger” to whom Mr. Ramsey refers. At any rate, I gave precisely this argument in a May 23rd post. If so (or even if not), let me reply to his criticisms.

Berlin Wall First: I certainly do not regard consequences as irrelevant to political conclusions. As I’ve argued here and here, consequences are among the factors to be taken into account in framing general principles. But that’s precisely where consequences need to be taken into account – in the initial framing of the principles. Waiting until principles are already in place and then suddenly throwing them out when the consequences go the wrong way is inconsistent with the concept of “principles” – and incidentally is a policy with reliably bad consequences. Now, are the potential consequences of secession so horrendous that in framing our principles we should abandon self-determination and allow prohibition of secession? If so, Mr. Ramsey owes us an argument for that remarkable conclusion, rather than simply an unsupported assertion that anyone who favours the right to secession must be indifferent to consequences.

Second: I also certainly don’t regard quantity as irrelevant either. On the contrary, I’ve endorsed Marilyn Frye’s birdcage argument in the comments section of this post. My observations above apply here as well, however.

But, perhaps most importantly, third: Mr. Ramsey’s invocation of consequences and quantity is a complete red herring. It has nothing to do with the issue at hand. My argument was that if a certain argument worked against permitting secession, it would also work against permitting emigration. Mr. Ramsey spins this into a contrast between single individuals and large groups. But what do numbers have to do with it? Mr. Ramsey seems to be assuming that emigration involves single individuals while secession involves large numbers. But where does this assumption come from? The would-be secessionist region might be a township of 50 souls, while the number of would-be emigrants might be in the millions. If Mr. Ramsey really thinks that the numbers matter so much here, then he is logically committed to forbidding emigration if the numbers get high enough. But I suspect that he would, to his credit, be reluctant to embrace such a blatant enslavement of his fellow citizens. Yet if so, then his opposition to prohibiting emigration turns out not to depend on consequences and/or quality after all. And so my original question remains: if prohibiting emigration is unacceptable, what is the difference between emigration and secession that supposedly makes prohibiting secession acceptable? For as we’ve seen, it can’t be the numbers.

News from Philosophy Land

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

1. The Social Philosophy and Policy Center’s latest anthology is out this month (published simultaneously as the current issue of Social Philosophy & Policy and as a stand-alone book titled Freedom, Reason, and the Polis: Essays in Ancient Greek Political Philosophy), with chapters on various aspects of the classical political tradition by Carrie-Ann Biondi, Chris Bobonich, David Keyt, Richard Kraut, André Laks, Tony Long, Fred Miller, Gerasimos Santas, Chris Shields, Allan Silverman, C. C. W. Taylor, and your humble correspondent.

detail from Rapahel's School of Athens My own contribution is an essay titled “The Classical Roots of Radical Individualism,” in which I argue that on a variety of issues, from spontaneous order and the natural harmony of interests to hypothetical-imperative ethics and moralised conceptions of law, the libertarian tradition is developing themes from classical antiquity. Among the classical thinkers I discuss are Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, and Cicero; among the libertarians I discuss are Paine, Constant, Bastiat, Spencer, Andrews, Spooner, Tucker, Mises, Hayek, Rand, and Rothbard. In short, Austro-Athenian frenzy abounds!

2. The Alabama Philosophical Society (for which I’m vice-president this year and webmaster always) will meet about a month earlier than usual this fall, September 21-22, on the Gulf; the deadline for submitting a paper is thus likewise extra-early, August 7th. The keynote speaker is my old friend from IHS days, Andrew Melnyk. Details here. You don’t have to be an Alabamian to participate, so come on down!

Separated At Birth?

Beck, Kellerman, Kellerman, Kellerman, Kellerman Every time I see the slimy government propagandist Glenn Beck he reminds me of the slimy government enforcer Agent Kellerman (as played by the marvelous Paul Adelstein) on Prison Break. In particular they both have the same sneering smile.

Unfortunately, while I found a good image of that sneer on Beck’s face (the big pic on the left), I couldn’t find any image online of the same sneer on Kellerman’s face – even though it’s his most frequent expression on the show. Of the four small pics on the right, the one that comes closest is the one on the upper left, but unfortunately Kellerman’s face is half in shadow. Oh well.

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