Tag Archives | Left-Libertarian

Popery Unleashed

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Tom Knapp’s remark yesterday that “[t]he big problem with [Ayn] Rand was that over time she made it a point to isolate herself from anyone and everyone who demonstrated the kind of character that might lead them to run up the bullshit Garrison and Rand flag on her when necessary” reminded me of a critical remark made about abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison by one of his contemporaries. I can’t remember the author or the exact wording and I haven’t been able to find it online (anyone out there recognise it? I believe I heard it quoted on a Knowledge Products tape, one of a batch that I unwisely lent to a friend years ago and never recovered), but it does an excellent job of summing up a dynamic that is evident not just with Garrison or Rand but with all too many other intellectual leaders. It went something like this:

“How to Create a Pope: Find someone in whom the habit of having been often correct in many things has prepared him to be convinced that he is always correct in all things, and bombard him with praise in these matters until you have succeeded in helping him so convince himself.”

On an unrelated note, I recently came across an autobiographical sketch of Rose Wilder Lane that I hadn’t seen before, apparently done as part of some 1930s WPA project.


Philosophy By Mail

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

My copy of A Treatise of Legal Philosophy and General Jurisprudence, Volume 6: A History of the Philosophy of Law from the Ancient Greeks to the Scholastics, edited by Fred Miller (author of Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics) and Carrie-Ann Biondi, has just arrived. Xenophon It contains a couple of articles by me on the contributions to philosophy of law (and libertarian aspects thereof) by Xenophon, Cynics, Cyrenaics, Academics, Peripatetics, Polybius, Epicureans, and Stoics. Other entries include Michael Gagarin and Paul Woodruff on early Greek legal thought; R. F. Stalley on Socrates and Plato; Miller on near eastern legal thought, Aristotle, ancient rights theory, and early Jewish and Christian legal thought; Brad Inwood on Cicero and the Roman Stoics; Janet Coleman on Augustine; Charles Butterworth on medieval Jewish and Islamic thought; Thomas Banchich on Justinian’s Digests; John Marenbon on Abélard, the early Scholastics, and the revival of Roman law; Charles Reid on canon law; Anthony Lisska on Aquinas, Scotus, and other Scholastics; Brian Tierney on William of Ockham; and M. W. F. Stone on the Spanish Scholastics. You can buy it from Amazon, but when you see the price, you won’t. (I got mine for free.) Hope for it to show up at your friendly neighbourhood university library instead.

Today’s email also brings me the latest issue of Liberty, which contains Leland Yeager’s review of Tibor Machan’s anthology Liberty and Justice. In the following excerpt Yeager discusses a left-libertarian contribution from Jennifer McKitrick, vice-president of the Molinari Institute and Molinari Society:

Jennifer McKitrick devotes her “Liberty, Gender, and the Family” to summarizing and commenting on Susan Moller Okin’s “Justice, Gender, and the Family” (Basic Books, 1989). Okin had bewailed women’s having Jennifer McKitrick heavier burdens and slighter opportunities than men because, for example, family responsibilities impede their uninterrupted pursuit of careers. McKitrick warns libertarians against merely brushing such concerns aside. She regrets that even such an early feminist as John Stuart Mill, in his “The Subjection of Women” (1989), had accepted conventional ideas about the division of labor between the sexes. Yet she also warns against Okin’s program of comprehensive governmental remedies, which might include requiring employers to grant pregnancy and childbirth leave, arrange flexible part-time working hours, provide high-quality on-site day care, and “issue two paychecks equally divided between the employee and his partner” (94). McKitrick prefers facilitating marriage contracts whereby a man and a woman can tailor the terms of their marriage to their particular circumstances and preferences. She denies that women would be at a clear disadvantage in negotiating such contracts. Her article serves as an example of how a thoughtful person can have both feminist and libertarian sympathies.


Ron Paul in the Debates, Part 3

Once again, summaries (paraphrases, not exact quotes) of Ron Paul’s answers from tonight’s debate.

Introduce yourself briefly.

I’m a Congressman from Texas in my 10th term; I’m the champion of the Constitution.

How soon should we leave Iraq?

Ron Paul The sooner we leave, the better; it was a mistake to go in and it’s a mistake to stay; if you get the diagnosis wrong you should change the treatment. We’re not making progress; there were no weapons of mass destruction; we went in under a UN resolution and not because we were threatened; we’re more threatened by staying than by leaving.

You voted for the bill calling for a 700-mile fence between the U.S. and Mexico. Do we need a similar fence for Canada?

No, and anyway the fence was the least of my reasons for voting for that bill. Border security and enforcing the law are important. I’m against amnesty. If you subsidise something, you get more of it. We subsidise illegal immigration with amnesty, birthright citizenship, and publicly-fund education and health care. We do need immigrant workers, but if we had a genuine free market they wouldn’t be the scapegoat.

If you think English should not be the official language, raise your hand.

Paul didn’t. [I’d like to ask Paul where in the Constitution it says we should have an official language. – RTL]

As a former Libertarian candidate, how do you view issues of church and state?

The First Amendment says Congress shall make no law. We shouldn’t have laws made at the Federal level; leave it to local people, local officials, the state level. We don’t have perfect knowledge and shouldn’t have some central authority in Washington telling us all what to do and imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on everybody and ruining things for the whole country, as in Roe v. Wade.

In 2005 President Bush signed an energy bill giving tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies; at a time when they’re making record profits is this appropriate?

The profits as such aren’t the issue; they would be fine if they were earned in the free market. I object to their receiving subsidies and R&D money. But any discussion of energy policy has to deal with foreign policy; we’re fighting in the Middle East, we overthrew Mossadegh in Iran, because we succumb to the temptation to protect the interest of the oil industry.

Should the military’s policy on gays be changed?

I think the current policy is a decent one. The real problem is that we see people as groups instead of individuals. We don’t have rights as gays or women or minorities; we receive our rights from our Creator as individuals. If homosexual behaviour in the military is disruptive it should be dealt with; but if heterosexual behaviour in the military is disruptive it should be dealt with too. Apply the same standards to everybody.

If you think gays should be able to serve openly in the military, raise your hand.

Paul didn’t. [Why doesn’t this contradict what he just said above? – RTL]

Would you pardon Scooter Libby?

No. [Candidates were asked to stick to one-word answers. This didn’t stop Giuliani from blathering on forever. – RTL]

My brother died in Iraq. What can you tell me?

We’ve been doing this for four years and it’s not working. We’re losing 100 men and women a month, over 1000 a year. If we want the Iraqis to take up the responsibility, we need to give them an incentive. We should stop patrolling the streets; that’s a job for the police, not for the army. Yes, we should promote our goodness overseas, but through setting an example and encouraging emulation, not through the barrel of a gun and through armed force as the neocons believe. Woodrow Wilson also told us we could promote democracy that way; we’ve seen that it doesn’t work.

What is today’s most pressing moral issue?

The recent acceptance of the promotion of preemptive war. In the past we declared war in defense of our liberty or to aid someone. We’ve now rejected the just war theory of Christianity; and tonight we even hear candidates who are not even willing to rule out a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done us no harm. We should defend our liberties and rights, but not try to change the world by armed force, by starting wars.

What has the Republican administration done most wrong?

Bush ran on a platform of a humble foreign policy, no nation-building, not policing the world. Instead we’re spending a trillion dollars a year to maintain the power of our empire around the world. We need that money for education and medical care here.

How can the GOP reach out to disaffected moderate Republicans?

(Almost everyone got to answer this question, but not Paul.)

P.S. Having grumped earlier about Jon Stewart’s dissing of Ron Paul, I owe Stewart a nod for his excellent interview with Paul last night.


JLS 21.1: What Lies Within?

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

The latest issue (21.1) of the Journal of Libertarian Studies offers a symposium on the topic “Market Anarchism: Pro and Con,” featuring Nozick and Rothbard Eric Roark vs. Robert Nozick on whether a dominant protection agency can justly evolve into a state, Randall Holcombe vs. Walter Block on whether the state is inevitable, Walter Block vs. Tibor Machan on whether government is essentially coercive, and Jordan Schneider vs. myself on whether the market can provide objective law.

Read a fuller summary of 21.1’s contents here.

Read summaries of previous issues under my editorship here.

Read back issues online here.

Subscribe here.


Caning Darwin

[cross posted at Liberty & Power]

Joseph Sobran suggests (conical hat tip to LRC) that people’s willingness to help or praise others refutes Darwinism and atheism, and defies Randian egoism. Let’s take these in turn.

Charles Darwin Darwinism: Sobran seems to imagine that if Darwinism were true, people would be interested solely in their own narrow survival and would have no genuine concern for others. This is wrong on two different levels.

First, Sobran mistakenly assumes that Darwinism commits us to holding that all our mental contents, all our beliefs and desires, are there solely because they promote survival. Yet Darwinism implies nothing of the kind. Natural selection explains our possession of various capacities for learning, choosing, being influenced; but natural selection by itself does not guarantee that these capacities will be exercised solely in survival-conducing ways. How could it? My belief that 666 is the square root of 443556 isn’t there because that belief has survival value; there may be cases where it would, but I doubt that it ever has. Instead my belief that 666 is the square root of 443556 is the product of a general capacity to figure things out (i.e., reason), and that capacity has survival value.

Second, even if Darwinism did imply that all our mental contents are directly explainable by natural selection, it still wouldn’t follow that we should be surprised at the existence of genuine other-concern. Suppose (and this does not seem to be an especially heroic assumption) that creatures who are inclined to cooperate with one another are more likely on average to survive than those who aren’t. What more does one need by way of an evolutionary explanation? Has Sobran never read Spencer? Or Darwin himself?

Sobran thinks it should be a puzzle for the Darwinian why human beings express varieties of concern that other animals lack. But he himself offers the answer: reason. And as I noted above, this is a perfectly Darwinian-compatible explanation.

The weirdest section of Sobran’s article comes when he suggests that “killing your own children” (this is Sobran’s tendentious description of abortion; he seems to have forgotten that before a woman has given birth she has no “children”) “makes some sort of sense from an atheistic and Darwinian point of view,” since “[i]f survival is a ruthless competition, your kids are your competitors.” Um, Darwinian natural selection promotes traits that enhance the likelihood of reproduction; survival is selected for only insofar as it promotes reproduction. (Of course we can outwit natural selection, and a good thing too; the view, mysteriously popular among many religious conservatives, that we should bow to the purposes of our genes surely contradicts Genesis 1:26.)

Atheism: I was initially puzzled as to how Sobran’s argument was supposed to be relevant to atheism, until I realized that he is treating atheism and Darwinism as equivalents. But they aren’t. One can be a Darwinian without being an atheist (for this we have the assurance of no less an authority than Pope John Paul II), and one can likewise be an atheist without being a Darwinian (as all atheists were, prior to the 19th century, and as many have been since).

Randian egoism: Sobran treats Randian egoism as though it counseled against genuine concern for others. But Randian egoism says no such thing; its conception of self-interest is modeled on Aristotelean eudaimonia, and most definitely includes various forms of other-concern. There is a dispute in Randian circles as to whether such concern is related causally or constitutively to self-interest; but such concern remains genuine in either case. Egoism is a doctrine of the ground of our legitimate concerns, not of their scope. If egoism is Sobran’s basis for rejecting Rand, he should reject Thomas Aquinas for the same reason.


More Spencer Nonsense, Part Deux

Earlier this month I wrote a letter to the New York Times and posted it here. Then I discovered that the Times would only print letters that haven’t appeared previously, so I deleted the letter from my blog. But since they didn’t print it anyway, here it is again:

To the Editor:

Patricia Cohen’s May 5th article “A Split Emerges As Conservatives Discuss Darwin” contains the following remarkable sentence: “Victorian-era social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism, opposition to labor unions and the withdrawal of aid to the sick and needy.”

Ms. Cohen’s charges against Herbert Spencer are false in every particular.

Herbert Spencer First: Spencer was in fact Victorian England’s leading opponent of imperialism; in Social Statics he described Western colonialism as bearing “a very repulsive likeness to the doings of buccaneers.”

Second: in his Principles of Sociology, Spencer hailed labor unions as a bulwark against the “harsh and cruel conduct” of employers, and advocated replacing the “slavery” of the wages system with self-governing workers’ cooperatives.

Third: far from advocating the “withdrawal of aid from the sick and needy,” he regarded the provision of such aid as a positive moral duty (though he stressed that it should be given in such a way as to avoid encouraging dependency).

Finally, inasmuch as Spencer developed and published his basic ideas on biological and social evolution prior to and independently of Charles Darwin, it makes little sense to describe him as a “Social Darwinist.”

Why do these bizarre distortions of a great humanitarian thinker persist?

Roderick T. Long

While, as I said, the Times didn’t print my letter, they did publish the following partial retraction:

A front-page article last Saturday about a dispute among some conservatives over whether Darwinian theory undermines or supports conservative principles erroneously included one social Darwinist among Victorian-era social Darwinists who adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism. Herbert Spencer opposed both.

Score a victory for the Herbert Spencer Anti-Defamation League!


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