We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Liberty == Personal Choice

I’ve decided to reply to the responses on my previous article “in-line”. Issues of personal choice and personal liberty are at the very heart of libertarianism. It is not a matter of whether you agree with a behavior or not. A libertarian society removes from you the “right” to use force and coercion, whether by self or by state proxy, against acts you do not like. You may either mind your own business or you may spend your own time and money to advertise and campaign to change people’s minds one at a time. If you are Bill Gates or Ted Turner and spend every last pence you have to make people stop being part of Group X and all but one person does – that one person may still freely go about their business as before and there is nothing you can do about it.

You could be an Imam convincing everyone to accept Shari’a, and if one person doesn’t you are stuffed1. Tough. They can shoot back if you annoy them too much, and likely large numbers of others who agreed with your initial ideas will turn on you for breaking the Meta-rule of non-coercion.

There is no libertarian argument which could support the status quo of the Drug War. Drug usage – THC, Ethanol, Nicotine or stronger – are issues of personal choice. The results of those personal choices are personal responsibilities. If someone drinks themselves into a gutter, it is not the State’s responsibility to pull them out. If someone injects heroin into their veins and kills themself it is likewise not a public issue.

The minimal libertarian position is the Minarchist state. One which is responsible for Defense, Police and the Courts – killing terrorists, shooting down nuclear missiles, rescuing hostages where possible… and finding, trying and locking up snipers.

There is no room in that description for “outlawing a behavior of Group X that Group Y does not like or that Group Z thinks is unhealthy”.

In a free society, you do what you want so long as you don’t directly harm others… and the consequences of those actions are fully your own to deal with, whether it be getting laid and having a great time or morphine addiction, lung cancer and liver cirrhosis.

T’ain’t nobodies business but your own.

1 = For some Imams in certain Medieval nations, the very ideas expressed here are a heresy. That’s why we leave the Minimal State with Defense. So we can get them first if they try to “Kill Infidels in the Name of Allah”. A liberal society assumes everyone accepts a very minimal social pact of non-coercion.

17 comments to Liberty == Personal Choice

  • Lou Gots

    Would that the world were so simple. The reality of the relationship between the state and civil society renders the libertarian paradigm fatuous. Your liberty to ride your motorcycle without a helmet is in conflict with my liberty to spend my work product on myself rather than on having your feeding tube changed for the next 50 years. I will pass over my liberty not to be despoiled to pay for the treatment of loathsome, incurable diseases. Do you really imagine that a “minimalist” state could exist without underlying values? Please consider the sources of the very idea of liberty.

  • Dale Amon

    Wrong. My right to ride without a helmet has no effect on you because if I do not have medical insurance to cover my behavior, there won’t be a feeding tube. It ain’t your problem.

  • Lou’s comment are why it says in the sidebar that we are developing the libertarian meta-context for the future… Lou takes it as a given that the state will subsidise the cost of unwise behaviour (i.e. provide medical care at taxpayers… his… expense) and thus within his state-centred meta-context (the frames of reference within which he sees the world), his remarks are logical and sensible.

    Although I do not agree with Lou, I do not think him a fool, I just think he it is bizarre he accepts that the state can take his money for that purpose as a given whilst not accepting that the person has any right to put himself in danger.

    Of course as Dale and I completely reject the state as something around which everything must revolve as it imposes irrational linkages between people’s actions, Lou’s remarks make no sense whatsoever to us and cut to the core of why we are libertarians rather than statist socialists or statist conservatives.

  • Richard Cook

    Could somebody please tell me where Libertarianism is applied on a wide scale? It is interesting to note that Libertarianism goes against enforced human behavior since people began to govern themselves. Whether its a monarchy or a democracy or a republic the populace has turned to government to enforce certain laws that are supposed to appeal to the greater good. Libertarian politics does not appeal to the vast majority of voters. Libertarian ideas however do have great appeal as modifiers the legislation of the current two party system. I do not see the current setup changing anytime soon, and we have to live in the present. No to libertarian politics, yes to libertarian ideas.

  • Dale Amon

    Just because you haven’t got there and because it is a long, long road doesn’t mean you should throw away the map.

    I applaud the piecemeal application of libertarian ideas to current problems… but the bits are not the whole and it is the whole which we aim for, whether it be 20, 50 or 100 years hence. This is something else which differentiates us from the Demo/publicans. We actually stand for something besides elections. We have consistant. coherent beliefs, a meta-context, within which we argue our cases.

  • David Carr

    Lou Gotts,

    If you insist on being responsible for helmetless motorcyclists then you must also accept responsibility, surely, for smokers, heavy drinkers, overeaters, couch-potatoes, most sportsmen, most drivers, those who engage in promiscuous unprotected sex and just about everyone else who engages in any activity which carries with it some risk of injury/disease/harm.

    Don’t want to be? Fine. Either you denationalise health care or restrict all of the above activities by force of law.

    Last Christmas our Department of Health issued an advisory warning people not to attempt home-improvements in case the resultant injuries put a ‘strain on the Health Service’.

    The difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time.

  • Lou Gots

    It looks like I a hit a shot to the bleachers here. Let me spell it out in terms I hope will not be missed this time: if you will not have the mysticism of mind, you must have the mysticism of muscle. Most people are not philosophers, having neither the time not the inclination to find their own path. Do you really want to live in a society in which each person is making autonomous moral judgements? Do you imagine that this is even possible. Refer to Madison, to deToquevelle, to the Peruvian economist, Hernan deSoto. Then refer to Luther’s Address to the German Nobility and finally to The Lord of the Flies–”It’s no go.”

  • Snide

    So Lou does believes that most behaviour does not in fact come from people following the norms and imperatives of civil society… he sees society and state as one and the same. The ‘mysticism of muscle’, i.e. state force, is what holds it all together. But where is the ‘mysticism of shared society’ in this? You do not need much mysticism of the mind to grow up without sociopathic tendencies, just a strong civil society as an example.

    Lou’s views are very Rousseauesque. Most people in fact do not constantly make a cost/benefit analysis not to knock over the 7-11 for some extra cash if there are no cops around. That is because most people inn a developed society do not need law to stop them acting like that, just socialisation. Society is what matters,

    As for ‘Lord of the Flies’, that analogue sums up Lou’s mindset perfectly: without the state, we are all just children. Speak for yourself, dude.

  • blabla

    Lou,
    You definitely did hit a foul ball into the bleachers. Most people are not philosophers like Aristotle and Kant, but most people are in fact, moral agents. Libertarianism does not depend on each person reading the classics and spending their time ruminating the answer to life, the universe, and everything. It does depend on allowing people to make their own choices about their own lives, as long as they don’t force their will on others.

    Your whole mindset is comletely different from the libertarian mindset. You realize that paying for some idiot’s feeding tube depends on one group of individuals taking another group of individual’s property by force don’t you? That’s completely inconsistent with libertarianism. But in your mindset, paying for some idiot’s feeding tube is a given, fixed outcome.

  • Russ Lemley

    Sorry, Lou, but I can’t see how you thought you won the argument. In fact, your original response is so predictable, and unoriginal, it’s not even funny.

    Do you truly believe in the “mysticism of muscle?” Do you? If so, then I suppose you have no qualms about what happened in Germany during 1933-1945, Eastern Europe during World War II, the Soviet Union from 1917-1992(?), the Spanish civil war, Rwanda in the ’90s, the internment of Japanese-Americans in the US, the Japanese occupation of China and Korea in the 1930s, and so on. I also suppose you have no issues with what’s currently going on in Zimbabwe. After all, no one can argue that during these periods, people were able to make “autonomous moral judgements.”

  • “You could be an Imam convincing everyone to accept Shari’a, and if one person doesn’t you are stuffed1. Tough. They can shoot back if you annoy them too much, and likely large numbers of others who agreed with your initial ideas will turn on you for breaking the Meta-rule of non-coercion.”

    Ok, but if everyone except for that one person accepts it then wouldn’t that mean the State would accept it? Or is your libertarian State not democratic? If enough people in the US accepted it we would no doubt have a constitutional amendment revising the government to reflect it, no? Do you see my point? Your libertarian State can not withstand democracy. Even without democracy, someone has to enforce the law. If everyone believes in Islamic law who will enforce libertarian law? The one non-believer? Or perhaps you are advocating for a State run my machines?

  • Paul Marks

    Minimal state libertarianism has its problems (although forced medical care finance is not one of them).

    First of all how does a mininal state stay a minimal state? We all know that the sort of person who works to gain power tends to like power – and seeks to increase the power of the institution he represents.

    Even if we had radomally selected legislators – a sort of mass jury (to get round the politician problem) would not such “ordinary people” seek to “do good”? And, of course, governments seeking to do good are the road to hell.

    A written constitution seems not to work. Take the Constitution of the United States – not a minimal state constitution, but the most strictly limited state constitution I know of.

    Article One, Section Eight has 17 clauses giving powers of the Congress (the “To…..” clauses) and there are few other areas in the Constitution where the Congress is given powers.

    Now Congress does have the power to things we would not approve of (such as set up a post office), but it DOES NOT have the power to create the social security scheme, or medicare or medicaid (or the vast majority of the things the federal government does).

    The Tenth Amendment (pointing out that the federal government does not have any power it has not been granted by the Constitution) should not be needed (it states the obvious) – but it is there, and it is (normally) ignored.

    The powers of the federal government are supposed to be for the “common defense and general welfare of the United States” (preamble to the 17 clauses of Section Eight, Article One) – and OF COURSE government courts have jumped on this. “If X is for the “”general welfare”” it must be consititutional” – so the REASON for powers has turned into a power itself.

    Even when things are ultra clear cut it does not matter. For example the federal government has no power to print money – clause four, Section Eight, Article One of the Constitution states that Congress has the power “To coin money, regulate the value thereof and of foreign coin and fix the standard of weights and measures”. Indeed Section Ten of Article One declares that no State can “make anything but gold or silver coin legal tender in payment of debts”.

    This was not an accident. During the war of independence the Americans issued a paper currency – the “Continental”. And sure enough it soon became “not worth a Continental” (as the old saying used to say). The Founding Fathers wanted to make totally sure that that there could be no government paper money.

    There have been no amendments to the Constitution in this area – but clever government lawyers in GOVERNMENT COURTS are not going to let such restrictions stand.

    Even honest judges (such as Salmon P. Chase Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during the first “Greenback Case” – simply have their judgements overturned later by the government appointing new judges (or corrupting old ones).

    Another example – the resistance of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (the four judges on the Supreme Court in the 1930′s who actually cared a bit about the Constitution – against the toytown fascism of the “New Deal”) was defeated eventually (even without formal “Court Packing”). The four horsemen stopped finding a fifth person to stand with them – and eventually the four horse men died.

    What is the alternative? Arbitration breaks down if people can not agree on the private judge – that is why in ancient Iceland there was still a state element (the Althing – the people sitting in judgement when parties could not agree on a judge).

    The effort to influence everyone to choose a judge in advance (which they could change when they wished – but not after they were accused of a crime and before judgement was found), got into trouble when the noble families gained control of the judgeships (which were traditionally limited in number), by buying up the rights of the judges. There was never a legal monopoly, but things concentrated into the hands of a few families – who fell out (thus leading the people to make their fatal mistake of inviting the King of Norway to be head of state – it was First Book of Samuel, Chapter Eight all over again).

    Still Iceland lasted (as a free society) a lot longer than the United States has.

    Government courts tend to be a corrupt, endless time consuming and wildly expensive – is there really no better way?

    I am not sure. Perhaps (for all my mistrust of the people) I am forced back to a simple jury (instead of the Supreme Court) and jury nullification in the lower federal and State courts (supported by ALL the Founding Fathers) as a limit on government.
    A mess – but my mind is tired.

    Paul Marks.

  • Very nice arguments, and I like them a lot, but in the end this could only work with perfect humans, or robots, just like communism.
    Most people are lazy, dumb, stupid and short sighted. Just imagine how stupid the average person is: half the population is more stupid than that!
    Left to their own devices, these idiots would degrade to a bunch of addicted, injured, sick, unemployed losers, and not to a state of Libertarian utopia.
    Libertarianism is a fine philosophy, if people would just be smart, like ourselves. For most people though, the ones not reading this site, the results would be terrible.
    And one could say: fine, but it would be their own problem. Alas, it wouldn’t: they all have brothers, sisters, parents or children, and you might even be one of them. Imagine the fun of having a junkie father, or a permanently unemployed sister.
    Oh, well, I’m ranting, but it’s late, I’ve had a bit too much to drink, and I’ve been pondering this for a long time, better to let it out now…

  • blabla

    Maarten,

    Very nice arguments, and I like them a lot, but in the end this could only work with perfect humans, or robots, just like communism.

    Communism would not work with perfect humans, even if perfect humans were possible. I hear this argument all the time, “Communism would work if everyone was selfless and giving, but since everyone isn’t, it can’t work.” That is completely bogus. Communism can’t work even if people were selfless saints, for the simple reason that economic calculatation isn’t possible without private property. How many computers does a society need? How many loaves of bread? When should these loaves arrive at the store so they aren’t wasted upon spoiling? Only in a free society with private property rights can these decisions be made. A central planner cannot.

    Left to their own devices, these idiots would degrade to a bunch of addicted, injured, sick, unemployed losers, and not to a state of Libertarian utopia.

    It’s surprising how well state indoctrination works. “Without the state, we’d all turn into cannibals.”

    You’re completely wrong. Look around – citizens of western nations are turning into a bunch of addicted, injured, sick, unemployed losers. It is the state, not man’s true nature, that is causing ths deterioration. The explanation is quite simple if you choose to open your mind enough to shut out the statist propaganda : a free society punishes antisocial behavior whereas the state subsidizes it.

    Imagine the fun of having a junkie father, or a permanently unemployed sister.

    Blame the welfare system that rewards stupidity and creates dependents. Don’t blame liberty.

  • Richard Cook

    Dale:

    Throw that meta-context at the electorate and see how far you get ;).

    I understand what you are saying, but, you can have all of that but the basic question 20, 50, or 100 years hence from the electorate is “what are you going to do for me to entice me to vote for you?”

    I think that all lib arguments are moot at that point. I think that is main point of democracies/republics-eventually the electorate sees it as nothing more that a big piggy bank for themselves.

  • Richard Cook: You are quite correct. That is why us Samizdata libertarians are so ambivalent about democracy. We want to de-politicise as much of life as possible, not just change whose hands are on the illegitimate levers of power.

    That is why we are interested in non-state centred economics (like hawala, off-shore finance, virtual economics etc.)… we do not want to control ‘The System’, we want to find ways to make it less and less relevant in our lives.

    It is not as hard to do in real life as people (and the state) would have you think. Let people say we are ‘unrealistic’ whilst we get on with making money and living our lives.

  • So now, how do Libertarians feel about poor people & medicine? Say if a poor person has cancer, is it the government’s responsibility to pay for that in the LIbertarian mind?