Freedom of Choice and Personal Responsibility Under Threat

The ideal of many in the public health movement is a compliant, health obsessed person, utterly dependent on the state for their sense of right and wrong. The public health lobby seeks to relieve us of the power to make our own decisions based on personal choice and the willingness to take responsibility for our own actions. They’d rather we were infants suckling on the teat of the state than free thinking individuals.

Well I’d rather the state didn’t control my body.

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Lew Rockwell’s Problem with Freedom

Lew Rockwell is a big name in the libertarian movement. He was close to Murry Rothbard, worked for Ron Paul early on and most importantly he founded the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn Alabama of which he is still the chairman. It is probably thanks to the latter that the austrian school is enjoying a revival. So there is a lot to like about the man. And I for one thought for a long time that the Mises Institute really is the centre of the real revolutionary libertarian movement. I particularly liked the fact that after 9/11, the Mises Institute was one of the few remaining sane voices within all the statist war propaganda. That unfortunately was not the norm among libertarians, many of which seemed to had forgotten about the evils of the state and turned around to cheer for the murder machinery.

That is why LewRockwell.com, which is one of the biggest, if not the biggest libertarian blog on the internet was on my daily reading list for many years. In the last couple of years however, I found myself increasingly estranged from what is going on in this particular circle of libertarians. There have always been blog posts that made me scratch my head. But nothing so severe that it could not be tolerated. For example, there were repeatedly articles that portrayed the theory of evolution as some sort of state education conspiracy that would not have a chance on the free market of ideas. Another strange meme was that carbohydrates are not healthy and that is why the state is recommending it. One of the more dangerous ideas the side was pushing was opposition to vaccination. And all this under the banner of ‘anti-war, anti-state, pro free market’. What do these issues have to do with that?

The blog is not an open platform on which everyone can write. All articles are subject to editorial decisions. It is also not really a place for open debates in which every side of an argument is presented. To the contrary the header makes very clear what the bias of the opinions presented is. Only on a few issues one can even read a pro and a con. But even then it is usually clear which side the editor wants the reader to take. Given all that, one wonders why these strange issues are being pushed.

But whatever the reason, these things never bothered me too much for the simple reason that I consider them to be private and LewRockwell.com never really suggested that as a libertarian you have to have a certain opinion on these issues. The fact that debate is not really encouraged however, is something that I, as someone who likes ideas never really felt comfortable about. I am perfectly ok with a libertarian propaganda site. The idea that it is possible to report politics neutrally is bogus anyway. But even within libertarianism there are many issues that need to be debated. If that debate does not take place, one might end up as a dogmatic organisation that will lead its members into a wrong direction. And I think this is to a small degree happening at the Mises Institute as there seem to be a number of issues that aren’t really been discussed there.

One issue that is a little bit more important than your diet or creationism on which Lew Rockwell gets it completely wrong in my view is immigration. LewRockwell.com puts out article after article after article condemning the idea that the free movement of people should be supported by Libertarians. The arguments for this basically come from Hans Herman Hoppe and are repeated in every article that is published. The hope seems to be that since the arguments are wrong, and wrong they are indeed, repeating them will make them stick with at least some people.

Lew Rockwell himself just wrote an article in this series, that was published on 10th November on his website. The piece is called ‘‘Open Borders: A Libertarian Reappraisal’ and once again we mainly hear Hoppe’s arguments repeated. I am not going to go through all of the arguments again. I have done so in a previous article with the title ‘‘. In a nutshell the argumentation claims that supporting the state in controlling immigration is self defence. We don’t have a free market at the moment, but closed borders are closer to market result than open borders. Since immigrants have access to welfare and public spaces, they represent a threat to the property of the people inside the borders.

If that was a legitimate argument against immigration, we for example could also argue in favour of libertarian birth licensing laws. After all, as long as the welfare state exists we cannot allow people to just freely reproduce. Some of these children will grow up to become welfare recipients. Even worse, the state is subsidising certain people to become parents. Therefore, as long as we have a welfare system, libertarians cannot advocate freedom in getting children. As long as the state exists, the state needs to make sure that everyone who wants to become a parent will most likely be able to bring these kids up without becoming welfare recipients. Is that really a libertarian argument? I don’t think so. If it were, libertarianism would become useless. With the logic of this argument, pretty much any state action can be justified.

The interesting thing about Rockwell’s article however is that he is going a little bit further than Hoppe. He has this interesting idea that libertarianism is not about freedom, but about private property. To be fair, Hoppe says this too, but not quite as explicitly as Rockwell who writes:

“Some libertarians have assumed that the correct libertarian position on immigration must be “open borders,” or the completely unrestricted movement of people. Superficially, this appears correct: surely we believe in letting people go wherever they like! But hold on a minute. Think about “freedom of speech,” another principle people associate with libertarians. Do we really believe in freedom of speech as an abstract principle? That would mean I have the right to yell all during a movie, or the right to disrupt a Church service, or the right to enter your home and shout obscenities at you. What we believe in are private property rights.”

There are two major errors in this argument. Firstly, he is giving the terms “open borders” and “freedom of speech” a meaning that it does not have. “Open borders” does not mean the completely unrestricted movement of people. It usually means to open state borders. That is nothing else but to say that the demand is to get the government out of the way. The same is true for “freedom of speech”. This has always meant that there are no legal restrictions on expressing certain opinions. It has never meant to have the right to use other people’s resources to express what you have to say. But even if there were people who used it that way, libertarians definitely do not use it that way.

Second and more importantly, Rockwell basically implies that there is a clash between libertarianism and freedom. He explicitly says freedom is not the main issue of Libertarianism. Instead, according to Rockwell, it is all about private property. He argues that if there is a clash between freedom and property, Libertarians have to prefer property. Think about that. We have a leading libertarian who argues that we don’t need freedom, we need private property and presenting those two as being somehow opposed to each other. How could it come to that? Why should there be a contradiction between freedom and property?

To be fair to Rockwell, he is correct in so far as the vast majority of libertarians out there probably would agree that libertarianism is all about private property. I think this is fundamentally wrong and a big problem for this movement. Libertarianism should be about liberty. That is not to say that I am not in favour of certain forms of private property. But property is a consequence of liberty. And only property concepts that follow from liberty are libertarian. As such it is by no means clear that, as Rockwell suggests everything will be privately owned in a libertarian society.

However, to understand the connection between property and liberty one needs to first have a theory of what liberty is. And unfortunately most libertarians, including Rockwell don’t have such a theory. If libertarians don’t understand what liberty is, how are they going to explain it to others? This is a problem that I was made first aware of by libertarian philosopher Jan Lester. And I think he is correct. To explain why I think he is correct however deserves a separate article.

Despite the tremendous service Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute have done for Libertarianism, they appear to be theoretically muddled on certain issues. That in itself is not much of a problem. No one has all the answers. I certainly do not. But in oder to make progress one needs to have an open debate on these issues. And that does not really seem to happen at the Mises Institute. Or if it happens then only behind closed doors. I cannot see it as an outsider. That is why the Institute for lack of a better word increasingly appears to me to be a little bit cultish. And that is a real pity.

Freedom and The Seven Deadly Sins

If you knew you had half an hour left to live, how would you live it? Would you obey a humiliating command and run naked to your death, as the Nazis commanded their victims do?

Let’s get serious for a moment. Think about yourself. Your past. Your family. The choices you’ve made, your fate, your circumstances, the people you’ve come to know: Everything encapsulated in the person that you are today. Then, imagine, it’s war. A group of people escort you to your grave with guns pointing to your head. These are the last moments of your life.

How would you act?

Would you have the courage to say no, stop, look around, forgive, even? Would you risk dying sooner, so you can walk it your own way, because it’s your life, because in your heart you know that your conscience is truly free?

Most of us are mentally enslaved. We’ve been taught not to question, to learn what’s taught, to do what’s expected, to follow the herd because the majority is always right.

‘So, I run because they tell me to.
I run because everyone else is.
I’m scared of repercussions if I don’t obey’

The Nazis with guns, they too were enslaved. They’d forgotten they were free. Even if it meant death, they could have chosen to obey their own conscience. But no.

‘I kill because they tell me to.
I kill because everyone else is.
I’m scared of repercussions if I don’t obey’

Freedom takes courage.

My dad gave a lecture one time, the topic was genocide. ‘Would you do it?’, he asked. ‘Can you?’
A few students sheepishly raised their hands ‘yes’. Most shook their heads ‘no.’
When asked ‘why not?’ a student answered, ‘because I’m not that kind of a person’.

‘What if’, my dad asked. ‘What if you were given the power to do so. What if your friends admired you for it. What if your nation encouraged it? What if your family were compensated for it? Would you then, not commit mass murder?’ The classroom was silent.

‘Don’t forget your freedom’ he said. ‘Everybody has the capacity to commit evil, but don’t forget, you have a choice. Know your vices. Don’t be a slave. You have to take a leap and claim freedom for yourself, in every situation, in face of all challenges.’

“The cost of liberty is eternal vigilance” (Jefferson)

What I see at the heart of the Libertarian movement, is a quickening of the freedom inherent in every individual. In this sense, I see it is a spiritual battle.

What are we fighting against, exactly?

Seven Deadly Sins:

Sloth —> Let them (the state) take care of it
Envy —> It’s not fair, our outcomes should be equal
Gluttony –> I want more, more more!
Covetousness—> Let’s take what’s not ours
Lust —> Forgetting boundaries of private property
Anger —> Why don’t people see my view?
Pride —> I know best

It’s understood that with freedom, comes responsibility.

This is an ancient battle: Humanity has always fought against these sins. Yet, this time is different because of the sheer scale of things: We are the most populated, most networked, interdependent, international, militarised, and powerful (nuclear energy being the most powerful) population the world has ever seen. Are we not fighting a Leviathan of the greatest magnitude? Everywhere there’s chaos, anger, confusion, and still we fight the same battle! This message of freedom is paramount now, more than ever. It’s time to wake up, learn our lesson, evolve. Only we can save ourselves.