Video: Democracies, Republics and other unnecessary evils

Two hundred and thirty six years after a democratic republic called the United States of America was signed into existence by its founders we assembled to consider what our present systems really look like in practice, and discuss some alternatives. Jan C Lester provides his definition and commentary and sets out why he thinks we’re better off with nobody at all in charge.

As a good open minded objectivist (and “closed system” advocate) I should really register my disagreement at this point but I found Jan Lester’s argument for complete Anarchy quite persuasive. Rand’s main objection to anarchy was founded on the idea that, for an individual, having multiple Governments meant that they could not know how a dispute was to be adjudicated and any serious dispute would escalate to into a de facto war between private enforcement agencies.

One illustration will be sufficient: suppose Mr. Smith, a customer of Government A, suspects that his next-door neighbor, Mr. Jones, a customer of Government B, has robbed him; a squad of Police A proceeds to Mr. Jones’ house and is met at the door by a squad of Police B, who declare that they do not accept the validity of Mr. Smith’s complaint and do not recognize the authority of Government A. What happens then? You take it from there.

However, Frederick Cookinham seems to reconcile Anarchism to Objectivism in his book The Age of Rand, believing Rand to be labouring under a misunderstanding of the anarchic system. He points out that the competing sources of justice in the proposed system are not Governments have different powers and incentives and could not or would not fight such a war.

Rand also wrote:

even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government.

During the Q&A on Thursday I was asked “so are you suddenly an anarchist?” Of course, anarchy is a political theory, not a metaphysical, epistemological, ethical or aesthetic theory so it is much narrower. If I were persuaded that anarchism was a better political theory than an objectivist minarchy then I would still be an objectivist, I would simply see myself as differing from other objectivists in the area of politics.

So, am I persuaded that anarchy is a better political theory than objectivist minarchy? No, for the reason that an individual is only free when he knows in advance where his freedom ends and the rights of others begin, and that is what laws should be set down to decide. I have no doubt at all that a company could produce a document containing such a set of laws, but how would they be circulated and enforced in an anarchic society such that every individual knew what choices were open to him and which closed?

Democracies, Republics, and Other Unnecessary Evils

Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson

August’s drinks event at the Rose and Crown co-incides with the 236th anniversary of the signing of US Declaration of Independence on August 2nd 1776. This lesser known date trailed its publication by almost a month but was a key ritualistic step in the creation of the world’s first nation founded upon an idea. The Republic born on that day is a pre-eminent example of the value of liberty, and the dangers it suffers. Two hundred years later and that nation is on it’s last legs, it’s core ideas have been dismissed and disregarded by misinformed mobs so many times that only an intellectual revolution will save it.

Some have argued that democracy can be tweaked, and the franchise restricted in order to preserve the balance of incentives in favour of liberty. Jan Clifford Lester, a scholar and author with a 30 year record of defending and promoting liberty, has another solution and will join us at the Rose and Crown to share part of his research for his forthcoming Dictionary of Anti-Politics in which this solution is to be found.

The event will begin with drinks at 7pm and the talk beginning shortly after 8. on August 2nd.

You want the Rose and Crown, Colombo Street, Southwark. A map and options to RSVP can be found on Meetup.com.

Property rights: the sure foundation of the law

To a libertarian, there is only really one crime, and that is to break the non-aggression principle. The universally-applicable principle of Liberty permits anyone to do as they please with their own property, just so long as they do not harm anyone else or their property. The qualifying clause is necessarily the case, as without it, the principle of Liberty would not and could not be universal. If my liberty extended to taking your property, then your liberty would be infringed.

Liberty is very often misunderstood or misconstrued by our adversaries. They wish to suppose that Liberty must be restrained, so that it cannot harm others. We must be clear in our repudiation to this idea, by asserting that Liberty does not require restraint, as it contains within itself all necessary restraint. In the definition; the liberty to do what you want, provided you harm no other, the provided is not optional but axiomatic.

foundation © Martin Lopatka

With this definition of crime, the libertarian finds himself confronted by a legal system which breaks through and over-runs such limitations, seeking to punish a range of actions which involve no harm to another or another’s property, especially if we are mindful to keep a clear and rational definition of the word harm. There are also a number of prohibitions which relate to moral infractions. The number of these latter has declined over time, with one of the last notable ones to fall being the prohibition of blasphemy.

Just as the term Liberty is misunderstood by many, so is the term property rights. Likewise, what harm should rightly be understood to consist of. Agreeing definitions in these cases is not a mere parlour game. Without clear and concise definitions, it is impossible to frame, and thereby limit the law. Although we can count on common sense and common understanding, we must still battle against the wilful refusal to ‘play ball’ by many of the (mis-) educated left, who are sadly deficient in the former and hostile to the latter. Their reluctance to set down firm definitions may be due to a host of ideological and psychological errors, obliging us to be imaginative in crafting common-sense snares for their flighty intellects.

The mis-use of the concept of harm is linked to a poor understanding of property. If this latter is clear, then it is far easier to assess the former. In a case of assault against the person, there is little dispute over the wrongness of the act, but we need to stress the definition of this crime in terms of the violation against the property rights of the victim. If this can be done with the simple cases, it will lay the groundwork for the more complicated ones.

Given that an act of common assault against the person is indisputably wrong, how about libel or slander? Is this a similar assault, albeit non-physical? Is there harm to property? I would say not. The attack is against someone’s reputation, and we do not own our reputations.

This will cause many to stop and doubt that property rights can form a broad enough basis for the law. So perhaps it is worth noting that the law is not the only power available to society in order to enforce the rules of harmonious living. Boycotting and shunning businesses and people are legitimate actions, involving no harm. As we are free to employ our property as we see fit, we are therefore free to abstain to do business with anyone we do not wish to.

With regard to this, let us consider another act which may evade the strict rules on limiting the law to defending property rights: bestiality. Now, there will be few willing to rush to the defence of such moral degenerates who seek carnal knowledge of creatures not of woman-born, but assuming that the creature in mind is the perpetrator’s property and has not been harmed, it would appear that no violation of the non-aggression principle has occurred. This does not, of course, mean that the act has any moral justification, or we are obliged to set aside our abhorrence. But, given the rarity of such acts, would not the censure of public revulsion, coupled with shunning and boycotting be justice enough? Is it really necessary to inflict upon the public purse the cost of incarceration? If indeed we require the act to be criminal, perhaps a case could be made that the animal hadn’t given consent (!).

Another hurdle such libertarian reform would have to jump is that constructed by the concept of human rights. Whereas this concept has some relation to property rights, it is a very poor translation, and a libertarian is obliged to join battle against the concept, which has rather poisoned the well of liberty by removing much that is clear and rational, replacing that with ephemeral, cloudy notions which drag these important issues into the realm of emotion, and cloak the advance of arbitrary rule. No wonder lawyers love human rights, they provide endless dispute. By discarding the sure measure of property rights, they fall back into unavoidable vagary, because, unlike property rights, human rights are constantly in conflict with one another.

What is necessary is to proclaim and explain the principle of property rights, whilst challenging the vagaries of ‘human rights’. It is not an easy task, due to the entrenched hostility towards libertarian principles, but it can and must be done, and reason and common sense provide us with the tools to overcome our pavlovian leftist adversaries.

Illustration © Martin Lopatka