Well-ordered Libertarianism

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Introduction

Libertarianism is often given a bad name.  It is confused with bad behaviour, a lack of ethics in personal habits, or savage capitalism.  This article inserts libertarianism within the context of a democratic form of life, gives an overview of some of its many strands.  It  specifically discusses the way it is presented on the pages of Lew Rockwell, and presents some ideas on a version meant to eliminate the silliness, while maintaining strong core ideas, in the hope of helping the tradition of democracy.

Background: Democratic States

The Western world assumes that democracy is the best form of government, or at least, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, the best of a bad lot of options. This, of course, is a simplification, because even “democracy” is variously defined. Some text I read at university pointed out that there were democracies which reflects the express will of the people – supposedly, for example, in the United States of America; and democracies which interpreted what the people need or want, such as in the now-disappeared German Democratic Republic. This idea too, can be contextualized. Another text I have points out that the most perfect democracies of the modern world are those of Switzerland, and the United States. Unfortunately, that book is about 60 years old now. It may more safely be held that democracy works best in small societies, such as where it was born, in Ancient Greece, or even in Iceland, considered to be the oldest continously functioning democracy in the world, I thought, but at least, in Wikipedia’s words on the Althingi, “the oldest parliamentary institution in the world still extant“. This is not to say that everyone can know everyone else in a society approaching a population of 350,000, but from a statistical point of view, this is something like a city-state – more so, the 57% of the population living in the capital of Reykjavík, and its surrounding area. [1]

Countries which proclaim themselves to be democratic.

Supposed Extent of Democracies – A Representation found on Wikipedia

Up to this point, we have defined democracy as something ideally functioning in a small area, and either instituting policy specifically in agreement with the popular will, or held to be in the best interests of the people. There’s the rub, because I have recently seen a web-site, which defined the Führer principle in the same way. The rise of the original Führer was the flaw of Weimar democracy, which the present German constitution tries to remedy by prohibiting parties not interested in keeping with the spirit of the constitution, (while still maintaining the right to participate in the formation of the political will). That brings to mind the attempts by certain politicians in other countries to either disregard the Magna Carta of their countries, or to modify the same – after having been elected as members of parties supposedly loyal to the charter upon which their mandate rests. For the purposes of simplification, let us call the formation of political will by the parties of a government, particracy or partocracy. The people, and even individual politicians, are subject to the “superior” will of the party whips – the vote is a block vote, with dissenters punished. (The Wikipedia definition does not go so far, but it would seem implicit in the definition. My personal resonance with the word is through Latin American media, which also seems to include more countries under the rubric of “partidocracia” than either the English or the Spanish articles in the aforementioned web encyclopedia. The Spanish entry, by the way, is much more informative. The article in German gave the least information, but expressed the idea that a Soviet system, or the Athenian Demarchy are also democratic forms of government. We might dissent, at least with regard to the former!) We have thus outlined two groups of parties which might not want to reflect the will of the people, as the people see it – those who are anti-constitutional (supposing that the consitution pretends to be representative in the best sense of the word), and those that set themselves above the people – while not being an aristocracy in the pure sense of the word – government by the best. Further, nothing has been said about potential corruption of a party, or of a majority of its individual members. Even the possibility of the corruption of society at large, may vitiate the entire democratic process.

Democracy by the Best – Aristocracy or Libertarianism?

The question which must now be answered, is this: is there a form of the best type of government – democracy – which can best deliver? (Our question  supposes that, if aristrocracy means government by the best, the “best”, unfortunately, define themselves to be so, and their sheen is often no more than inherited by a one-time dominant position in war or wealth, and hence, cannot be the preferred form of government, except in a Utopia.) Our answer is libertarianism. Unfortunately, this term includes a lot of ideas, from anarchists to capitalists and their opponents, some labour unions. The non-initiated will see nothing in common among the most influential theorists.  [2] So we are forced to choose a specific line. Some readers may have heard of the Cato Institute. Their motto is “Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace”. Their web page is nice, but loads to slowly in my part of the world. I prefer the web-page of the CEO of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Lew Rockwell, as the platform from which to launch my additional comments. The slogan on lewrockwell.com is “anti-state, anti-war, pro-market”. A similarity to the Cato Institute’s blurb is quite evident.  Another two websites, belonging to the libertarian Reason Foundation, are reason.com, and http://reason.org/, with the slogan, “free minds and free markets”.

Statistics: Libertarian Websites.

The number of libertarian websites far exceeds the above.  An idea of the top sites may be found here, here, or here, with ranking included.  From these 3, we list their top libertarian sites, with their Alexa rank as of August 18, 2012.  Results were only marginally different on August 21, when Quantcast results were added.  One site is excluded, as it will only exist for the duration of the 2012 election campaign.

Libertarian Website Ranking

Ranking of Selected Libertarian Websites

Simple Update to above chart, September 28, 2014:  All sites with decreased viewship, except reason (both), eff, and cato.  On Quantcast, only dailypaul and eff have gone down, so these statistics are just rough guides.

The Well-Ordered Libertarian vs. Anarcho-libertarianism.

Had I a decent web-site, I might counter with the name, “The Well-Ordered Libertarian”. The tongue-in-cheek motto would be, “Anti-Static, Anti-Warps, Pro-Bazaar”. Insofar as it sounds ridiculous, it is deliberately so. Anarchy opposes order, so “ordered libertarian” is an oxymoron. “Anti-static” clearly says nothing about the state, although the words are etymologically related. It seems that some libertarians prefer to cut their own necks by making extremist statements which they don’t really believe in (at least wholly), just for the purpose of getting attention. Anti-static means being against the noise that the states produce in their pronouncements to the public, static being undesirable, ear-punishing bursts of noise to which a listener is punished. “Anti-warps” is about the warping of the truth, the warping of societies, the distortion of international relations. “Pro-bazaar” is meant to suggest the favouring of small enterprise. Readers are asked to note then, that my libertarian idea, when stating an “anti”, only mentions being against things that we can theoretically agree on. The emphasis on small business says nothing about larger ones. Let us now see how well this fits in with the Lew Rockwell pages. Lew Rockwell has quite a number of columnists. How can they all be anti-state? One of their readers has been Boris Johnson, mayor of London (England). A major contributor is Texan member of the House of Representatives, Ron Paul. These individuals would hardly permit anarchy in their domains. What about anti-war? What is the record of the columnists? Ron Paul achieved the rank of captain. Karen Kwiatkowski, who also ran for political office recently (at the time of this writing), is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel. Would they refuse to serve, if they were younger, and were called up? They may have changed their opinions as time went on, but even then, once we know that “anti-state” doesn’t quite mean what it says, it may also be concluded that “anti-war” means to be against unjust wars. One need only see that columnists are pro-gun! “Anti-state” can specifically mean being against a state which wants to run the economy, soviet-style, hence, the “pro-market” label. I would not run down that sentiment, but some of the commentators on the web site, if they are not overstating their case, are so clearly in favour of savage market capitalism, that any explanation of so-called virtues of the system will not register with critics. In this context, it is noteworthy, that Mises Institue writer Murray Rothbard once suggested that economist Milton Friedman, who is also identified as a libertarian, was not at all in favour of free-markets.

Imagined and Real Errors of Our Libertarian Example

Other criticisms made of the web site under consideration,  are that it is a place for anti-Semitism, anti-religious thought, and other fringe ideas. Regarding the first charge, I suggest that a perusal of the list of columnists should give the lie to that idea, and that it would be in the best interests of any injured columnist to either have desisted from further contributions, or to have sought redress. Serious writers often show that libertarianism does not mean libertine. Considering the cases of Mssrs. Johnson and Paul, it is seen that they were voted in as members of major parties. While editing this page, more examples of the anarchic nature of the lewrockwell.com have come to my attention.  Consider this: In an otherwise uninteresting article, we find this gem by its libertarian author: ‘How many fellow libertarians would you trust to guard your back in an ambush? How many would you trust? As a friend and longtime libertarian observed in reply: “Ambush, hell. How many libertarians would you allow in the same room with you and trust not to poison your food?”‘ [3] After reading the aforementioned article, its truth seemed to be revealed in an article on reason.com, against Rothbard and Rockwell, accused of  being against the libertinism of “mainstream” libertarianism. [4]. Some ideas seem to be on the fringe, but true to the “somewhat” anarchic character of the site, one may find two columnists taking opposite positions on an issue on the same day. While some of the writers support Republicans, links are often provided to recommended sites of the political left, including the Huffington Post, globalresearch.ca, and others. It might surprise some readers to discover that one can be anti-war, yet Republican, in this libertarian environment. It is precisely in the matter of free markets, is where the impression that one gets from anyone in their favour (and I confess that to be my preference) must inevitably run against a logical brick wall. The free market allows us to buy and sell what we want, with a minimum of what we hope are only ethical restrictions, but even then, governed by the principle of caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. Supposedly, it is in the best interests of anyone who sells anything, not to cheat, otherwise, he will go out of business. This is the first problem, in that it is an excessively idealistic assumption. If the free market works, let us assume that the principle works most of the time.

The State as Just another Merchant

Let us now assume that I am a clever merchant, and can somehow convince buyers to accept an inferior form of money to a superior form, such as if I could give you a silver coin with the same monetary value as the previous gold coins. I then convince the buyer to accept a copper coin, where once silver was accepted. Copper becoming too valuable, I convince the buyer to accept the cheapest metal available, and finally script. I believe that the lewrockwell.com columnists in favour of gold are correct, but this fact means that they contradict the free market. How? The reason is this – if a merchant, whether by dint of slyness, dishonesty, or acceptance of government policy, gives an inferior currency to a buyer for a previously good currency, he is only continuing a “free-market” policy. This can be illustrated by considering a wholesaler. The wholesaler receives large quantities of money, and returns a smaller amount in change, in coin of a cheaper metal. When coin reigned supreme, the change given through smaller coin (which, for reasons of physics, could more easily be debased) could then become a little less fair, because fractional values never accrue but to the account of the stronger party. [5] In other words, he accepts good coin, and returns an inferior ones. Though bad money drives out good, it was only an economic transaction. It is a bit less dishonest than the company store, which sold goods to workers for more than their income – but wasn’t this just a contract between employer and employee, and buyer and seller? Some free marketeers emphasize this last part to the detriment of the moral considerations involved. Banks are part of the free enterprise system. It is nevertheless surprising to see how often banks are criticized in the articles on a supposedly free-market forum. If the free market cannot restore honesty to the banking system, then the state must, especially, as libertarians may argue, if the latter was complicit in deforming the free market nature of banking in the first place. Perhaps the objection would be made, if the state did not interfere, the banking system would function properly. I doubt that non-state interference would allow the proper functioning of banks in the present, because they would just continue debasing coinage in a new form, facilitated by modern technology. Would derivatives have been possible without the use of computers? Some super-optimist, the same who defends monopolies, because some day – some day! – the monopoly will come to an end, could argue that some day too, bank abuses will end. Such optimism parallels the bright point of view by Lenin and others, that the state will whither away. Free marketeers are not so sanguine, yet think that such would be the case for bad players in their market scenario.

The Role of the State in Ordered Libertarianism

The state, which here shall be considered synonymous with government, especially in its modern form, is something like that wholesaler, or company store, in that it provides something to the citizens, for which they are expected to pay. Failure to pay attention to the value of real money as to the money which the government itself creates, is what drives countries to inflation, hyperinflation, and ruin. Yet, in a certain way, government is like the monopoly which has worked its way to the top of the food chain, convinced the buyers that its goods are the best. It is clear, then, that anti-state proclamations could conceivably cancel out pro-market considerations, even when the accepted view is that the modern state works against the market. Again, under ideal conditions, idealists in the state might compete with the free market – on a level playing field – to create true competition between pure consumer values, and the need to maintain other values, for example, study in the classics, which the free market might deem to be unimportant. How, then, does one arrive at the point that the state competes fairly with the free market? The first step is the idealism which exists when a country, such as Canada, or Sweden, decides upon a mixed economy.  An examination needs to be made of how many of the variables of such an index support the wish-list of “progressives”, and if a true multi-variable index of such a type could be made by the free-marketers. At any rate, the indices tend towards materialistic considerations. They will tell you that things are good, even if you think otherwise, because your values are not the same. The second step is to make sure that politicians are, in a way, subject to supply-and-demand, so that they, and their bureaucratic proxies, do not multiply like mushrooms, and that it will behoove them to comply with the demands of their electorate/buyers. Let the positions in the bureaucracy which require thought or action be filled with young, capable idealists, working as interns.  When their enthusiasm wanes for more income, let them work in the real world.  Let minor paper-pushing be done by the senior citizens who would not receive what they need from Social Security.  Those who are still left outside of the market place, without even a menial job – let them have a little patch of land – the state owns lots of it – to cultivate what they need for survival, such as was the case after the immediate fall of the Soviet Union. [Search “Household garden plots” in this document.]

Decanter

Before drinking the wine of Libertarianism, decantation is in order, to eliminate its dregs. – P.K.M. Image from http://www.reusableart.com/v/house/kitchen/kitchen-07.jpg.html in the public domain.

So, why “ordered libertarianism”? There is a need to decant libertarianism into a new bottle, and leave the dregs behind, just truth, no more static, and no more warps. There cannot be any “pure” market argument, any more than there can be a “pure” argument in favour of the state. Bad actors need to be weeded out from both, and this is a true libertarian function, a true democratic function. If the bad actor knew that he could no longer show his face in his market or legislative circles, among his clientele or constituents/subjects, it might be fair to say that longevity in his activity is predicated upon ethical behaviour even more so than in the case of the death penalty possibly serving as a deterrent to severe anti-social behaviour.

The Concept of the Bazaar as a Prototype of Libertarian Individual Freedom

The pro-bazaar idea keeps the seller more closely tied to the buyer, and even other sellers – who, by the nature of the bazaar, cannot fix prices, but can still recommend, or not, companions in the business.  Not just that, but by the number of individuals in the bazaar, market  and individual liberty are both emphasized.  It is to be noted that nothing is said against the need for larger industry and capital investment, which has been needed from at least the late 15th Century, and even before.

Conclusion

Regretfully, our conclusions will never satisfy the statists.  Insofar as the lust for any kind of power releases the powerful intoxicant dopamine in the brain, not even all libertarians will be satisfied.  Libertarianism could, however, exist in an ordered form, where the necessary State competes with, rather than lords it over, the individual in a free society.  If the state – government – did not exist, it would be a utopian left-wing libertarianism under discussion, not allowing for anyone strong enough to acquire capital.  Government begins with the head of a family, the head of a clan or tribe above various families, and co-operation between tribal or clan leaders – or doesn’t it?  Without a government between the groups, with no shared values, inter-tribal raiding, if not warfare, would be the result.  Where would any kind of libertarianism arise, then?

We conclude with some of the pet concerns of some libertarians, which have not yet found a place in this article.  When it is asked, “Who controls the guardians?”, the answer must be, everyone is a guardian, who has not lost the right through a serious violation of Natural Law.  Money must be real, metallic – and this – not subject to debasement (though possibly part of a “metallic” basket of coin-currency.  (Paper values could be temporary certificates for values to large to transport safely. A time-limit should be put upon their redemption, though fresh certificates could be issued if necessary.) Anyone capable of being educated must have a sufficient grounding in hard facts – and to be a politician or a bureaucrat in a certain field, the required knowledge shown to have been available – and shown to be on tap as required.  If the London taxi-driver needs from 2 to 4 years to learn more than 20,000 streets and places of interest, the politician must know even more about his constituency, rather than accept a constituency as a tribute-through-vote. [6] (The business world is more careful in selection and retention of personnel.)  The idea, then, is not to have one of the many Utopian societies which foundered when the leader was gone, but to create an effervescence such as to avoid that either a bloated state, or a monopolistic business – often a state-within-a-state – from obtaining an unhealthy ascendency in society.

Notes:

1] An example of a country with a libertarian ruler (while both monarchical and democratic) is supposedly Liechtenstein, cf.: Thomas N. Naylor.  The Principality of Liechtenstein: A Model of Self-Determination for a World Filled with Chaos.  Lew Rockwell website.  Aug. 28, 2012.

2] An implicit answer to the question of the best form of government might be found in the preceding footnote.  A famous anarchist, listed as a libertarian on Wikipedia, and 2 free-market Frenchman, Charles Comte, and Charles Dunoyer, not mentioned as such in the page on the former, are variants mentioned in: Murray N. Rothbard.  The Dialectic of Destruction.  [excerpt]. LewRockwell.com.  2012. In the case of Comte and Dunoyer, we see that they are simply referred to as liberals by Wikipedia, but its reference for the former cites: Leonard P. Liggio. Charles Dunoyer on French Classical Liberalism. (1977).  Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 3. Pergamon Press, p. 163.  Unmentioned is the fact that the above reference links to a pdf file on  libertarian website, mises.org!  Acc.: 20120828.

3] Murray N. Rothbard.  It Usually ends with Ed Crane.  Article was first published in the January-April, 1981 issue of  Libertarian Forum, Vol. 14.1-2. Reprinted on lewrockwell.com.  Acc.: 20120821.

4] Julian Sanchez and David Weigel.  Who Wrote Ron Paul’s Newsletters?  Jan. 16, 2008.  http://reason.com/archives/2008/01/16/who-wrote-ron-pauls-newsletter Accessed 20120821.  This article was supposedly rehashed in the New York Times, but according to the source that follows refers to “libertarian cat-fighting”, nevertheless, with a most strange title: Matt Welch.  Ron Paul, on Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell: “They enjoyed antagonizing people, to tell you the truth, and trying to split people“.  Dec. 28, 2011.  http://reason.com/blog/2011/12/28/ron-paul-on-murray-rothbard-and-lew-rock  Acc.: 20120822.

5] In a similar way, Germans feared a hiddent inflation cost when the Euro was introduced: “Europeans go gaga over introduction of first samples  of euro coins.  Manila Standard.  Dec. 26, 2001. Pg. 21. [Online]  Accessed 15/08/2012:  http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=yJkVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=nAsEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3119,2395031&dq=introduction+euro+cause+inflation&hl=en

6] The requirements for the London taxi-driver, of course, may be seen as state interference in the market place.  Be that as it may, it would be good that requirements for political office be rigorous.  Part of the solution, too, seems to be found in another bugbear of the libertarians – electronic surveillance, and databases on individuals.  Rather than a blanket rant against these, it would be better that their use be “democratized”, rather than monopolized.  If homeowners, in the libertarian view, should be able to rent to whom they want, it would be to their benefit to have relevant data about any prospective lessee.  The democratic component requires that the data about the market practices of the landlord be available to possible customers.  While absolute trust might be nice, we cannot contradict the free market principle, by denying an opportunity for the sale of the demonized technology.

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