Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘libertarianism’

TGIF: Why Freedom Is the Goal | The Libertarian Institute

Posted by M. C. on December 12, 2022

The point is that any enlargement [of state authority], good or bad, reduces the scope of individual responsibility, and thus retards and cripples the education which can be a product of nothing but the free exercise of moral judgment…. The profound instinct against being “done for our own good” … is wholly sound. Men are aware of the need of this moral experience as a condition of growth, and they are aware, too, that anything tending to ease it off from them, even for their own good, is to be profoundly distrusted. The practical reason for freedom, then, is that freedom seems to be the only condition under which any kind of substantial moral fibre can be developed. [Emphasis added.]

by Sheldon Richman

In online interviews and conversations I’m hearing intellectuals in the national conservative movement say that the liberal Enlightenment “project” has mostly failed because people need more in their lives than freedom. I’ve also heard this from a few people who have lately become disillusioned with leftism but yet are uneasy about libertarianism.

My first response is to wonder whom these critics of classical liberalism, or libertarianism, its modern-day form, have in mind. Which important and widely influential liberal political, economic, or, social thinker even implied that freedom is the only thing worth valuing? Let’s name names, please. I can’t think of one, but perhaps I’m overlooking someone.

Those conservatives will also insist that freedom without virtue is not just worthless but a clear and present danger. But again, which past and present of genuine liberal stalwarts would disagree? I’ve always understood liberalism to be distinct from libertinism. I see no grounds for confusing the two.

Classical liberalism, in its consequentialist, deontological, and eudaemonist forms, has been concerned with what makes for a proper society by some articulated standard or other, starting with the most fundamental unit of analysis, the individual. The literature is saturated with positive observations about society, the division of labor, association, and rich communities — in a word, cooperation.

One way or another, all of that is related to values in addition to freedom; it all is related to virtue. Far from embodying an atomistic, licentious, to-hell-with-everyone-else (pseudo)individualism, libertarianism extols what I call Adamistic (Smith, that is) individualism, in which human beings “selfishly” flourish through mutually rewarding relationships of all kinds. I’ve also dubbed this “molecular individualism. Of course, some people will engage in vice and aggression (those aren’t the same things), but as long as the state is unavailable for social engineering, free individuals using private property in association with others can peacefully protect themselves and their children from what they find abhorrent. Live and let live is the rule.

For liberals, freedom was never just an end in itself. Freedom means freedom from aggression, whatever the source, but at least implicit in the liberal vision — and indispensable to truly understanding it — is the freedom to produce material and nonmaterial values in a social context. We want freedom so we may live fully as human beings and enjoy fruitful lives among other people. Successful long-term participation in the market and society more widely encourages honesty, justice, and conscientiousness — virtues by any reckoning. To understand the value of society is to understand the need for — yes — order, but it is specifically the bottom-up, emergent, spontaneous order that F. A. Hayek and other liberals have emphasized. (You find this in Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Herbert Spencer, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, and countless others.)

The critics of liberalism are right of course when they say that freedom is not enough to properly address the social problems we observe today. But again, which libertarian ever said it was? The libertarian point is that freedom is the condition in which people have the best chance of dealing with problems. Liberalism doesn’t promise a rose garden; it’s not utopian. In fact, freedom is not the answer to any problem. Rather, it — along with the resulting decentralization and competition — is essential to the discovery process that enables people to deal with problems as best they can. Since no one is omniscient, that discovery process is indispensable both for the good life and the good society.

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Non-aggression principle

Posted by M. C. on August 7, 2022

Supporters of the NAP often appeal to it in order to argue for the immorality of theft, vandalism, assault, and fraud. Compared to nonviolence, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violence used in self-defense or defense of others.[71] Many supporters argue that NAP opposes such policies as victimless crime laws, taxation, and military drafts. NAP is the foundation of libertarian philosophy

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Austrian Economics, Libertarianism, and Academic Writing in the Humanities – A Bibliography

Posted by M. C. on June 25, 2022

By Jo Ann Cavallo

A preliminary list of books and articles that may be of interest to libertarian and classical liberal humanists (last updated 6/21/22)

I am grateful to the friends and colleagues who helped me compose this list. If you have additions or edits, please email me at (providing full references as well as links if online versions are available). Foreign language publications are listed separately at the bottom. I’m especially interested in including critical studies of literature and film that use Austrian economics and/or libertarian philosophy. Thank you!

Jo Ann Cavallo, Professor of Italian, Columbia University

Adamo, Stefano. “Animal Spirits in Designer Suits. The Representation of Finance in Walter Siti’s Resistere non serve a niente.” Rivista di storia economica 3 (2016): 351–80.

—. “The Crisis of the Prato Industrial District in the Works of Edoardo Nesi: A Blend of Nostalgia and Self-Complacency.” Modern Italy 21.3 (August 2016): 245–59.

—. “The Italian ‘Economic Miracle’ in Coeval Cinema: A Case Study on the Intellectual Reaction to Italy’s Social and Economic Change.” Italian Quarterly 50 (2013): 46–64.

—. “The Italian Financial Novel: Finance As Told By Financial Professionals.” Estudios Libertarios 3 (2020): 49-73.

Blanco, María, and Alberto Mingardi, eds. Show and Biz: The Market Economy in TV Series and Popular Culture. Forthcoming 2023.

Block, Walter E. “Ayn Rand, Religion and Libertarianism.” Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Vol., 11, No. 1, Issue 21, July 2011, pp. 63-79.

—. “Justifying a Stateless Legal Order: a critique of Rand and Epstein.” Journal of Private Enterprise; 29(2) Spring 2014: 21-49.;

—. “‘The Libertarian Minimal State?’ A critique of the views of Nozick, Levin and Rand.” Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2002, pp. 141-60; reprinted in Younkins, Ed, ed., Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand and Beyond, 2004;

—. “On Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Thick Libertarianism” June 1, 2014;

Camplin, Troy Earl. “Atlas Shrugged as Epic.” Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 19.2 (2019): 192-242.

Cantor, Paul. “Flying Solo: The Aviator and Libertarian Philosophy” May 24, 2007.

—. Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.

—. The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV. University Press of Kentucky (illustrated edition), 2012.

—. Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies. University Press of Kentucky, 2019.

—. Shakespeare’s Rome: Republic and Empire. c. 1976. University of Chicago Press (enlarged edition), 2017.

Cantor, Paul, and Stephen Cox. Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture. Auburn, Mises Institute, 2009.

Cavallo, Jo Ann. “Contracts, Surveillance, and Censure of State Power in Arienti’s Triunfo da Camarino novella (Le porretane 1.1).” In Cavallo and Lottieri, 141-62.

—. “The Ideological Battle of Roncevaux: The Critique of Political Power from Pulci’s Morgante to Sicilian Puppet Theatre Today.” In Luigi Pulci in Renaissance Florence and Beyond. Eds. James K. Coleman and Andrea Moudarres. Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. 209-32.

—. “Malaguerra: The Anti-state Super-hero of Sicilian Puppet Theater.” AOQU (Achilles Orlando Quixote Ulysses). Rivista di epica 1 (July 2020): 259-294.

—. “Marco Polo on the Mongol State: Taxation, Predation, and Monopolization.” Libertarian Papers 7.2 (2015): 157-168.

—. “National Political Ideologies and Local Maggio Traditions of the Reggio Emilia Apennines: Roncisvalle vs. Rodomonte.” Conquistare la montagna: la storia di un’ideaConquering Mountains: The History of an Idea. Eds. Carlo Baja Guarienti and Matteo Al Kalak. Milan: Mondadori, 2016. 121-134.

—. “On Political Power and Personal Liberty” in The Prince and The Discourses.” Machiavelli’s The Prince at 500. Ed. John McCormick. Social Research: An International Quarterly 81:1 (Spring 2014): 107-32.

—. “Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden: The Man versus the State.” January 1, 2021. Mises Institute.

—. “Purgatory 17: On Revenge.” Purgatory: Lectura Dantis. Eds. A. Mandelbaum, A. Oldcorn, C. Ross.  Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008. 178-90.

—. The Romance Epics of Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso: From Public Duty to Private Pleasure. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Cavallo, Jo Ann, and Carlo Lottieri, editors. Speaking Truth to Power from Medieval to Modern ItalyAnnali d’italianistica 34 (2016).

Cox, Stephen. “Adventures of ‘A Little Boy Lost’: Blake and the Process of Interpretation.”  Criticism 23 (1981): 301-316.

—. “The Art of Fiction.”  The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 1 (2000) 313-31.

—. “Ayn Rand.” American Philosophers, 1950-2000. Ed. Philip B. Dematteis and Leemon B. McHenry. Detroit: Gale – Bruccoli Clark Layman, 2003. 255-72.

—. “Ayn Rand: Theory versus Creative Life.” The Journal of Libertarian Studies 8 (1986): 19-29.

—. “The Cather Correspondence.”  American Literary History 26 (Summer 2014) 418-29.

—. “Completing Rand’s Literary Theory.” The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 6 (2004): 67-89.

—. Culture and Liberty: Writings of Isabel Paterson. New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2015.

—. “Devices of Deconstruction.” Critical Review 3 (Winter 1989) 56-76.

—. “The Devil’s Reading List.”  Raritan 16 (Fall 1996) 97-111.

—. “Having Your Say.”  The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (2002) 339-47.

—. “‘It Couldn’t Be Made Into a Really Good Movie’: The Films of Ayn Rand.” Liberty 1 (August 1987): 5-10.

—. “Literary Theory: Liberal and Otherwise.” Humane Studies Review 5 (Fall 1987) 1, 5-7, 12-14.

—. Love and Logic: The Evolution of Blake’s Thought.  Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

—. “Merely Metaphorical?: Ayn Rand, Isabel Paterson, and the Language of Theory.” The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 8 (Spring 2007) 237-60.

—. “Methods and Limitations.”  Critical Paths: Blake and the Argument of Method.  Ed. Dan Miller, Mark Bracher, and Donald Ault.  Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1987.  Pp. 19-40, 331-34.

—. “Nathaniel Branden in the Writer’s Workshop.”  The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 16 (December 2016) 245-60.

—. The New Testament and Literature: A Guide to Literary Patterns.  Chicago: Open Court, 2006.

—. “Public Virtue and Private Vitality in Shadwell’s Comedies.” Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research 16 (1977): 11-22.

—. “Representing Isabel Paterson.” American Literary History 17.2 (2005): 244-58.

—. “Sensibility as Argument.”  Sensibility in Transformation: Creative Resistance to Sentiment from the Augustans to the Romantics.  Ed. Syndy McMillen Conger.  Rutherford NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990.  Pp. 63-82.

—. “The Significance of Isabel Paterson.”  Liberty 7 (October 1993) 30-41. 

—. “The Stranger Within Thee”: Concepts of the Self in Late-Eighteenth-Century Literature.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.

—. “The Titanic and the Art of Myth.”  Critical Review 15 (2003) 403-34.

—. “Willa Cather.”  Literary Genius, ed. Joseph Epstein.  Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2007.  Pp. 192-98. 

—. The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America. New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2004.

Fernandez-Morera, Dario. American Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas. Praeger, 1996.

Friedman, David. “Thoughts on Literature, Economics and Education.” Ideas. May 1, 2017.

Giménez Cavallo, Maria. “Elsa Morante’s La storia: A Posthumanist, Feminist, Anarchist Response to Power.” In Cavallo and Lottieri, pp. 425-47.

Hazlitt, Henry. The Anatomy of Criticism: A Trialogue. Simon & Schuster, 1933.

Long, Roderick T. Rituals of Freedom: Libertarian Themes in Early Confucianism. The Molinari Institute, 2016. Expanded version of his essay “Austro-Libertarian Themes in Early Confucianism” Journal of Libertarian Studies, 17, no. 3 (Summer 2003): 35-62.

McCloskey, Deirdre. “Economics With a Human Face: Adam Smith did not believe people are merely economic maximizers. Instead, we balance self- interest with humane sympathy for others. Deirdre N. McCloskey reviews Cents and Sensibility by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro.” Wall Street Journal, September 13, 2017.

McMaken, Ryan. Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre. 2012.

Mendenhall, Allen. Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism. Lexington Books, 2014.

—. Shouting Softly: Lines on Law, Literature, and Culture. St. Augustine Press, 2021.

Mingardi, Alberto. “A Lesson in Humility, a Lesson for Our Times: Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed,” The Independent Review 25.3 (2020): 369–84.

—. “Manzoni’s unfulfilled legacy. On the economic lessons of Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed.” The New Criterion 36.6 (2018): 35-38. ISSN:0734-0222.

Monsen, Anders. “Fifty Works of Fiction Libertarians Should Read.” Prometheus Newsletter of the Libertarian Futurist Society Volume 30, Number 3, Spring 2012.

Nock, Albert J. Francis Rabelais the Man and his Work. Harper & brothers, 1929.

Perdices de Blas, Luis, and John Reeder. “Quixotes, Don Juans, rogues and arbitristas in seventeenth century Castile. Oeconomia. Editions NecPlus, vol. 3-4 (2013): 561-91.

Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Penguin, 2011.

—. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Viking, 2018.

Rand, Ayn. The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature. Signet; Revised edition, 1971.

Rectenwald, Michael. Beyond Woke. New English Review Press, 2020.

—. Google Archipelago: The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom. New English Review Press, 2019.

—. Springtime for Snowflakes: ‘Social Justice’ and Its Postmodern Parentage. New English Review Press, 2018.

Rothbard, Murray. “Movie Reviews.” The Rothbard Reader, edited by Joseph T. Salerno and Matthew McCaffrey. The Mises Institute, 2016. 293-303. Many other reviews can be found dispersed throughout The Complete Libertarian Forum 1969-1984 under the rubric “Mr First Nighter.”

Skousen, Jo Ann. Movie reviews for Liberty.

Movie reviews for Anthem Film Festival

Sarah Skwire, Amy Sturgis, Fred Turner, William Patterson. Liberty, Commerce and Literature. Cato Unbound. July 2012.

Skwire, Sarah, Ross Emmett, Maria Pia Paganelli, and Michelle Vachris. The Prehistory of Public Choice. Special issue of Cato Unbound (March 2017).

Skwire, Sarah, and Steve Horwitz. “Lady Pecunia at the Punching Office: Two Poems on Early Modern Monetary Reform,”Journal of Private Enterprise. The Association of Private Enterprise Education, vol. 30 (Spring 2015): 107-20.

Skwire, Sarah, William H. Patterson, Jr., Frederick Turner, and Amy H. Sturgis. Liberty, Commerce, and Literature. Special issue of Cato Unbound (July 2012).

Skwire, Sarah “Curse, Interrupted: Richard III, Jacob and Esau, and the Elizabethan Succession Crisis” in a special issue of Religions on Shakespeare and Religion, 2019.

—. “History through a Classical Liberal Feminist Lens” in What is Classical Liberal History? Ed. Michael J. Douma and Phillip W. Magness. Lexington Books, 2018.

—. “Edna Ferber’s Business Stories” in Capitalism and Commerce in Imaginative Literature, Lexington Press 2016.

—. “Without Respect of Persons: Gender Equality, Theology, and the Law in the Writing of Margaret Fell” Social Philosophy and Policy, 2015.

—. “Take Physic, Pomp’: King Lear Learns Sympathy” in Sympathy: The History of a Concept, Ed. Eric Schliesser, Oxford University Press, 2015.

—. “Eating Brains and Breaking Windows” (with Steven Horwitz), in Economics of the Undead, Glen Whitman and James Dow, Eds. Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.

—. “Not-So-Bleak House” in New Developments in Economic Education, Eds. Franklin G Mixon and Richard J. Cebula, Edward Elgar, 2014.

Spivey, Matt. Re-Reading Economics in Literature: A Capitalist Critical Perspective. Lexington Books, 2020.

Sunderland, Luke. Rebel Barons: Resisting Royal Power in Medieval Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Thomas, William, ed. The Literary Art of Ayn Rand. Poughkeepsie NY: Objectivist Center, 2005.

Torres Louis, and Michelle Marder Kamhi. What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand. Open Court, 2000

Turner, Frederick. The Culture of Hope. Free Press, 1995.

—. Shakespeare’s Twenty-first Century Economics. Oxford University Press, 1999.

Van Es, Bart. Shakespeare in Company. Oxford UP, 2015.

Watts, Michael. The Literary Book of Economics: Including Readings from Literature and Drama on Economic Concepts, Issues, and Themes. Intercollegiate Studies, 2003.

Wright, Robert. Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Pantheon, 2000.

Younkins, Edward W., ed. Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”: A Philosophical and Literary Companion. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007.

—, ed. Capitalism and Commerce in Imaginative Literature: Perspectives on Business from Novels and Plays. Lanham MD: Lexington Books, 2015.

—. Exploring Atlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand’s Magnum Opus. Lexington Books, 2021.

—. Exploring Capitalist Fiction: Business through Literature and Film. Lexington Books, 2013.

Interdisciplinary journals and magazine that include the Humanities:

Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

Journal of Libertarian Studies (1977-2008)

Libertarian Papers, 2009-


Literature of Liberty (1978-1982), Institute of Humane Studies

Film reviews:

Anthem Film Festival, reviews

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In Defense Of Libertarianism | The Libertarian Institute

Posted by M. C. on December 13, 2021

Many, including this author, pine after a day when a society that is not controlled by a monopoly on force and violence is realized. What we have to accept is we’re not even close to that actualization.

by Peter R. Quiñones

They’re usually very similar. There may be hills in one place, or flat terrain in others. It could be seventy-degrees in January, or minus-twenty. With all of their aesthetic differences, these locales usually have one thing in common: the spirit of libertarianism permeates the culture. 

A gentleman who resides in Alaska was asked: “why did you move to Alaska from Washington State?” The interviewer pointed out that some of the weather was similar but it was so much colder in the 49th state which makes life a bit harder. The interviewee pointed out that Washington State, for the most part, had a culture of “just leave people alone.” But he lamented the power that the big cities had and how they had a tendency to dominate the culture. And that culture doesn’t have a “leave people be” attitude. The man feels that Alaska has a culture of rugged individualism that suits him better. Rest assured, someone reading this who currently resides in Alaska will probably find room to disagree with the man who is only being used as one data point. 

Anyone living in, or around, a big city notices that the further they get away from the metropolis, the more there is a spirit of independence. Sure, someone may retort that those places tend to be more pro-police, as an example. Does it have to be pointed out that police in a smaller town tend to do less? Or that if you’re a resident of that town the local officer may be a friend from high school. The world is not all black and white. There are shades of gray and many tend to be fixated on the black/white model because it makes it easier to judge the world. It also allows one to sit atop a higher horse. When one’s thinking only functions in the black/white paradigm they, unfortunately, sound as if they live in the world they want and not the world they’ve got. 

In a town like the one this author spent a few days in recently, COVID-tyranny doesn’t exist.

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Marxism versus Libertarianism: Two Types of Internationalism | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on November 2, 2021

The Marxist suggestion that proletarians possess exceptional moral qualities which oppose nationalism and bigotry and exhibit an unconditional love for all people is empirically unwarranted, and there is no historical evidence to support it. It was, instead, a necessary condition in order for the Marxist theory to be logically consistent; that is, the world socialist revolution against the world bourgeoisie could not take place without a united front of proletarians. Marxism consolidated and expanded internationalism as an integral feature of the workers’ and socialist movements, placing itself in opposition to the contrived nationalism of capitalist society. It was an act of intellectual dishonesty that is still difficult to eradicate.

Allen Gindler

There are two main philosophical and ideological schools of thought that include the problem of internationalism in their principles. The first is liberal internationalism, which developed within the framework of classical liberalism. The second is orthodox Marxism and its various derivatives that entertain the idea of proletarian internationalism. The concept of internationalism has different origins, meanings, and practical implementations in the two schools of thought.

Because the term “liberal” in a politico-philosophical sense was highjacked by the Left and changed its meaning in people’s perception, it is better to use the term “libertarian internationalism” for the purpose of this discussion.

As a component of political doctrine, libertarian internationalism is based on the concept of laissez-faire, which implies, among other things, free trade and free movement of capital. The main goal of libertarian internationalism is to ensure economic and individual freedom on a global scale that would lead to the prosperity of individual, family, community, and country, and ensure a peaceful world order. From an economic and philosophical point of view, libertarian internationalism is a logical continuation and generalization of the concept of division and cooperation of labor. Division and cooperation of labor are the result of the societal development process that obeys the objective economic laws.

Division of labor results from an interplay between the evolutional forces of natural selection and market forces, and has influenced the development of human society from prehistoric times to this day. It is clear that specialized labor achieves better productivity and quality of the end product or service. Specialization was a manifestation of natural selection based on specific individual skills. At the same time, specialization suggests that an individual voluntarily gives up the production of a commodity that he is less qualified to manufacture but whose consumption is still essential to him. He relies on acquiring these lacking goods and services in the market. Basically, he trusts that some others will supply him needed things that he does not produce anymore. That someone is supposed to know better than everybody else how to produce his specialty commodity or service and, in turn, relies on others to produce something else for him, and so on. In other words, a high degree of division of labor brought members of society together as one, relying on each other. However, it is not collectivism but a voluntary cooperation of individuals who respect each other’s property rights. Division of labor creates atomic, independent producers and consumers, and cooperation brings them together in production and in a marketplace. In other words, division of labor induces cooperation.

The whole of humanity has found this mode of operation more advanced and gradually intensified the division of labor and reciprocal and beneficial trade. It is not done by someone’s order; it simply reflects behavioral changes that humans experience under an influence of selective pressure and the unrestrained laws of the market economy. The domestic mode of production gradually drifts from “production for use” to “production for exchange.” The scale of exchange has steadily increased, crossing the boundaries of the individual household over time and eventually reaching a global level. The entrepreneurial class has taken on many risks to enter manufacturing, service delivery, and trade to meet consumer demand. Under developed capitalism, national borders are crossed not only by goods and services but also by capital.

Libertarian internationalism is constructive and peaceful in nature and is possible due to the entrepreneurial qualities of individuals and a universal consensus on respecting property rights. Thus, libertarian internationalism is essentially entrepreneurial internationalism. Conversely, the idea of globalization, in which the world political bureaucracy interferes with the economic issues of sovereign enterprises or entire countries, is alien to entrepreneurial internationalism. Libertarian internationalism is the ideal that the world community should strive for, but unfortunately, the continuing interference of politics in the economy and worldwide collectivist trends are alienating humanity from a natural and more just order.

Proletarian internationalism arose in the minds of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as they developed their materialist conception of history. Marxism is a deterministic catastrophe theory applied to the evolution of human society. Using the Hegelian method of dialectics, the founders of Marxism divided capitalist society into two dichotomous classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The unsolvable conflict between the two antagonistic classes, caused, according to Marx, by the unfair appropriation of surplus value by the capitalists, had to reach a boiling point, the result of which would be a social cataclysm. Marx appointed the proletariat as the driving force, agents of the socialist revolution, designed to sweep away the liberal democratic state and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transitional stage on the path to building a classless society.

Marx considered his theory to be the pinnacle of scientific research in economics and sociology, in which he uncovered the objective laws of the development of society. The objective laws of the development of society, as well as the laws of nature, have to be universal and operate independently of someone else’s will. They cannot be disabled, canceled, or changed; they are a given that affects everything and everyone.

But it was precisely with objectivity that Marx had problems. First of all, the division of society into only two classes and the appointment of the proletariat as an agent of the revolution are unwarranted. Moreover, the workers themselves have not yet realized that they are the proletariat or the role that the founder of Marxism has assigned to them. Marx understood this perfectly and proposed theoretical and practical measures for the emancipation of the proletariat, awakening their class consciousness, and preparing for the political struggle against the bourgeoisie. However, in order to meet the criterion of objectivity, the class consciousness of the proletariat would have to develop naturally and spontaneously, without the influence of anyone’s will. Artificial and purposeful incitement to revolutionary sentiments and instigation to overthrow the existing system do not meet the criterion of objectivity and instead completely falsify it. Indeed, a scientific theory of the development of society is not needed to prepare for a coup.

Moreover, as objective laws must be universal, the same societal developments must occur in other countries. Marxism argued that the socialist revolution must have a universal character, that is, take place on a global scale, or at least in the most industrialized countries. Marx and Engels well understood that entrepreneurs were genuinely international, as capital does not have borders and the economies of different countries are interconnected. At the same time, labor was mostly local, lacking international organizations and representations. Therefore, Marxism invented proletarian internationalism in order to accommodate Marx and Engels’s teaching to these socioeconomic realities and attempt to mobilize the world proletariat for the world socialist revolution. In The Communist Manifesto, the founders of Marxism simply postulated that the proletariat has no boundaries and called on the proletariat of all countries to unite. Marx substantiated this postulate by the fact that the capitalists themselves created the preconditions for the proletarian brotherhood that would ultimately erase the “national one-sidedness” of consciousness within the masses of the proletariat. This conclusion seems farfetched and looks more like wishful thinking.

The Marxist suggestion that proletarians possess exceptional moral qualities which oppose nationalism and bigotry and exhibit an unconditional love for all people is empirically unwarranted, and there is no historical evidence to support it. It was, instead, a necessary condition in order for the Marxist theory to be logically consistent; that is, the world socialist revolution against the world bourgeoisie could not take place without a united front of proletarians. Marxism consolidated and expanded internationalism as an integral feature of the workers’ and socialist movements, placing itself in opposition to the contrived nationalism of capitalist society. It was an act of intellectual dishonesty that is still difficult to eradicate.

Thus, internationalism in the interpretation of libertarian philosophy and Marxist doctrine are completely different concepts. Proletarian internationalism is a political myth postulated by the founders of Marxism and used as a propaganda tool then and now. It is characterized by extreme aggressiveness, since it was invented as a weapon for the political fight against world capital. Libertarian internationalism, in contrast, is peaceful and constructive. It follows naturally from the logical and consistent development of human society in terms of the division and cooperation of labor and is based on respect for private property rights. Author:

Allen Gindler

Allen Gindler is a scholar from the former U.S.S.R., specializing in Political Economy, Econometrics, and Industrial Engineering. He taught Economic Cybernetics, Standard Data Systems, and Computer-Aided Work Design in the Khmelnytskyi National University, Ukraine. He is currently a private consultant to IT industry on Database Administration and Cryptography. As a hobby, he is interested in political philosophy, history, population genetics, and Biblical archaeology. He has published articles and opinion pieces in Mises Wire, American Thinker, Foundation for Economic Education, and Biblical Archaeology Review.

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A Rare Breed: Alessandro Fusillo

Posted by M. C. on September 7, 2021

By Ira Katz

Alessandro Fusillo is a rare breed; he is an Italian libertarian. I spoke to him recently at the instigation and introduction of a LRC reader for which I am thankful.

By profession a lawyer, in practice and conviction Fusillo is an intellectual scholar and an activist for libertarian causes. He was first influenced by the father of the libertarian movement in Italy, the journalist Leonardo Facco. But being an autodidact with the ability to read quickly and with comprehension, he has absorbed the libertarian literature from Human Action to The Ethics of Liberty to all of Dr. Hoppe’s oeuvre and more.

As a lawyer Fusillo only defends individuals. The motto of his law firm is from Jefferson, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty.” He has been hyperactive during the Covid scamdemic, filing lawsuits, public speaking, and making practical videos explaining to people how to resist the unconstitutional and unjust edicts of the state. He is the president of the Movimento Libertario, a think tank dedicated to libertarian ideas and that also gives the small libertarian community in Italy an associative center. Unfortunately for those of us who do not understand Italian, his online presence is almost all in his native language. But see these exceptions where he exhibits his erudite knowledge; this interview for Planet Lockdown and this talk on law and praxeology. Of note, Fusillo will be speaking at Dr. Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society meeting in Turkey this month.

Fusillo does not participate in the dysfunctional Italian politics. But his life’s work is a continual campaign against the Italian fascist mentality residual from Mussolini.  As Mussolini famously put it, “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State,” still exists as a mode of being among some Italians. In this presentation historians discuss “everyday history,” an examination of how people adjusted to and lived in the Italian Fascist state. All of us are now experiencing a new version of a corporatist fascist state in Italy, France, and almost every country in the world. Where in our daily lives we are assaulted with green passes and pass sanitaires;  where how we interact with family, friends and colleagues has been deeply affected by the state. Italians in the 20th century had the Duce, America today has the Fauci. I imagine how historians would judge my own behavior during these difficult times.

I asked Fusillo how he fights against this new fascist wave. He noted civil disobedience, which aims to take away the psychological support for the government. To change minds is to win.

We discussed the relatively weak role of libertarianism in Europe. His dream is to create a European Mises Institute. I just might buy into that dream myself. I am sure all readers of LRC will find that Alessandro is a kindred soul and will want to give him the moral support he needs to continue his combat against the new fascism.

Ira Katz [send him mail] lives in Paris and works as a research engineer for a French company. He is the co-author of Handling Mr. Hyde: Questions and Answers about Manic Depression and Introduction to Fluid Mechanics.

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Consent of the Governed? | Robert Higgs

Posted by M. C. on June 19, 2021

I raise this question because in regard to the so-called social contract, I have often had occasion to protest that I haven’t even seen the contract, much less been asked to consent to it. A valid contract requires voluntary offer, acceptance, and consideration. I’ve never received an offer from my rulers, so I certainly have not accepted one; and rather than consideration, I have received nothing but contempt from the rulers, who, notwithstanding the absence of any agreement, have indubitably threatened me with grave harm in the event that I fail to comply with their edicts.

To be GOVERNED is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so.

Robert Higgs

What gives some people the right to rule others? At least since John Locke’s time, the most common and seemingly compelling answer has been “the consent of the governed.” When the North American revolutionaries set out to justify their secession from the British Empire, they declared, among other things: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” This sounds good, especially if one doesn’t think about it very hard or very long, but the harder and longer one thinks about it, the more problematic it becomes.

One question after another comes to mind. Must every person consent? If not, how many must, and what options do those who do not consent have? What form must the consent take ― verbal, written, explicit, implicit? If implicit, how is it to be registered? Given that the composition of society is constantly changing, owing to births, deaths, and international migration, how often must the rulers confirm that they retain the consent of the governed? And so on and on. Political legitimacy, it would appear, presents a multitude of difficulties when we move from the realm of theoretical abstraction to that of practical realization.

I raise this question because in regard to the so-called social contract, I have often had occasion to protest that I haven’t even seen the contract, much less been asked to consent to it. A valid contract requires voluntary offer, acceptance, and consideration. I’ve never received an offer from my rulers, so I certainly have not accepted one; and rather than consideration, I have received nothing but contempt from the rulers, who, notwithstanding the absence of any agreement, have indubitably threatened me with grave harm in the event that I fail to comply with their edicts. What monumental effrontery these people exhibit! What gives them the right to rob me and push me around? It certainly is not my desire to be a sheep for them to shear or slaughter as they deem expedient for the attainment of their own ends.

Moreover, when we flesh out the idea of “consent of the governed” in realistic detail, the whole notion quickly becomes utterly preposterous. Just consider how it would work. A would-be ruler approaches you and offers a contract for your approval. Here, says he, is the deal.

I, the party of the first part (“the ruler”), promise:

(1) To stipulate how much of your money you will hand over to me, as well as how, when, and where the transfer will be made. You will have no effective say in the matter, aside from pleading for my mercy, and if you should fail to comply, my agents will punish you with fines, imprisonment, and (in the event of your persistent resistance) death.

(2) To make thousands upon thousands of rules for you to obey without question, again on pain of punishment by my agents. You will have no effective say in determining the content of these rules, which will be so numerous, complex, and in many cases beyond comprehension that no human being could conceivably know about more than a handful of them, much less their specific character, yet if you should fail to comply with any of them, I will feel free to punish you to the extent of a law made my me and my confederates.

(3) To provide for your use, on terms stipulated by me and my agents, so-called public goods and services. Although you may actually place some value on a few of these goods and services, most will have little or no value to you, and some you will find utterly abhorrent, and in no event will you as an individual have any effective say over the goods and services I provide, notwithstanding any economist’s cock-and-bull story to the effect that you “demand” all this stuff and value it at whatever amount of money I choose to expend for its provision.

(4) In the event of a dispute between us, judges beholden to me for their appointment and salaries will decide how to settle the dispute. You can expect to lose in these settlements, if your case is heard at all.

 In exchange for the foregoing government “benefits,” you, the party of the second part (“the subject”), promise:

(5) To shut up, make no waves, obey all orders issued by the ruler and his agents, kowtow to them as if they were important, honorable people, and when they say “jump,” ask only “how high?”

Such a deal! Can we really imagine that any sane person would consent to it?

Yet the foregoing description of the true social contract into which individuals are said to have entered is much too abstract to capture the raw realities of being governed. In enumerating the actual details, no one has ever surpassed Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who wrote:

To be GOVERNED is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. (P.-J. Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, trans. John Beverley Robinson. London: Freedom Press, 1923, p. 294)

Nowadays, of course, we would have to supplement Proudhon’s admirably precise account by noting that our being governed also entails our being electronically monitored, tracked by orbiting satellites, tased more or less at random, and invaded in our premises by SWAT teams of police, often under the pretext of their overriding our natural right to decide what substances we will ingest, inject, or inhale into what used to be known as “our own bodies.”

So, to return to the question of political legitimacy as determined by the consent of the governed, it appears upon sober reflection that the whole idea is as fanciful as the unicorn. No one in his right mind, save perhaps an incurable masochist, would voluntarily consent to be treated as governments actually treat their subjects.

Nevertheless, very few of us in this country at present are actively engaged in armed rebellion against our rulers. And it is precisely this absence of outright violent revolt that, strange to say, some commentators take as evidence of our consent to the outrageous manner in which the government treats us. Grudging, prudential acquiescence, however, is not the same thing as consent, especially when the people acquiesce, as I do, only in simmering, indignant resignation.

For the record, I can state in complete candor that I do not approve of the manner in which I am being treated by the liars, thieves, and murderers who style themselves the Government of the United States of America or by those who constitute the tyrannical pyramid of state, local, and hybrid governments with which this country is massively infested. My sincere wish is that all of these individuals would, for once in their despicable lives, do the honorable thing. In this regard, I suggest that they give serious consideration to seppuku. Whether they employ a sharp sword or a dull one, I care not, so long as they carry the act to a successful completion.

Addendum on “love it or leave it”: Whenever I write along the foregoing lines, I always receive messages from Neanderthals who, imagining that I “hate America,” demand that I get the hell out of this country and go back to wherever I came from. Such reactions evince not only bad manners, but a fundamental misunderstanding of my grievance.

I most emphatically do not hate America. I was not born in some foreign despotism, but in a domestic one known as Oklahoma, which I understand to be the very heart and soul of this country so far as culture and refinement are concerned. Moreover, for what it is worth, some of my ancestors had been living in North America for centuries before a handful of ragged, starving white men washed ashore on this continent, planted their flag, and claimed all the land they could see and a great deal they could not see on behalf of some sorry-ass European monarch. What chutzpah! I yield to no one in my affection for the Statue of Liberty, the Rocky Mountains, and the amber waves of grain, not to mention the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County. So when I am invited to get out of the country, I feel like someone living in a town taken over by the James Gang who has been told that if he doesn’t like being robbed and bullied by uninvited thugs, he should move to another town. To me, it seems much more fitting that the criminals get out.

Robert Higgs is Retired Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Founding Editor of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
Posts by Robert Higgs | Full Biography and Publications

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The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : Police Should Sometimes Avert Their Eyes

Posted by M. C. on May 11, 2021

Similarly, Eric Garner was killed by police when he resisted arrest. His “crime”? Selling “loosies.” Say what? Loosies are cigarettes sold not by the carton, nor by the pack, but individually. You may search high and low in the libertarian code; you will not find any such activity proscribed. Thus, if the police had found something else to occupy their time, this tragedy simply would not have occurred.

Written by Walter E. Block


Many policemen have been kicked under the bus. It is now more difficult to attract people to this profession; numerous retirements have occurred, and the quit rate is high. But we need police officers to protect the most vulnerable in society. How can we solve the hemorrhaging of this sector of the labor force?

How, then, can policemen, white and black, but particularly the former, save themselves from injustice? Well, at least reduce the risks thereof while remaining in their present jobs? It is simple: embrace avert their eyes from victimless crimes; become libertarians. This is the philosophy predicated upon the non-aggression principle, private property rights and free association. In literary terms, it would be: “That government is best which governs least.” Here, the law would only prohibit “uninvited border crossings,” such as murder, rape, theft, kidnapping, car-jacking, fraud, and the threats thereof. Full bodied libertarianism would allow for private, not public, police, but we are not now discussing that truly radical step.

How, then, can members of the thin blue line better protect themselves? By ignoring all crimes other than those prohibited under libertarian law.

For example, Breanna Taylor was shot subsequent to a drug bust. But under libertarianism, all drugs, without exception, would be legal. If the cops operated under the libertarian legal code, they would have refused to honor orders to arrest anyone for such a “crime.” Now, of course, outright refusal would have resulted in being summarily fired. But you guys know the drill: misunderstandings, looking the other way, the paperwork got mislaid, heck, we went to the wrong address, etc. No more drug busts, and that goes as well for prostitution and pornography (but only between consenting adults), gambling, etc.

Similarly, Eric Garner was killed by police when he resisted arrest. His “crime”? Selling “loosies.” Say what? Loosies are cigarettes sold not by the carton, nor by the pack, but individually. You may search high and low in the libertarian code; you will not find any such activity proscribed. Thus, if the police had found something else to occupy their time, this tragedy simply would not have occurred.

The same applies to the most recent case in point: George Floyd was arrested for counterfeiting. Now, it is one thing to counterfeit licit money; that indeed, would be a real crime. But counterfeiting counterfeit money? That is a horse of an entirely different color. Although there is some dispute on this matter within the libertarian community, it is not at all clear that this is a real crime. If the police had just been “busy with other responsibilities” this man might now still be alive, and Derek Chauvin and his three colleagues would still be walking honorable beats.

Will this advice to adhere to the straight and narrow of libertarianism protect all honorable constables? No, they will still be maligned even when doing their duty in this regard.

Consider the case of the even more recent death of 16 year old Ma’Khia Bryant who was shot in the act of knifing another young girl. Now this is black letter libertarian law. The heroic cop who shot her saved the life of the victim. Yet, even he got in trouble. The philosopher LeBron James, who really should stick to what he does best, made what could easily be interpreted as a death threat against him: “You’re next!” In a civilized legal order, this basketball champion would now be sitting in a hoosegow.

Or, take the case of Rodney King, who was arrested for driving at speeds of 115 miles per hour while drunk on city streets, and thus threatening the lives of innocent pedestrians and other motorists. He, too, was properly arrested. Yet this brought a ton of woe on the right acting officers.

So, no, doing your job even under libertarian law will not save you from grief. But it will significantly reduce the probability of such occurrences. Thus, the case for all members of the thin blue line embracing libertarianism.

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Existentialism, Libertarianism, and the NAP | The Libertarian Institute

Posted by M. C. on December 13, 2020

The philosophical thesis of existentialism has no normative content—even morality is an undecided issue. Libertarianism, in contrast, champions what is sometimes characterized as the non-aggression principle (NAP) as its most fundamental tenet: initiating or threatening forceful interference with individuals and their property is wrong. In existentialism, everything is permitted. In libertarianism, in contrast, everything is permitted except violation of the NAP. Libertarianism, therefore, exemplifies moral absolutism, which existentialism does not.

by Laurie Calhoun

Pexels Pixabay 163064

I self-identify only as myself but have long been sympathetic with both libertarianism and existentialism. Having dealt throughout 2020 with an array of restrictions on my liberty imposed by local authorities everywhere I have been (Europe, the UK, and now in the US), the primary effects of which have been not to save lives but to control how people behave, I have been thinking about existentialism, which naturally raises questions about the proper scope and role of government, bringing me back, also, to libertarianism. Both outlooks prioritize human liberty, dignity and personal responsibility above all else. I have seen nearly nothing written about existentialism in recent years, perhaps because its most famous adherent in the twentieth century, Jean-Paul Sartre, was politically aligned with socialist and even communist movements. To suggest that existentialism and libertarianism are somehow related might seem prima facie odd because the latter is typically regarded as politically conservative, a right-wing, not a left-wing, view of the proper role of government. The mere mention of the word libertarian may incite ire among progressives of the “social justice warrior” stripe, and some leftists appear to derive untold delight from sardonically ridiculing libertarians as “pot-smoking Republicans”.

Another common stereotype is that libertarians must be white male land owners (why else would they care about protecting private property?!), which is of course just as simpleminded as Joe Biden’s claim that “You ain’t black!” if you have to think about whether to support him. In fact, nothing could be more racist than to assume that “authentic” black people have no real choice but to support the Democratic party. Biden’s claim was all the more disturbing given that he himself helped to author the 1994 crime bill which put thousands of people behind bars for nonviolent offenses, including many African Americans. Biden also rallied vigorously for the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq, which is relevant not only because a disproportionately high percentage of racial minorities serve in the military, but also because the lives of millions of persons of color were destroyed or degraded as a result of arguably the worst foreign policy blunder in U.S. history. In 2011, the Obama-Biden administration went on to offensively attack the country of Libya, which resulted in a resurgence of African slave markets. In that same year, they used lethal drones to execute brown-skinned U.S. citizens without indictment, much less trial. But who really cares about Biden’s policies? At least he is not Orange Man Bad!

Speaking of labels, Jean-Paul Sartre famously praised Che Guevara as “l’homme le plus complet de notre époque [the most complete human being of our age]” which, again, might lead some readers to scoff at my claim that existentialism and libertarianism have anything whatsoever in common. It would be a mistake, however, to confuse Sartre’s political views with the higher-order philosophical thesis of existentialism, which was most appealingly articulated by nineteenth-century thinkers Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard and Fyodor Dostoevsky, who are not coincidentally some of my favorite authors. Albert Camus, another twentieth-century intellectual, wrote a number of works which arguably reflect an existentialist outlook—including his most famous novels, L’étranger [The Stranger] and La peste [The Plague]—but Camus himself resisted that label. He certainly wasn’t the first independent thinker throughout history to have refused to accept such labels, for a variety of different reasons. Some among them simply do not like club-like organizations, which do on occasion transmogrify into religious cults of sorts, even when their memberships comprise what to all appearances are intellectuals.

Jean-Paul Sartre followed the lead of his nineteenth-century predecessors in famously propounding that “l’existence précède l’essence,” which is an explicit rejection of the essentialism of ancient Greek thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle. We become what we do, but that is never fully determined by the circumstances of our birth. That said, it was not entirely insane for twentieth-century existentialists to champion left-wing political causes, so long as they were convinced (as they seem to have been) that the conditions for human liberty, dignity and personal responsibility were not available to the vast majority of persons. Sartre rejected not only Aristotle’s essentialism but also his belief (apparently common in ancient Greece) that women and non-Greeks (barbarians!) were not full-fledged persons. As pretty much everyone owns today, individuals denied the opportunity to educate themselves may appear to be illiterate, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with their inherent intellectual capacities. Along those lines, left-wing existentialists may insist that before anyone can make free choices, they need to have not only the potential but also the power, at least in principle, to do so. People who are scrounging around for their next meal or a roof over their head for the night may not have the energy or time to do much else.

As a result of the political activities and fame of Sartre and Camus, the existentialist waters were muddied for decades to follow, with some of those claiming Sartre as a personal hero more or less on a par with the twenty-somethings who wear Che Guevara t-shirts but never bother to read any books about him. Those who adore the iconic stenciled image of “Che”, and the implied “coolness” of anyone who agrees, might be stunned to learn, among other things, that Che Guevara personally oversaw the execution of more than 500 human beings, most of whom had been going along to get along with the Batista regime. Then again, given what might be termed “the authoritarian turn” taken in recent years by leftists keen to impose their values on everyone else, perhaps they would not be bothered in the least by Che’s homicidal creds.

The division between left-leaning and right-leaning existentialists turns most obviously on their interpretation of potential. Few would deny that it can be difficult for a person born into poverty to break out of his conditions, but it is nonetheless possible, as we know from the many people throughout history who have done just that. It is precisely the inherent dignity of human beings which drives some of them to achieve great things, and, although some will roll their eyes or snicker at this, one may with equal reason point out that many a person with a good deal of potential ended up squandering it in part as a result of the privileged conditions into which he was born. Ultimately, in a free society, the answer to the question what persons should do with their lives comes back to themselves, regardless of whether they were disadvantaged or spoiled, encouraged or oppressed.

The philosophical thesis of existentialism has no normative content—even morality is an undecided issue. Libertarianism, in contrast, champions what is sometimes characterized as the non-aggression principle (NAP) as its most fundamental tenet: initiating or threatening forceful interference with individuals and their property is wrong. In existentialism, everything is permitted. In libertarianism, in contrast, everything is permitted except violation of the NAP. Libertarianism, therefore, exemplifies moral absolutism, which existentialism does not. An existentialist may adopt non-aggression as a personal principle, and he may or may not exhort others to do the same. He may or may not find fault with those who neither agree with him nor follow his lead. The existentialist may skeptically regard the NAP as an article of faith, for it must be chosen by an individual himself for himself and for his own reasons. But to claim that normative principles such as NAP are articles of faith is not to deny their importance in how some people choose to shape their own lives.

What should we do? is not a question which can be settled by appeal to the deliverances of science, because science trades only in facts, while normative prescriptions for action are based in values, which cannot be read off of empirical reality. The paradox of morality is that you cannot argue someone into acting morally, if he does not already believe that he should, because what one ought to do can never be deduced from the way things happen to be. Instrumental rationality is a matter of fashioning means to ends, but setting those ends is up to individuals themselves—an idea championed not only by skeptics such as eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, but also the existentialists.

The open-ended, contentless quality of existentialism is perhaps why much of what has been written by existentialists is literally literature—assuming the standard division between philosophy and literature. (I myself reject that division, but many philosophers do not.) However one distinguishes one type of writing from another, it is up to each person to decide how to interpret everything. If you choose to follow anyone else’s rules (those of your parents, teachers, the state, a religion or other group, a philosophical “school”), that is something which you choose to do—or not. “Ne pas choisir, c’est encore choisir [not to choose is still to choose],” as Sartre famously put it. Common criminals and protagonists such as Raskolnokov (in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment) or Meursault (in Camus’ L’étranger) may be viewed by many as miscreants, but their comportment arises out of their individual decisions to adopt their own principles for living. They are free agents, and no one else is responsible for what they do. Yes, forces of nature and nurture act upon everyone, but we alone choose what to do and bear the primary credit or blame for the consequences which ensue.

Western democracy is generally regarded as the best available system for free persons, for it permits them to carve out their own destinies, based on their own beliefs. Everyone faces obstacles and struggles along the way, but with sufficient initiative, drive and ingenuity, some people manage to make something of themselves. The laws of modern societies prohibiting violence against other people effectively affirm the libertarian’s NAP (which is not however to deny that the state is itself the primary violator of the NAP, above all through war). An individual may lead his life as he wishes, provided that he does not prevent others from doing the same. If your concept of “The Good Life” requires the destruction of other human beings and/or their property, then your liberty will be restricted by the government, if you are caught. Some people do not embrace the NAP, choose to rape and murder, pillage and plunder, and some among them end up in prison next to the nonviolent pot-smokers and others locked up as a result of the 1994 crime bill and related NAP-hostile legislation.

Now that recreational marijuana has been legalized in many of the United States, and medical marijuana in even more, there are plenty of pot smokers roaming free, even while others continue to languish behind bars. We also know that, although some murderers are locked up, others remain at large: one out of every three homicide cases in the United States is never solved. That may seem to be an alarming statistic to some, but it is the price that must be paid for the much worse alternative of judging everyone guilty until proven innocent. The presumption of innocence protects many more innocent than guilty people. No one should be locked up (much less executed) for their mere potential to commit crimes, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a tyrant, tout court. Some of the best works of dystopic fiction underscore the horror of a world in which everyone is constantly under suspicion and subject to arbitrary detention for whatever reason any authority may deem sufficient, solely at his caprice.

In 2020, people are currently being denied the freedom needed to determine their own destinies and to conduct themselves with the dignity which distinguishes them from the members of other species. In this way, COVID-World offers libertarians a glimpse into the twentieth-century existentialists’ concerns about the material prerequisites which must first be satisfied in order for persons to be able to choose what to do with their lives. Before COVID-19, people in Western liberal societies were largely held responsible for their own deficiencies and failure to fashion a good life for themselves. Now, however, people are being denied the opportunity to do what they would choose to do, left to their own devices. Effectively, those being prevented from earning a livelihood and forced to stay home are the equivalent of innocent persons erroneously convicted and sentenced to prison terms. Incarcerated persons are severely hampered in their ability to start and run businesses, and to act in other ways which might prevent them from resorting to crime in the future. They are also strictly limited in their choices of how best to flourish and thrive while inhabiting a cage.

Just as innocent persons should not be incarcerated, healthy people should not be quarantined. From the perspective of both existentialism and libertarianism, this arbitrary detention of innocent persons can be viewed as an affront to humanity. People are being told how they must live by their government, which claims to be acting for the public good but in reality is destroying countless lives. It is not the case that persons are forbidden by the government only from harming other people and their property, as an NAP-based society would prescribe. Citizens are in fact being ordered, effectively, to harm themselves, under the pretext that acting in ordinary ways may lead to the deaths of other people. How so many compliant citizens have come enthusiastically to embrace this Orwellian Covidystopia as “the new normal” is beyond me. Perhaps it is simply the logical consequence of stringent behavioral conditioning initially implemented by appeal to what we now know to have been the false claim that millions of compatriots would otherwise die. Many months later, having already accepted the endless and mercurial decrees of the Covid czars, people still terrified of the virus are willing to do whatever they are told to do without posing any objections whatsoever. Nine months of habits die hard, so when gurus in white lab coats such as Anthony Fauci tell them to jump, they answer “How high?”

Governments allegedly of, by, and for the people have imposed many restrictions on liberty in countries all over the planet, the primary effects of which have been to harm millions of people in the name of the small percentage of those who are vulnerable to COVID-19. It may be tempting to ascribe underhanded or ulterior motives to those who wave their science flags in defense of the new Nurse Ratched state, but there is no real need to do so, for the phenomenon can be more simply explained as fully analogous to the enthusiastic drum-beaters for wars from which they themselves have nothing to gain and, indeed, much to lose. The problem at this point in time is that people reside on one or the other side of the COVID-19 divide, but the policymakers are for the most part aligned, claiming the authority to dictate behaviors for all of society by appeal to the opinions of a few select scientific experts, no matter how many times they have been wrong in the past. Recall that Anthony Fauci sincerely proclaimed in a 60 Minutes program interview that masks were not necessary, and in fact caused more problems than they prevented because people wearing them tend touch their faces more often than they might otherwise do. (And of course it is quite evident by now to any observant person that most people wear the same mask over and over again—pulling it out and putting it into the same pocket or purse, making the exercise purely a matter of show.) We were also told “fifteen days to flatten the curve,” but then the goalposts were changed again and again, until now, nine months later, Pennsylvanians have been ordered to wear masks whenever they leave their home and also within their residence, if anyone should happen to visit. Travel continues to be restricted and has been condemned by government authorities the world over, both at the national and state level, despite the IATA’s (International Air Transport Association’s) calculation that the chances of contracting COVID-19 on a plane this year were one in twenty-seven million. Although some disputed that claim, the U.S. government abandoned its own health screening of persons on incoming flights because the positive cases were so low that the program was deemed cost ineffective.

Citizens stepped onto a slippery slope when, back in March 2020, they agreed to stay home, and, if necessary, not to work. They agreed to wear masks wherever and whenever this was deemed necessary by the authorities that be. But one restriction and rule leads to another, with progressively more absurd implicatios, as is nowhere better illustrated than in the State of Pennsylvania’s requirement that people wear facemasks within their own homes. Who will be enforcing such laws? (Perhaps Amazon’s Alexa can be brought on board, given that she already resides in millions of homes.) This invasion of policymakers into the private lives of their constituents, and the fact that people have not risen up in response, is a dangerous turn in the already surreal series of events constitutive of the COVIDystopic year 2020, and it must be resisted, while it is still possible to do so. Beyond prohibiting domestic violence (which is one instance of enforcing the NAP), the state has no business whatsoever in any private residence. It is not the government’s business to tell human beings how they ought to live or who they should be. People need to take personal responsibility for their own health and well-being. No one denies anyone the right to choose not to smoke or to drink alcohol and eat fatty foods, and no one is preventing anyone afraid of the virus from donning hazmat suits. As for the rest of us, we should be permitted to shoulder the inevitable risks associated with leading what we freely choose to make of our own lives.

About Laurie Calhoun

Laurie Calhoun is the author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, War and Delusion: A Critical Examination, You Can Leave, and Philosophy Unmasked: A Skeptic’s Critique.

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Why Governments Hate Decentralization and “Local Control” | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on December 4, 2020

Naturally, powerful states are not enthusiastic about having to work through intermediaries when the central state could instead exercise direct power through its bureaucracy and by employing a centrally controlled machinery of coercion. Thus, if states can dispense with the inconveniences of “local sovereignty” this enables the sovereign power to exercise its own power all the more completely.

Ryan McMaken

In recent decades, many have claimed that advances in communications and transportation would eliminate the different political, economic, and cultural characteristics peculiar to residents of different regions within the United States. It is true the cultural difference between a rural mechanic and an urban barista is smaller today than was the case in 1900. Yet recent national elections suggest that geography is still an important factor in understanding the many differences the prevail across different regions within the US. Urban centers, suburban neighborhoods, and rural towns still are characterized by certain cultural, religious, and economic interests that are hardly uniform across the landscape. 

In a country as large as the United States, of course, this has long been a reality of American life. But even in far smaller countries, such as the larger states of Europe, the problem of creating a national regime designed to rule over a large diverse population has long preoccupied political theorists. At the same time, the problem of limiting this state power has especially been of interest to proponents of “classical” liberalism—including its modern variant, “libertarianism”—who are concerned with protecting human rights and property rights from the grasping power of political regimes.

The de facto “answer,” to the this problem, unfortunately, has been to empower national states at the expense of local self-determination and institutions which had long provided barriers between individual persons and powerful national states. Some liberals, such as John Stuart Mill, have even endorsed this, thinking that mass democracy and national legislatures could be employed to protect the rights of regional minorities. 

But not all liberals have agreed, and some have understood that decentralization and the maintenance of local institutions and local power centers can offer a critical obstacle to state power. 

The Growth of the State and the Decline of Local Powers

Among the best observers and critics of this phenomenon are the great French liberals of the nineteenth century, who watched this process of centralization unfold during the rise of absolutism under the Bourbon monarchy and during the revolution.1

Many of these liberals—Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Constant in particular—understood how historical local autonomy in cities and regions throughout France had offered resistance to these efforts to centralize and consolidate the French state’s power.

Alexis de Tocqueville explains the historical context in Democracy in America:

During the aristocratic ages which preceded the present time, the sovereigns of Europe had been deprived of, or had relinquished, many of the rights inherent in their power. Not a hundred years ago, amongst the greater part of European nations, numerous private persons and corporations were sufficiently independent to administer justice, to raise and maintain troops, to levy taxes, and frequently even to make or interpret the law.

These “secondary powers” provided numerous centers of political power beyond the reach and control of the centralized powers held by the French state. But by the late eighteenth century, they were rapidly disappearing:

At the same period a great number of secondary powers existed in Europe, which represented local interests and administered local affairs. Most of these local authorities have already disappeared; all are speedily tending to disappear, or to fall into the most complete dependence. From one end of Europe to the other the privileges of the nobility, the liberties of cities, and the powers of provincial bodies, are either destroyed or upon the verge of destruction.

This, Tocqueville understood, was no mere accident and did not occur without the approval and encouragement of national sovereigns. Although these trends were accelerated in France by the Revolution, this was not limited to France, and there were larger ideological and sociological trends at work:

The State has everywhere resumed to itself alone these natural attributes of sovereign power; in all matters of government the State tolerates no intermediate agent between itself and the people, and in general business it directs the people by its own immediate influence.

Naturally, powerful states are not enthusiastic about having to work through intermediaries when the central state could instead exercise direct power through its bureaucracy and by employing a centrally controlled machinery of coercion. Thus, if states can dispense with the inconveniences of “local sovereignty” this enables the sovereign power to exercise its own power all the more completely.

The Power of Local Allegiance and Local Customs

When states are dominated by any single political center, other centers of social and economic life often arise in opposition. This is because human society is by nature quite diverse in itself, and especially so across different regions and cities. Different economic realities, different religions, and different demographics (among other factors) tend to produce a wide range of diverse views and interests. Over time, these habits and interests supported in a particular time and place begin form into local “traditions” of various sorts.

Benjamin Constant, a leading French liberal of the nineteenth century, understood these differences could serve as effective barriers to centralized state power. Or, as noted by historian Ralph Raico: “Constant appreciated the importance of voluntary traditions, those generated by the free activity of society itself….Constant emphasized the value of these old ways in the struggle against state power.”

In his book Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments, Constant complains that many liberals of his time, having been influenced by Montesquieu, embraced the ideal of uniformity in laws and political institutions.

This, Constant warns, is a mistake and tends to create more powerful centralized states, which then proceed to violate the very rights that Montesquieu thought could be preserved through uniformity. 

But political uniformity can lead down very dangerous paths, Constant insists, concluding, “It is by sacrificing everything to exaggerated ideas of uniformity that large States have become a scourge for humanity.” This is because large politically uniform states can only reach this level of uniformity by employing the state’s coercive power to force uniformity on the people. The people do not give up their local traditions and institutions easily and therefore, Constant continues,

It is clear that different portions of the same people, placed in circumstances, brought up in customs, living in places, which are all dissimilar, cannot be led to absolutely the same manners, usages, practices, and laws, without a coercion which would cost them more than it is worth.

This may not be “worth it” to the people, but it appears to be worth it to the regime. Thus, states over the past several centuries have expended immense amounts of time and treasure to break down local resistance, impose national languages, and homogenize national institutions. When this process is successful, a nation’s laws end up reflecting the preferences and concerns of those from the dominant region or population at the expense of everyone else. When it comes to these large centralized states, Constant writes:

one must not underestimate their multiple and terrible drawbacks. Their size requires an activism and force at the heart of government which is difficult to contain and degenerates into despotism. The laws come from a point so far from those to whom they are supposed to apply that the inevitable effect of such distance is serious and frequent error. Local injustices never reach the heart of government. Placed in the capital, it takes the views of its surrounding area or at the very most of its place of residence for those of the whole State. A local or passing circumstance thus becomes the reason for a general law, and the inhabitants of the most distant provinces are suddenly surprised by unexpected innovations, unmerited severity, vexatious regulations, undermining the basis of all their calculations, and all the safeguards of their interests, because two hundred leagues away men who are total strangers to them had some inkling of agitation, divined certain needs, or perceived certain dangers.

For Constant, the diversity among communities ought not be seen a problem to solve, but rather as a bulwark against state power. Moreover, it is not enough to speak only of individual freedoms and prerogatives when discussing the limits of state power. Rather, it is important to actively encourage local institutional independence as well:

Local interests and memories contain a principle of resistance which government allows only with regret and which it is keen to uproot. It makes even shorter work of individuals. It rolls its immense mass effortlessly over them, as over sand.

Ultimately, this local institutional strength is key because for Constant state power can be successfully limited when it is possible to “skillfully combine institutions and place within them certain counterweights against the vices and weaknesses of men.”

Unfortunately, it appears even the last few institutional vestiges of localism are under attack from the forces of political centralization. Whether it is attacks on Brexit in Europe, or denunciations of the electoral college in the United States, even limited and weak appeals to local control and self-determination are met with the utmost contempt from countless pundits and intellectuals. Two centuries after Tocqueville and Constant, regimes still recognize decentralization as a threat. Those who seek to limit state power should take the hint.


Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado and was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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