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12/01/2012

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"The problem with libertarians and anarcho-capitalists who demand the abolition of the state is that they do not appreciate that neither markets nor more generally liberty are capable of creating their own preconditions."

Are you suggesting that government predates liberty or even the ability to exchange? This may very well be a chicken or egg conversation, but I would say that liberty was first.

I agree with your assessment that there is little effort to systematize liberty, politically, but once you do, is it freedom? The moment something, even a framework for liberty, is made political, it immediately becomes the target of "the most active and ambitious".

Take the constitution, for example, which sought to lay the foundations for a more powerful central government with the naive hopes that a listing of rights and a judicial watchdog would suffice. Those who were not in favor of it (antifederalists) made predictions that have come to pass. Government grew out of its own mechanism:

{"From this method of interpreting laws by the reason of them, arises what we call equity;" which is thus defined by Grotius, 'the correction of that, wherein the law, by reason of its universality, is deficient'; for since in laws all cases cannot be foreseen, or expressed, it is necessary, that when the decrees of the law cannot be applied to particular cases, there should some where be a power vested of defining those circumstances, which had they been foreseen the legislator would have expressed; and these are the cases, which according to Grotius, 'lex non exacte definit, sed arbitrio boni viri permittet.' (The law does not define exactly, but trusts to the judgment of a good man. - EP) That equity, thus depending essentially upon each individual case, there can be no established rules and fixed principles of equity laid down, without destroying its very essence, and reducing it to a positive law." - Blackstone}

Working within government for less government brings more government. Since government attracts the most violent and unscrupulous types to its methods, as you described in your fine post, any framework would lead to government growth in the process of adjudication. It seems that only the abolition of government in certain areas would work. But abolition would require legal permission which could never be given by the state. This could be why Jefferson opined that liberty yields to government over time.

Your description of the most active and ambitious reminded me of something written by the late Joe Sobran:

{The term state, despite its bloody history, doesn’t disturb them. Yet it’s the state that is truly chaotic, because it means the rule of the strong and cunning. They imagine that anarchy would naturally terminate in the rule of thugs. But mere thugs can’t assert a plausible right to rule. Only the state, with its propaganda apparatus, can do that. This is what legitimacy means.}

The whole argument could very well set upon a naturally occurring, unavoidable cycle inherent within this entropic world of ours. The rise and fall of the [fill in the blank] empire. If it ever comes to pass that a country steps away from the precipice, it will be due to your riddle being solved, then understood and accepted by the citizenry. A small chance, but a chance nonetheless.


Eric, I find your thoughts deep, discerning and inspiring. Not only will I have to ponder your ideas for a while to do full justice to them, I am presently detained by a number of banal every day preoccupations. Spontaeously, I have this to say:

Rights are not given (and in this sense liberty is not originary), rather they evolve, and part of their genesis are efforts of human beings to define, enforce and maintain, discard or replace rights.

The process by which human beings work out, defend or destroy rights is rather a malleable, often messy process, which is always prior to the existence of whatever rights are established eventually:

This process is politics, it comprises the whole infinite set of tools and tricks that we marshal to influence one another.

Politics and organised influence (of which the state is an important manifestation) will always have to be reverted to irrespective of whether one wishes to establish, maintain, improve, damage or destroy liberty.

Once again: liberty, and for that matter free markets, are fundamentally incapable of bringing themselves forth or guaranteeing their viability out of themselves.

Anyone who looks at the micro-structure of rights, like Alchian does in his work, will discover just how incomplete , fuzzy-ended, challengable rights are - they are an ongoing human project and one of considerable conflictuousness, informational deficits, and creed and conceit.

The process of giving meaning and viability to them is an open-ended one, and there is no way to exclude challengers from this process who may have entirely different views, ambitions and goals than do you and I, or other people who seem to know what liberty is and that we ought to secure it.

Not even the community of those who purport to believe in liberty seem to form anything resembling a uniform set of beliefs.

There are huge margins for trial and error.

Normative constructions of liberty may look neat and clear, especially if they disregard this messy process (which is the motive of many libertarians, I suspect, to simply ignore the indispensability of politics-and-the-state.)

But the full challenge is to work out and confront a normative design for liberty with reality even if it is very messy and intrinsically liberty-limiting and seems to make impossible the actualization of a neat and perfect regime of liberty.

Maybe liberty is pretty messy and imperfect, too.

But who likes to believe in something "pretty messy and imperfect"?

A little qualification seems in order concerning my proposition that "rights are not given". They are not in any politically practical sense.

In a different sense - that may find even legitimate religious expression - at least some rights can be said to be given, or at least they can be found not to be of an arbitrary kind.

I do believe that there are natural laws that govern the human condition, and that there are rights that are well adapted to these laws and others that aren't.

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