Friday, February 17, 2006

Misconceptions about Liberty.

I received a comment under Intellectual mistakes that is another perfect example of how little people understand liberty. I was attacked for making the obvious association between a free society and the “rule of law”.

"Rule of law' doesn’t 'award liberty', it of course restricts it, that's basic. The more rules there are, the less liberty you have. In a dictatorship the rule of law is absolute, there is only one arbiter, the tyrant. That certainly isn't the opposite of rule of law, a dictatorship is the very definition"

I love that he says “that’s basic”. Oh Is it… Before I point out the false premises that lead to his false conclusion I want to give a brief description of the development of the concept of “liberty”—this is the teaching part.

1) The Greek creation of democracy was far from perfect, but it was the first time in history the citizen was allowed a voting share. Citizen was still an exclusive term but the idea in of itself was fundamentally new and completely opposed the Spartan royal dynasty. The creation of democracy freed citizens from some of the more arbitrary aims of the ruling families, but democracy didn’t guarantees individual rights because the democratic majority can be just as arbitrary as a king. Ideas are paramount once they are discovered they can never be destroyed

2) Rule of law. Romans created the foundation for objective law. Why did everyone want to be a Roman? Because to be a Roman citizen was to be equal before the law. To be equal before the law guaranteed a citizen’s ability to determine his own fate in life. A man can learn the law, but it is next to impossible to predict the moods and bias of a constantly changing ruling elite. For the first time in history man was free from the arbitrary aims and whims of an unpredictable despot or local regulator.

3) The enlightenment—a triumph of reason—bore the American Constitution. The constitution was a declaration of individual rights. It was a ruling charter that guarantted man's freedom from the arbitrary aims of government and democratic mob. It was a document that guaranteed for the first time the citizens freedom to seek his or her happiness.

More on Roman Law….

For the first time in history men were ruled by the concept of objective laws with understood penalties. Previous to this innovation kings, Caliphs, Aristocrats, Sultans, Popes and dukes ruled their citizens arbitrarily—meaning citizens were always in danger of doing something wrong, whether it be not having enough barley on randomly chosen tax day, or spreading heresy, or just looking at the princess wrong. To be ruled arbitrarily and whimsically meant that citizen were unfree to pursue their own liberty as they lived in constant danger of angering some random elite.

Roman law meant men were to be judged equal before the courts irregardless of their race, lineage or class status. Rule of law said “no” to privilege. Roman law effectively guaranteed citizen’s equality. This was a major historical step toward liberty as it freed men from the ever changing unpredictable aims of laws of the ruling thug. Men desired to become Roman because it meant freedom from arbitrary rule. To be roman was far superior than anything else. The freedom from arbitrary governance left men free to pursue their own values and rewards.

"In a dictatorship the rule of law is absolute, there is only one arbiter, the tyrant. That certainly isn't the opposite of rule of law,"

Under a dictatorship law's defining factor isn't that it is “absolute” as all law is logically absolute-- the concept implies absolution-- rather it distinct feature is that it is “arbitrary” .


”You seem a little confused about several items. That 'individual freedom and limited government' forgets the point that other interests can limit your freedom just as easily as government. If a corporation owns all the land in my town, and I want to start a land based business, then my freedom to do that is severely limited.”

The right to your own life doesn’t mean a right to whatever you want. Just because you want some land and can’t have it doesn’t mean your liberty is being denied if the owner doesn’tt give it you. Why would you have the moral right to seize another’s property just because you want to start a business there—that would be arbitrary system of law... a law beacuse someone with power feels like it—the rule of law protects individuals from this type of immoral power.

Liberty isn’t absolute freedom to do whatever you want rather it is the right to exist free from arbitrary coercion. The main flaw made is that the writer presumes liberty is anarchy, which is philosophically and factually untrue. When you associate liberty with lack of laws what you are in fact doing is confusing liberty and anarchy. Anarchy is another form of collectivism and antithetical to individual rights and freedoms.

7 Comments:

At 8:26 PM, Blogger P. M. Jaworski said...

This is a pretty good defence of the rule of law. Friedrich Hayek has much more on it, and worth a good long look.

One thing I did have (philosophical) trouble with is this:

"Liberty isn’t absolute freedom to do whatever you want rather it is the right to exist free from arbitrary coercion."

So far so good, agreed.

"The main flaw made is that the writer presumes liberty is anarchy, which is philosophically and factually untrue."

This isn't exactly right. You *can* say that certain types of anarchy are consistent with liberty. In fact, people like Murray Rothbard thought that liberty entailed anarchy. The "axiom of nonagression" (which I have quibbles with, but that's a separate story) doesn't justify *any* aggression, including the taxing power of the state.

Nozick has a story about how many private enforcement agencies would eventually merge into one big one. So we might as well, he says, begin with a big one.

He's wrong to think this. There is no very good reason for thinking that many enforcement agencies would converge. If he were right, why don't states merge? There just a bunch of enforcement agencies, in a sense. If his argument were sound, we would probably see mergers amongst some of the smaller European countries. But we don't. At best, he has an argument that at least some set of enforcement agencies would merge with others. But there's 1. no reason to think that that would actually happen and 2. no reason to think that it would result in one big one. 2. is the stronger criticism, since 1. can probably be had by a different route.

"When you associate liberty with lack of laws what you are in fact doing is confusing liberty and anarchy."

Yes, that's right.

"Anarchy is another form of collectivism and antithetical to individual rights and freedoms."

This is false. I don't what you have in mind when you say "anarchy" if you think that it is a form of collectivism. Anarchy simply, literally, means "without rulers." It *does not* mean "without rules." There are plenty of unwritten rules, and anarchists (of the *individualist* varieties--like Wendy McElroy, who is an individualist anarchist, or Benjamin Spooner. They also sometimes call themselves 'anarcho-capitalists, like Murray Rothbard) would rely on these unwritten norms, rules, and equilibrium points to make an anarchy functional.

You're probably thinking of anarcho-syndicalists or communist anarchists. But there are different sorts of these people, not all of them collectivist. It's a real problem, in fact, for natural rights libertarians why we shouldn't go all the way to anarchy. Nozick recognized this, and tried an argument that ultimately fails. Jan Narveson has a better story, but, in the end, he, too, embraced a kind of anarchism, although he still calls himself a libertarian. Similarly with many others. Ayn Rand, unfortunately, has ad hoc reasons for not picking anarchy, and some really, really bad arguments against it (which amount to, at best, ad hominem fallacies, and just-so stories of how we would "voluntarily" pay for these services, or would fund them through lotteries. But none of these arguments are any good).

 
At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Scott Merrithew said...

I definitely do not equate anarchy and liberty.
Freedom and liberty are, imo, universally desired, but the theory that anarchy is a valid path to liberty is myopic at best, and foolish otherwise.

There is no collectivism about anarchy, unless you think of a society as all of us huddling together in a boat, then anarchy is all of us floundering together in the ocean.

Furthermore, it is contradictory to talk of anarchy with unwritten rules. The distinction between rules and rulers is moot because invariably you will have differences of opinion on what the unwritten rules are, and whether people will voluntarily abide by them.

No matter how technical you want to be in your definition of anarchy, it all boils down to people doing what they want, unrestrained by social fabric.

We have plenty of strife and conflict in Canada, even with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Can you really expect things to improve without it?
Laws and regulation are meant to serve a society for the better.
Imagine our national sport played with no rules at all. The only way to know which team won is who is still alive! Makes for a short season.

The thing about anarchy is it sounds good to the young idealists who want to throw off the mantle of authority and govern themselves by their own ethic. But carry it to the natural next step, and all the efficiencies of a structured society that we take for granted, are lost.
You become solely responsible for everything you want and need.
You can't rely on anybody else because they are doing whatever they want. You will have to produce your own food, clothing, shelter, etc. Any mutually beneficial arrangement you make with others will only last as long as everybody agrees to abide by . . . oops, this is starting to sound like structure!

I imagine that after a while of living in that type of (non) society, it would become tiresome not being able to rely on anybody else, and the very model that was thought to give personal liberty, has only led to a lot of hard work.

USSR is a good example of what happens when a society throws off it's social fabric.
Russia is now free of the Communist Regime that kept the Proletariat working like slaves, living on the bare minimum that "fair" distribution of rations could provide.
But then that government closed up shop and slinked away as the promise of western style democracy won the Cold-war.
Unfortunately it turned out to be an empty promise, because there was no effective leadership to take it's place, and distribution of necessities ceased. The result was one of the closest examples of anarchy we have seen.

Sure people tried to carry on as best they could, but the national machine ground to a halt and virtually everybody was out of work, forced to fend for themselves. Millions of people, still today in 2006, are now desperately poor, unable to provide basic necessities. Infrastructure has collapsed. There is little to no medical care available, especially outside of the large cities.

But the lack of leadership didn't last long. Pragmatists, soon realizing that police, KGB, and all other restraints were gone, started making there own rules, and the "Russian Mafia" as I've heard it called, quickly took over.
They are the new boss, and their trade in drugs, alcohol, arms, and sex, makes Chicago in the mid 1900's look like kindergarten.

Don't kid yourself about Putin either. He is trying to hold things together and restore some civil infrastructure, but I doubt it will succeed. I expect the people will eventually come to the conclusion that things were better under Communist rule. Unfortunately they will be right.

Democracy is a fragile contract among all people in a nation, and it's success depends on the minority voluntarily agreeing to live by the rules of the majority, while attempting to persuade people to come around to their way of thinking.
Generally this has worked well in Canada, UK, US, and other countries.
Unrest and rebellion are occasional exceptions.

Now there is a group that will not abide by the rules of the majority, and do not accept the rule of law to protect their own interests. They are not willing to persuade others peacefully with reason. They want what they want, and they want it now. And they will not tolerate what they call infidel. So they start bombing, and killing, and destroying.
The minority now holds the majority hostage for ransom.

What can a democracy do when this happens? Reason with them? Capitulate to their demands?
The fact is that appeasement has never worked when it was used to assuage an aggressor. It only served to embolden the aggressor and any reprieve gained was lost again soon after.

It's like bankruptcy. People generally consider going bankrupt to be a terrible thing, and will work at great lengths to avoid it all costs. Yet someone who finally goes bankrupt, and realises that all his debts are wiped off the books so he can start over, has a completely different perspective. Bankruptcy is no longer a terrible thing, it is a useful tactic to be employed when necessary.

No, the only action left to a Democracy is police action to quell the conflict, and hopefully, force the aggressor to the negotiating table. Even that may not be sufficient to restore peace and security.

If police action is not used soon enough, then the democracy will fail unless the people elect a leader who has the spine to do what must be done.

Little or no terrorist activity has erupted in Canada yet, and I believe that is because there is a multicultural atmosphere here that does not exist in other countries around the world. There is a general acceptance of different races, religions, and traditions in Canada, and I think minority groups know that, and are a moderating influence on the more radical element in their community.

But the unrest and anger is simmering below the surface, and I hate to say it, but if bombs and destruction start happening in Canada, we must defuse the situation quickly by treating it like the criminal activity that it really is.

Of course that requires that we actually punish crime!
I expect our new PM will fix that too, before anarchy rules the day. (oxymoron)
;>

 
At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between objective and subjective interpretations of laws has nothing to do with liberty. All you are saying is that 'at least in one case you'll get a fair shake'. Again, that has nothing to do with liberty.

It IS basic that if I can't have your land then the freedom to have THAT land is denied me. I don't see how that cannot be seen as basic. You are simply arguing that 'that isn't REALLY liberty'.

Liberty is essentially freedom. If people don't agree with that then ignore the rest of this. Some take it as ONLY meaning immunity from arbitrary imprisonment. That's fine, but then 'arbitrary' has to be defined. Ask a native about being arrested on 'private' land that is still debated territory. Anybody who doesn't think laws can be arbitrary simply hasn't had the misfortune to be on the other side of the stick.

That unreasonable definition of liberty can be seen in this way. Simply take a look at the taliban. Or any religious theocracy. There, nothing is 'arbitrary', EVERYBODY is treated the same and everybody is sentenced the same. If you blaspheme or expose your face, don't wear a beard, etc., then you are punished according to islamic law. The same was true under christian and jewish leaders.

It wasn't 'arbitrary' but to US, it is 'extreme' and certainly nobody would talk of residents in a draconian theocracy as 'having liberty' simply because the rule of law is not arbitrary.

The above mentioned just about everything that needs be said about anarchy. Clearly the author of this blog sees anarchy in his own way, but we should make the point at least that those who actually espouse and often live as anarchists do not share his definition.

One other note is that you should do some more reading on Sparta, in fact it has been highly debated in the last decade that Sparta was in fact more democratic than was Athens. And of course they were not the only city states that were democratic.

Some reading is worthwhile on the subject as the persian king actually is said to have laughed when he heard of the greeks form of government and called IT anarchy.

If anything we are MORE arbitrary, particularly in the states where, at least as concerns crime and punishment, you have juries. There is a certain framework, but the application of 'justice' is up to twelve randomly chosen citizens. Clearly this is not a society that fears the 'democratic mob', in this case it embraces it.

Liberty IS the freedom to do whatever you want, and it has nothing to do with anarchy. Your issue is that you PRESUME that people will ALWAYS want something that impinges on anothers freedom.

The analogy presented is like four children with a ball. It is assumed that things are scarce and more than one child will always want the ball. So you make up rules and regulations, with courts and police to make sure all children have equal access to the ball. Of course in reality we know the real world doesn't work like that, whichever kid has the most money simply pays off the courts and regulators so that his turn lasts longer.

However, the anarchist view is simply that that picture is wrong. That in fact EVERYONE has a ball, which means there is something inherently wrong with a kid who wants more than one. The 'sharing' analogy is one thought up by people who have no idea what these definitions mean in order to present the argument that 'sharing has great difficulties'. This can be illustrated by early native governments before and when white people came. Crime and punishment had rules of their own of course, and anarchists are far from thinking that there is no way to deal with them.

Actually, the more research I do, the more I find that the real world is exactly the opposite of what the blog's author states. The vast majority of ones life is lived with no interaction with laws and rules, at least in society.

I don't go through red lights simply because I know somebody might be driving through the other way. I don't speed because going fast restricts my control. The 401 is virtually an anarchist's highway, the chances of getting caught by police is miniscule, but for it's traffic it is the safest highway in the country.

One day last year the power went out throughout the city and at every intersection people were orderly taking turns driving through. In fact more problems were obvious at intersections where police showed up to control traffic.

The idea is often espoused that without laws, and LOTS of laws, the result is massive violent chaos. That certainly hasn't been proven to be the case at all.

 
At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Democracy is a fragile contract among all people in a nation, and it's success depends on the minority voluntarily agreeing to live by the rules of the majority, while attempting to persuade people to come around to their way of thinking.
Generally this has worked well in Canada, UK, US, and other countries.
Unrest and rebellion are occasional exceptions.

Now there is a group that will not abide by the rules of the majority, and do not accept the rule of law to protect their own interests. They are not willing to persuade others peacefully with reason. They want what they want, and they want it now. And they will not tolerate what they call infidel. So they start bombing, and killing, and destroying.
The minority now holds the majority hostage for ransom.

What can a democracy do when this happens? Reason with them? Capitulate to their demands?
The fact is that appeasement has never worked when it was used to assuage an aggressor. It only served to embolden the aggressor and any reprieve gained was lost again soon after.



That "Democracy is a fragile contract among all people in a nation, and it's success depends on the minority voluntarily agreeing to live by the rules of the majority" WOULD be true if that were the case. However, it's patently absurd to claim that Canada or Great Britain is a democracy. Canada is a constitutional monarchy, always has been.

The liberals had a majority government with less than half of canadian's votes. And of course elected officials make up less than one percent of the population, yet THEY have ALL the power. This is not 'rule of the majority', it's ludicrous to even think that.

In virtually EVERY poll of the late nineties, the majority of canadians said their desire was spending on health care and education, NOT tax cuts. Yet that's where policy lay. Virtually EVERY canadian polled said they wanted to at least have GM products labelled as containing GMO's. This was completely ignored. The idea that this is a democracy because we have ONE vote every three years is laughable.

And of course the paragraphs after that are equally subjective. To say that people who live in a part of the world that has been colonized for centuries, is run by the american government, is BOMBED by the american government is somehow acting irresponsibly is crazy. It is not muslims who break every rule of international law, THEY didn't invade the United States. That THEY are somehow being unreasonable is laugh out loud funny.

That's like people chastising the french for not capitulating when Germany took over. Saying 'look at those french extremists'. Get real. The only UNREASONABLE group is south of us and those who champion the cause of the strong over the weak. The US even says so from the State Department, they simply said, 'we run the world and we are going to make sure nobody else does, even if it means force'. Apologists somehow forget this.

 
At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is anonymous two writing here to say that the thinking of anonymous 1 is very close to my own except for one point.

1. America was attacked by terrorists which are the "army" of some mid-east countries.

2. Bush believes terrorists and countries that support them are a
threat to the future well being of America.

3. He believes appeasement, as opposed to intervention, will "embolden the aggressor".

4. I believe that in this case we are well advised to support the strong over the weak who have engaged the world this past week in a display of it's style of sweet reason.

 
At 9:43 PM, Blogger angryroughneck said...

I will post a statement on why anarchy is a left wing ideology tommorrow but for now i want to respond to a comment from anon 1

"Actually, the more research I do, the more I find that the real world is exactly the opposite of what the blog's author states."

Your evidence would be suspicious to critical eyes. Your red ball analogy is foolish. You take a metaphysical and political question--liberty--and apply an economic context--scarcity and then renounce individualism-- HUH~!
If the problem is scarcity prduction is the answer-- acheived through liberty instead of regulation and further limited freedoms.

 
At 8:40 PM, Blogger mostlyfree said...

I feel compelled to invite you to the Windsor Liberty Seminar, which will be going on on Saturday, assuming you're in a position to get here. It sounds to me like you'd be an excellent contributor to the discussion... plus we always like meeting liberty-oriented individuals.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home