Not long ago when we had friends and family over it came up that I was a political “atheist,” someone who opposed the existence of the state and wished for political power and authority to disappear so that the prosperity of the market can bring us ever higher standards of living. “I don’t agree with his theories” a family member said. Fine. This is to be expected. After all, the radical libertarian anarchist view is an extreme minority opinion. Yet the vast majority of people with whom we interact are clueless and wobbly on their own views.
At first the statist position seems to be coherent: the power of the many to benefit the few, the respect for the government, the love for law and order, the supremacy of democracy–essentially a rehash of the status quo becomes mainstream reply. Still, one must ask: what, then, dear vulgar citizen, is your hopefully coherent theory? It would necessarily have to be one that allows more or less the same things that exist now because the vast majority of folks though they complain about the details of the political establishment they don’t oppose the basics. For example, in my encounter with left-liberals I find it particularly interesting that often the primacy of democracy is seen as a goal but other times it is a means. Or when the same folks complain when people vote “the wrong way.” Over the last few years the issue of homosexual marriage has come up for vote. If the vote fails, does this mean that democracy has failed? Rarely (or, at worst, barely–there is still support for that institution). What if the courts fail to recognize that issue as a right? Should courts be abolished? Nah, they will say–more political action and education is needed, or reform the court. Most of the remedial proposals have to do with changing not the underlying system (the one that nonetheless perpetually frustrates everyone) but to change everyone and everything else.
Legislative matters like gay marriage is just one issue. Going deeper, things become even messier. How does one measure the value of the good that a piece of legislation imparts on society? What if that good is a bad for some? What if the good is not as good for everyone to the same extent? What if people change their minds? What if they change their minds right after an election? Were it subject to quantification, what if one person has 100 units of displeasure and 99 people have one unit of pleasure each? How can we measure the greater good? What is “the” good? These might seem contrived questions, and yet they are the core of it all. Not only is the mainstreamer advocating and justifying the existing system in a vulgar, offhanded, manner but also insisting that the social and economic calculations necessary to bring about general prosperity can be performed. And regardless of whether such a calculation is possible, the fact that the advocate of the existing system so vehemently opposes the libertarian view while barely offering a sensible grounding shows intellectual laziness. It is the equivalent of saying “this is what exists, therefore it is what should exist.” As the saying goes, LOLWUT!?
I am reminded of what Murray Rothbard once said: “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” In my opinion Rothbard’s sentiment applies to politics as well.
One of my favorite podcasts, KERA’s “Think,” hosted by the excellent interviewer Kris Boyd, had a fascinating show recently, Beethoven and the World in 1824:
What environment spawned one of the greatest orchestral compositions in history? We’ll find out this hour with music historian and New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein Scholar-In-Residence Harvey Sachs. His latest book is “The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824? (Random House, Paperback, 2011).
The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony (thus making it a choral symphony). The words are sung during the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the “Ode to Joy“, a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by the composer.
In other words, it was a remix, as most (all?) art is. In today’s hyper-copyright world, Schiller could stop Beethoven if he wanted, and prevented one of the greatest works of art of all time.
Fantastic, radical, and true. Delivered by someone named “Emily,” this was the winning rant at the Soapbox Idol competition from Porcfest 2011. Porcfest is short for the Porcupine Freedom Festival which is held annually in NH by the Free State Project. The judges panel included Stefan Molyneux of Freedomain Radio, Carla Gericke of the FSP, and Adam Kokesh of Adam Vs The Man.
As discussed on Tech News Today #377, the European Commission has decided to open an investigation into the patent wars between Apple and Samsung. According to EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, “Apple and Samsung is only one case where IP rights can be used as an instrument to restrict competition.”
Since patents are aimed at limiting “unbridled competition” of a free market, this should come as no surprise. As I have discussed elsewhere, the state is schizophrenic. It grants monopolies aimed at limiting competition (patents and copyright), and then penalizes companies for using (“abusing”) them, in contravention of state antitrust law–so that there is a “tension” between these state laws. Here’s an idea: get rid of both antitrust and patent law.
Because I’m a libertarian myself, I agreed with most of their criticisms of the twelve decisions.
I had reservations, though, about their proposed remedy: “judicial engagement” on liberty’s behalf — that is, getting judges on board with (for example) the idea that Congress’s powers under the Commerce Clause are much narrower than the Supreme Court has said they are since the New Deal era. This struck me as naive. Judges, after all, are part of the federal government, and the President and Congress both try to ensure that the people they put on the bench believe in maximum executive and legislative power. Judges haven’t increased government power because libertarian lawyers didn’t put the right arguments in front of them; they’ve increased government power because that’s what they were put on the bench to do.
In a response to my review, Levy and Mellor claimed that I was “far too cynical” — which only cemented my view that, for self-described libertarians, these two gentlemen weren’t nearly cynical enough about the federal courts. In fact, they seemed to have a faith in “good government” that is antithetical to libertarianism.
Lately, however, I’ve come to think that, whatever Levy and Mellor’s personal attitudes may be (it’s possible that I misread them), favoring “judicial engagement” for liberty does not require one to be naive about government and therefore is not contrary to the spirit of libertarianism. [Keep reading…]