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.
The new Libertarianism.org, a project of the Cato Institute, is a gorgeous website containing a well-organized set of information about libertarian ideas, history, and people. I am just exploring it but am amazed at how smooth and elegant the site design and organization of material is. It contains introductory material for newcomers and current and more advanced material as well, and it highlights the work of a host of people influential on libertarian ideas. Check it out.
For a good overview of the site’s aims and contents, see the welcoming post from Nov. 3, 2011, by Aaron Ross Powell. (My fellow TLS blogger Wirkman Virkkala blogged about it previously at New Libertarian Website Launched.)
Austrian and libertarian ideas are spreading around the globe, thanks in large part to the work done by the Mises Institute to promote and spread these ideas. A case in point is the Mises Seminar being held November 25 and 26 in Sydney, Australia, and being put on by Aussienomics, an Austrian-Australian group, Liberty Australia, and the Macquare University Libertarian League. As the Aussienomics site notes,
On the 25-26th of November, a watershed moment in the history of Australian liberty will be occurring in Sydney: the Australian Mises Seminar. Over the past year we have collaborated with the best and brightest representatives of Austrian economics and libertarianism in Australia to bring you this incredible weekend.
The lead speaker at the event Hans-Hermann Hoppe. The event looks like it will be fantastic and soundly rooted in principled Rothbardian libertarian and Misesian-Rothbardian Austrian economics.
What really impressed me was the beautiful 108 page programme they produced (yes, 108 pages). It’s full of nice pictures and illustrations of Mises, Rothbard, and others, inspiring quotes, and an overview of the seminar. The main reason for its length, however is that it contains “Pre-Seminar Reading”. I’ve never seen this in a programme before but it’s a great idea (and possibly only because the material they drew from was from sources that do not lock down the content using state copyright law). As the programme explains:
The readings help provide a basic foundation and understanding of the core principles used to analyse the more complex issues that will be under discussion at the seminar. They will help you follow the overall themes and make informed contributions should you choose to do so. As a result, everyone gets more from attending the seminar.
The overview section first contains an article entitled A Primer on Austrian Economics by Jonathan M. Finegold Catalan which gives a brief summary of the school of thought, its history and contributions. The fundamental difference between advocates of the Austrian school and the rest of the economics profession is methodology. The second chapter of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s book Economic Science and the Austrian Method, is On Praxeology and the Praxeological Foundation of Epistemology. This enthralling exposition highlights Mises insights and makes the case for praxeology as the ultimate foundation of all knowledge. Anatomy of the State by Murray N. Rothbard exemplifies the case as to what the state is, what it is not and why its existence should be lamented. What Libertarianism Is by Stephan Kinsella clarifies what separates libertarianism from other political philosophies.
The programme may be downloaded here. A podcast by some of the organizers discussing the Seminar may be found here.
Cato Institute has launched a new website: libertarianism.org. In a previous incarnation, the domain served as a promotion page for David Boaz’s Libertarianism: A Primer.
Designed to be an introductory and exploratory — if not quite a portal — site, it sports an elegant, stylized dove-wing logo. This is Cato’s version of what the Advocates for Self-Government offer at libertarianism.com. But Cato’s new site offers more links and videos on its front page, so it is bound to get more hits. The site offers a basic banner introduction:
LIBERTY. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, cooperation, and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life. THEY’RE CALLED LIBERTARIANS.
Well, that’s one way of putting it.
Just below the banner, a video of an F.A. Hayek lecture on why ethics not arise from our reason. A familiar Hayekian topic, and I just started listening to it. Below that are three other videos, one by Milton Friedman on humility, a short (and terrific) Murray Rothbard lecture on economic recessions, and Joan Kennedy Taylor on feminism. Today’s featured essays are by George H. Smith (“Religious Toleration Versus Religious Freedom”) and Tom G. Palmer (“Myths of Individualism.”) [Keep reading…]
Next month I’ll be teaching a new Mises Academy course,”Libertarian Controversies.” This is my fourth Mises Academy course (the previous three are Libertarian Legal Theory, Rethinking Intellectual Property: History, Theory, and Economics, and The Social Theory of Hoppe), and my fifth time teaching there (I have reprised the IP course once).
From the course page:
Modern libertarianism is a young, developing and vibrant science. Variants includes classical liberalism, minarchism, and, in its most rigorous form, anarcho-Austrian libertarianism. Libertarians of various stripes are influenced by utilitarian, pragmatic and natural law theories, and by thinkers including Ayn Rand, Hayek, Rothbard, Mises, and others. For decades there has been vigorous debate among different camps of libertarians about a host of controversial issues, from the foundation of rights to the nature of government, and about concrete issues such as abortion, strategy and activism, living in an unfree world, anarchy v. minarchy, punishment and restitution, and so on. In this course, libertarian legal theorist Stephan Kinsella will explore a variety of libertarian misconceptions and controversies, from an Austro-libertarian perspective.
In the discussion about misconceptions, Kinsella will identify a number of common libertarian mistakes, confusions, fallacies or flawed reasoning and propose a solution or more consistent approach. Issues to be discussed include: creation as a source of property rights; labor as being owned; unintentional equivocation (harm, authority, hierarchy, etc.); alienability and voluntary slavery; [Keep reading…]