Doug Rasmussen on Particularized Eudaimonia and Ayn Rand

Doug Rasmussen on Particularized Eudaimonia and Ayn Rand

I was randomly reading this essay today and came across an insight that hit me in the face like a (pizza) pie. I don’t know how I never made the connection before. But first, let me give you some context.

In discussing the nature of value, Doug writes,

Though there are some advocates of eudaimonia that take an agent-neutral approach, I don’t think agent-neutrality is the hallmark of the eudaimonist tradition.  This is not the basic issue, however.  As I implied in my earlier remarks, it has to do with the place of individuality in one’s understanding of human good.  Human flourishing is always and necessarily individualized, and this means not only that human flourishing does not exist apart from individuals but also that it only exists in an individualized manner. Though we can speak abstractly of generic goods and virtues and thus note what is common, these goods and virtues do not take on determinacy, reality, or worth apart from the excellent use of practical reason. This does not mean that there must be conflicts between one individual’s good and that of another’s, but it does mean that there can be.  But more importantly, it does show that human flourishing is something different for each of us.  Here is the pluralist dimension of ethics.  (See Norms of Liberty, chapters 6 and 7)

Doug packs a lot into this concise passage, but I think we can draw two morals from it:

1. Agent-neutral value doesn’t exist. How can something be valued if not by an agent? To be valued is to be valued by someone. While there are values that are “generic” and “common,” it makes no sense to talk of things that are really valuable, “apart from the excellent use of practical reason” since “human flourishing does not exist apart from individuals,” and practical reason necessarily only takes place from an individualized level by a single agent that isn’t conceptually capable of taking a “neutral” perspective of the world (we can’t step outside our own perspective*). The very meaning of the term “value” implies a relationship to a thing that can value. So if goods are only valuable insofar as they are valuable to a thing that can value (so far, only humans and perhaps some higher level animals), ethics, or the branch or philosophy that deals with what’s good or choice-worthy, concerns individual agents and their use of reason to determine whats really valuable to them (this is what I mean when I say I’m an ethical egoist).

2. It seems reasonable to call a thing that consistently achieves its values determined using (theoretical) reason and appropriately acts upon them using (practical) reason to be flourishing (or to have achieved the Greek eudaimonia). But while some values (those that are generally involved in theoretical reasoning) are related to the kind of thing you are (the good for a human will be different than the good for a dog will be different than the good for a chair), other values (those that are generally concerned with practical reasoning, which is built off of theoretical reasoning) are related to the particular thing you are (For example my values are partially informed by the fact that I’m someone who likes pizza, is a student, likes reading comics, and all the other specific facts about me that make me who I am). That is, our values and goods are informed both by our nature as the kind of thing we are (human), but also the content of our particularized individual character (dispositions, innate desires, biological traits, etc) and commitments (our contracts, obligations, relationships with others such as family and friends, etc). For example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says,

To be sure, there may be occasions when a good person approaches an ethical problem by beginning with the premise that happiness consists in virtuous activity [thanks theoretical wisdom -cm]. But more often what happens is that a concrete goal presents itself as his starting point—helping a friend in need, or supporting a worthwhile civic project. Which specific project we set for ourselves is determined by our character [thanks practical wisdom]. A good person starts from worthwhile concrete ends because his habits and emotional orientation have given him the ability to recognize that such goals are within reach, here and now.

Or as Aristotle puts it, “excellence… is a settled disposition determining choice, involving the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by reason, as the practically wise person would determine it. (emphasis mine)”

Doug continues,

This is why Rand’s failure to have a place for practical wisdom in her ethics is so disappointing. Practical wisdom is necessary for the presence of all of the virtues, including the ones she notes, as well as those she ignores or fails to emphasize [Doug is mainly talking about generosity, kindness, forgiveness, and charity here.-cm]. Indeed, it is indicative of a failure to truly appreciate the importance of individuality for ethical deliberations.  I think this comes from an excessive rationalist approach to morality. I [and this is the (pizza) pie in my face. -cm] also think that this is part of the reason for the cultish behavior of many of her followers and some of the foundations devoted to her thought [emphasis mine].

After so much time reading Rand and interacting with Objectivists of all sorts of stripes, Doug’s explanation for that tendency makes a lot of sense to me. Rand didn’t seem to distinguish between theoretical and practical rationality, which proves to be a crucial mistake later down the line. Without a good sense of the individualized nature of eudaimonia and the crucial role that practical rationality plays in achieving one’s values, its easy to start assigning one’s own purely individual, unique preferences objective moral weight.

Clearly Rand and her followers, to varying different degrees in different kinds of ways, are guilty of this rationalism and preference for one’s…preferences. While you can’t step outside your own agent-relative perspective to the world, we can see the difference between a morality that respects the irreducibly individualized nature of one human being’s eudaimonia and a morality that treats humans as generally the same in terms of their values and goals. But the fact that one uses their own practical reason to determine their truly subjective and unique values in life (ones that are partly contingent on and take into account one’s individualized character and commitments), means that when others use their practical reason, which references their subjective character and commitments, they will naturally come to different values and goals. The values that leads to one’s flourishing are contingent upon two things:

1. The essential characteristics of the kind of thing we are (human being) and the conceptual implications of being that thing determined through theoretical reasoning.

2. The individual characteristics of the kind of thing we are (specific roles like father, debtor, doctor, pilot, student, which inform our responsibilities, commitments, and goals) and the practical implications of being that thing determined through practical reasoning.

The former is something we can’t choose. The latter is. If we confuse cases of the latter for the former, morality can be used as an excuse to justify one’s own desires and preferences by passing them along as objective and rational, while also convincing others they ought to pursue those desires and have those preferences instead of the ones that can be determined by their own practical reason in the context of their own life and their own individual existence. And the more that someone’s subjective desires and preferences are commonly viewed as the acceptable or appropriate standard even when there is no clear derivation of those principles from basic moral premises, the more that that person is treated as special, flawless, or more knowing than others. We are in dangerous territory. For Rand’s popularity to grow and the philosophy of rational egoism to gain momentum, this kind of moralizing should be avoided like the anti-mind, anti-life, collectivist ethical rationalization it is.

Doug concludes, “but I think that the omission of practical wisdom is a fundamental flaw because it undermines her ethical individualism.” As first and foremost individualists, we must remember the importance that practical reason plays in determining one’s own good and be very careful to not drift into the waters of agent-neutral value. Or as Robert Nozick (far from an egoist, but his point is all too relevant) puts it,

Wittgenstein, Elizabeth Taylor, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Merton, Yogi Berra, Allen Ginsberg, Harry Wolfson, Thoreau, Casey Stengel, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Picasso, Moses, Einstein, Hugh Hefner, Socrates, Henry Ford, Lenny Bruce, Baba Ram Dass, Gandhi, Sir Edmund Hillary, Raymond Lubitz, Buddha, Frank Sinatra, Columbus, Freud, Norman Mailer, Ayn Rand, Baron Rothschild, Ted Williams, Thomas Edison, H.L. Mencken, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Ellison, Bobby Fischer, Emma Goldman, Peter Kropotkin, you, and your parents. Is there really one kind of life which is best for each of these people?

Acknowledging that everyone is who they are not someone else (A is A!) requires acknowledging the existence of specific, subjective characteristics about each person, the context they are in, and the “golden mean relative” to them. People are very special, and hence each of their paths to eudaimonia will be special and particularized. Ironically, Objectivism (or at least an Aristotelian reading of Ayn Rand) implies a very subjective content of morality, despite correctly acknowledging the existence of objective reasons to act.

*It may very well be good to strive towards a somewhat neutral perspective in decision making in an effort to cultivate virtues such as fairness and justice, which are constitutive of a rational agent’s good, however, the reason to strive towards a neutral perspective is not because that perspective is fully possible or an end in itself, it’s valuable insofar as it advances your own agent-relative value.

A Woman’s Place Is in the Revolution

A Woman’s Place Is in the Revolution

When pointing to statistical evidence of patriarchy, many people immediately look to those in power. 103 women hold seats in congress, a record number but nevertheless a disproportionate minority. Many feminists argue that to rid society of the patriarchy we need to do a better job of electing powerful women. Meanwhile, people continue to cede power over their own lives to the State. The State is a patriarchal institution, controlled by men with the interests of men in mind.  Its function is maintaining its own power and upholding the status quo. With a State that inevitably attempts to dominate our bodies and our minds, feminists must recognize that the way to defeat patriarchy is not to join or cater to the State, but to take its power away and return it to ourselves.

womenrevolutionAnarcha-feminist Emma Goldman wrote in Anarchism and Other Essays, “Anarchism stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion and liberation of the human body from the coercion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. It stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals…” Anarchism is naturally complementary to feminism.  If feminism aims at crushing the antiquated and evil cultural notion that women are property, it is a means for women to liberate and empower themselves, so they can finally live as free individuals. Statist feminism, the attempt to liberate women through the State, is futile because it relies on a patriarchal institution to go against its very nature and uplift those it inherently oppresses. The struggle for women’s rights requires us to free ourselves from the chains of patriarchy, not to learn to live with them.

The central planning of the State negates the lived experiences of individual women by attempting to treat them as a class or a category, rather than as individuals. The last thing women need is old white men in Washington discussing their reproductive rights. State-enforced patriarchal norms are evident in restrictions on abortion, standardized maternity leave (different women have different needs), and prescriptions for birth control which limit their accessibility. Patriarchy also seen in restrictions on employment, from professional licensing requirements to bureaucracy to zoning laws that make it difficult for women to work for themselves. The State prevents women from lifting themselves up and puts them at the mercy of their bosses and legislators, who are also usually men. Women continue to look to the State for help without realizing they are signing a contract with their oppressors.

Most people make decisions based on self-interest; that is, they make decisions to better their own position by weighing the perceived costs and benefits of each option.  This seems like common sense, but what people often forget is that politicians are no exception. Public choice theory says that politicians make decisions like other human beings. Just watch House of Cards 11119684_1021104334585862_827888837_nto see what I mean. Public choice theory explains why voters are so often disappointed in their elected officials. Politicians make the decisions they need to make to maintain their power by catering to special interests, following party lines, and securing campaign funds. They are not in Congress because they care about bettering the lives of Americans but because they care about themselves. Understanding public choice theory helps us understand why the government run by men will never free women. Politicians work to secure their power by convincing people that they need the government to do things for them. To paraphrase Harry Brown, the government breaks our legs, hands us crutches, and expects a thank you. They do not have our best interests in mind, and it is foolish to expect them to. Rather than asking for better crutches, women must crush the hand that breaks us and liberate ourselves from the fists of patriarchy.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of feminists wearing shirts that say, “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate,” which is a play on the phrase, “A woman’s place is in the home.” Politicians, or women who empower themselves by oppressing other women, are not worthy role models. Women should draw inspiration not from war criminals and tyrants, but from real revolutionaries. Revolutionary women are women who stand up for themselves and take their power back. They do not seek to make friends with the patriarchy, but to destroy it where it stands. They are women like Emma Goldman, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Lucy Parsons, and Voltairine de Cleyre. Revolutionary women lead the fight for our rights boldly and are not afraid of a little controversy. Feminists should knock down patriarchal institutions, not depend on them. Revolutionary women do not find themselves drinking coffee with old white men in Washington, directing our lives, but instead on the front lines of a social movement that encourages self-direction. A woman’s place is not in the House or in the Senate, passing laws that increase women’s dependence on the patriarchal State. A woman’s place is in the revolution.


It’s ok to be absolutist about markets

In embracing markets as the key organizing force behind the social order, libertarians are quick to become absolutists about markets. The division of labor, commercial activity, entrepreneurship, private enterprise, and the price system all  become central to the libertarian’s idea system. And rightfully so. We are correct about markets. They are crucial, indeed required, for the social order to be one characterized by mutually beneficial, peaceful interaction and not by a warlike race between violent, competing interests. Contra our detractors, markets encourage social cooperation, not individual isolationism.

The primary motivating factor to be against statism, government democracy, and central planning is that it achieves precisely what socialists claim markets lead to: the division of society based on competing factions, all fighting for the reigns of power. But the market is a force for social good, not social destruction. The state, whose origins are found in conquest and robbery, is the biggest perpetuator of the forces of social destruction.

When the institutions of society are enveloped by those who represent incompatible interests (such as one class aiming to rob or exploit another), the social order breaks down. It rewards the barbaric, violent, unjust, and base instincts of humans. Voluntary organization and the division of labor, on the other hand rewards the utmost moral activity of humans: the concentration of our productive efforts into something that is simultaneously rewarding to your own happiness and to the lives of others; the treatment of your fellow people as ends in themselves rather than objects to be manipulated for the furtherance of your interests.

When power and force is centralized, even monopolized, by an entity with an arbitrary claim to decision making, it inevitably puts those with the most lust for power and least amount of moral fortitude at the top of the pyramid of power. Those people who are better at manipulating, lying, and using others for their ends are hailed as leaders and saviors. The market process, on the other hand, limits the power of those individuals through the accountability inherent in free and open competition. Instead, the market process incentivizes cooperative behavior; action that is conducive to your own self interest is inextricably tied to serving the interests of your community and society.

But this doesn’t mean the market anarchist project is one of valuing only market values in all human interactions. Rather, we are concerned with the institutional structure that the social order operates in. And as political theorists, we all have ideas about the background conditions that enables the social order to flourish the most. Merely favoring a certain institutional structure to another doesn’t commit one to favoring the norms that underline those institutions in every context or individual decision.

Being for markets doesn’t mean I only value the traits of entrepreneurship, commercialization, pricing, or whatever else can be said to be a specifically market value. These are not the only goods for human flourishing. In fact, they are just the beginning of that story. If anything, my support for markets is tied to my belief that the institutionalization of markets (private property, prices, division of labor, etc) promotes a much  more comprehensive and encompassing conception of the human good; one that involves friendship, family, virtue, art, reason, pleasure, self-esteem, and recreation. My belief is the principles of voluntarism in the political sphere (anarchy) best enables people to achieve their own, individualized conception of the good in their own lives.

The whole point is that we want the social order to take place in the background of market conditions, partly for reasons of efficiency and partly for reasons of morality. But entwined with these is the recognition that a market order allows for the utmost freedom and individual choice, and that the other social forces that are not based on the market norms themselves (gift economies, mutual aid, social activism, etc) are more free and effective with the backdrop of the specifically market institutions.

These periphery values aren’t reason to lessen my absolutism about markets. Rather, they enforce the case for markets and are a reason to strengthen my absolutism. Nothing less than full market anarchism. 


We are all Randian Mutualists Now

Take a look at these quotes:

“In the social order reciprocity is the formula of justice. Reciprocity is defined in the maxim: Do as you would be done by. Or translated into the language of political economy: Exchange products for products, buy your products mutually from one another. Social science means simply the organisation of mutual relations.”

“The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice. A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. He does not treat men as masters or slaves, but as independent equals. He deals with men by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchange—an exchange which benefits both parties by their own independent judgment.”

It seems to me that these thinkers are on roughly the same page and both share a relatively common intuition about what justice is. They view human relationships as just in so far as each participant of an exchange receives what they deserve. These thinkers build their entire economic, social, and political frameworks around this principle of equal trade or reciprocity. However, despite agreeing on as fundamental a concept as justice, they each come to radically different conclusions in their economic, social, and political ideals.

The author of the first quote is the founder of Mutualism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. The author of the second quote is the founder of Objectivism, Ayn Rand. Perhaps the only thing they have in common is this Aristotelian conception of justice. For Aristotle, you have universal justice, which is the moral state of a fair person, and you have particular justice, which is the application of our conceptions of just relations to divisible goods like money, safety, honor, and the like. Justice in this latter sense is specifically a social virtue. It exists solely because there exists a society where people interact with each other. Justice is meant to guide people’s relationships with others.

Furthermore, Aristotle distinguishes between distributive justice, or the distribution of goods (in the broad sense of not just money, but safety, honor, etc) among individuals according to merit, and rectificatory justice, which is concerned with correcting unjust distributions of those goods in society. Rand and Proudhon both have a polar opposite analysis of what the just distribution of goods in society ought to be (Rand viewed “big business as the persecuted minority” while Proudhon wanted to emancipate “the working class”). Strangely enough they share very similar means to what they believe is the just distribution of goods in society. They both want a shift from a society that relies on government and authority to one that relies on voluntary cooperation and individual fairness. Elaborating on his principle and its application here is Proudhon in a very Randian tone:

“Liberty then, nothing more, nothing less. Laissez faire, laissez passer, in the broadest and most literal sense; consequently property, as it rises legitimately from this freedom, is my principle. No other solidarity between citizens than that which rises accidentally from force majeur: for all that which relates to free acts, and manifestations of reflective thought, complete and absolute insolidarity.”

Seeing that Rand and Proudhon share conceptions of justice, though maybe not the exact application of that conception, it’s not too surprising to see that Rand and Proudhon have very reconcilable foundations for property and possession.

First, we have to note that these thinkers are among the hardest to understand and consistently interpret in libertarian history. If people weren’t already using terms in wildly different ways enough of the time, these thinkers were writing in very different eras (almost 1o0 years apart) and even liked to use terms slightly differently than other people of their time did.

Here is Proudhon explaining his theory of property in a way that perhaps sheds light on the oft repeated Proudhon quote, “Property is theft!” and points out that it is hardly the devastating critique that social anarchists want it to be against market anarchists:

“There are different kinds of property: 1. Property pure and simple, the dominant and seigniorial power over a thing; or, as they term it, NAKED PROPERTY. 2. POSSESSION… The tenant, the farmer, the commandite’, the usufructuary, are possessors; the owner who lets and lends for use, the heir who is to come into possession on the death of a usufructuary, are proprietors… This double definition of property — domain and possession — is of the highest importance; and it must be clearly understood, in order to comprehend what is to follow. This distinction between the jus in re and the jus ad rem is the basis of the famous distinction between possessoire and petitoire,– actual categories of jurisprudence, the whole of which is included within their vast boundaries. Petitoire refers to every thing relating to property; possessoire to that relating to possession.”

Here, Proudhon uses “property” to refer to merely legal recognitions. He is talking about what the state legal system calls property or “domain.” But as a radical libertarian, Proudhon viewed the state as having no legitimate claim over the things of others, therefore, he was rightfully opposed to much of what was called property in his day. Just as Rand was against much of what was considered property in her day. She was against coercive taxation and instead favored a voluntarily funded government so she was against all the “property” the government claimed to own…just like Proudhon (he also considered lots of the property “owned” by capitalists as illegitimate because of economical analysis that Rand didn’t share and she considered a lot of the property “owned” by the lower classes as illegitimate because of economical analysis that Proudhon didn’t share — again another commonality on principles but divergence in application and analysis of economics and history).

Proudhon then ventured to explain what actually counted as “ownership” and for him that wasn’t property, as for him that term referred to false, unjust “state ownership.” Instead, his explanation for just ownership was rooted in an occupancy-and-use standard, “domain and possession…” It’s not that you first appropriated something that gives you ownership, it’s your just acquisition (which could be first appropriation, but also through gifts and contractual exchanges) of something and your possession of that thing.

Of course this begs the question (just as any “property theory,” for lack of a better term, does) of what counts as just possession? A Rothbardian would say “mixing your labor with something or acquiring it through gift or contractual exchange, of course.” But is this really the only requirement? Suppose someone “mixed their labor” with a plot of land 20 years ago and hadn’t used it since and someone walking through the woods sees it and decides to use it to set up camp as it was the only land around with the resources to live? Is the camper violating the property rights of the first mixer? Or is there another requirement for retaining ownership over an object as such? Is this standard of just external property really consistent self-ownership fully understood? No Rothbardian would seriously argue that merely “mixing your labor” with a plot of land one night 20 years in the past gives you a just property right over that plot today if another person started mixing their labor with that land and incorporating it into their projects.

Similarly, to take an example from Robert Nozick, what if you spilled a can of tomato juice into the ocean and the juice particles mix with and percolate out to the entire ocean? Do you own the ocean? The point of this question is to figure out just what we mean when we say “mixing your labor” with an object. The juice can in the ocean could hardly count as mixing your labor with the whole ocean and no Rothbardian would, rightfully so, consider that a legitimate form of property acquisition.

On the other side of the coin, the notion that if you leave your house to walk down the street and buy some milk, that someone can justifiably come into your house and claim ownership on the grounds that they are “occupying and using it” is rightfully not supported by any Mutualists.

I believe there is a false dichotomy between the Mutualist conceptions of property and the Anarcho-capitalist conceptions of property. If you take both ideology’s foundational principles far enough, you will find some position on a a conflict that is just nuts to embrace (like any of the above three). I think they are a different in degree (here, they disagree on what counts as “reasonable abandonment time”), but not in kind. If you scratch a Mutualist hard enough, they will cede their strict “occupancy – and – use” standard in favor of a more reasonable norm to be settled on locally and democratically. If you scratch an Ancap hard enough, they will cede their strict “labor-mixing” standard in favor of a more reasonable norm to be settled on by private defense companies and contracts.

So what do we make of this false dichotomy between “occupancy-and-use” and “Rothbardian-Lockean” property rights theories? I could preface my analysis with “like the mind-body dichotomy…” like Rand did whenever she was talking about a false dichotomy (which she was doing a lot as she liked to uncover them and offer a third way), even if the only similarity is that both were a false dichotomy, but I’ll save that analogy for another post. Instead I’m just going to offer a third way in the Randian, Proudhonian tradition.

I think that third way is ultimately a reconciliation of Mutaulist and Ancap conceptions of property and at the same time draws heavily on Rand’s theory of property. Rand writes,

“A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)”

Rand thinks there is fundamentally only the right to life (makes sense considering she usually argues life is the end of action and our purpose on this planet), and from this, all other rights, including the right to property, follows. This is a distinctively anti-Rothbardian meta-ethical view. Where Rothbard says all rights, including our right to life, are ultimately applications of our property rights, Rand says the reverse, that all rights, including our right to property, are ultimately applications of our right to life. (Again, this may be more of a difference in terminology as Rand liked to use terms slightly wonkishly since her “right to life” could be read as “self-ownership,” which is the fundamental and axiomatic right according to Rothbard — in this sense they are closer to agreement than it sounds).

Regardless of what is the most fundamental right, life or property, for Rand we have the right to both and they hard to distinguish. After all, “Man has to work and produce in order to support his life. He has to support his life by his own effort and by the guidance of his own mind. If he cannot dispose of the product of his effort, he cannot dispose of his effort; if he cannot dispose of his effort, he cannot dispose of his life.” Rand thinks the right to property, the right to appropriate ownership over another object is an extension of our right to pursue our own life and happiness. (It’s worth nothing that I see no reason Proudhon would quibble with Rand’ usage of “property” as that which man uses to “support his own life,” other than semantic or rhetorical reasons).

What does this mean in practice? Well, Rand also says, “The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action.” So for her, all rights, including rights to property, are legitimate only insofar as they are maintained by life-serving action. But this begs the question of what counts as “life-serving”? (Again, Rand is difficult to parse out in regards to whether she thinks our ultimate end is mere “life” or full-on “happiness” as in “man qua man” or the Greek eudaimonia).

While Rand has ideas about life-serving values (reason, purpose, and self-esteem), she thinks that man must ultimately act on his own judgement and that rational egoism requires treating others as ends in themselves rather than mere means. So to impose her “objective” values on others would be contrary to either’s interests. This means she thinks “rights” are all variations on our freedom of action as an extension of our freedom to pursue life and happiness. And if rights, even property rights, are exercised through freedom of action, then property applies not to what we merely “occupy and use” nor to merely what we “mix our labor with,” but rather, to what we “incorporate into our ongoing projects” as Roderick Long has proposed:

“…if I own my self [which is defensible and arguably implied by the “Golden Rule” standard of Proudhon and Rand. -cm], then I must own the particles of which my body is composed; thus the means by which I acquired those particles (most of which were acquired post-birth) must be a legitimate means of acquiring internal property. Labour-mixing is an analogous means of acquiring external property; in both cases I transform external material in such a way as to make it an instrument of my ongoing purposes.”

Mere “labor-mixing” may not meet the requirements for justice for reasons stated above, but when it’s accompanied by the incorporation of whatever you’re mixing your labor with into your ongoing projects, we have something else. Where Roderick writes “ongoing purposes,” Rand would write “life and happiness.” The specific content of “ongoing purposes” for a given case can be determined through the mutual adjustment of the concepts aggression and self-ownership in either logical deduction or conversation, but this defense better gets at the principle I think Proudhon and Rand both aimed to apply.

Thus, this subtly Randian solution avoids the pitfalls of arbitrary and extreme standards, like occ-and-use and Lockean homesteading, since it incorporates the intuitive value and moral requirement of some kind of “labor-mixing” and “owning the fruits of one’s labor” (and also a generally libertarian theory of contracts and property acquisition) but also acknowledges the intuitive value and moral requirement that in some sense, that to be just, “labor-mixing” must be part of an ongoing project that you undertake, even it is just living peacefully. The plot of land is, in no way, still part of the ongoing projects of the original labor mixer, nor used in their pursuit of life and happiness. Merely spilling juice into the ocean cannot be reasonably said to count as project or life incorporation even if it can be said to be the mixing of labor. And while the milk buyer may be said to not have been “occupying” or “using” his home for the time he was away, his home was still certainly part of his “ongoing projects’ and “pursuit of happiness.”

The Long-ian conception is more fundamentally Randian and more fundamentally Proudhonian than either of their respective conclusions about economic systems. It’s also both more capitalist than Proudhon would have wanted and more Mutualist than Rand would have wanted. It clarifies both the requirements of Proudhon’s “possession” and the limits of Locke’s “labor mixing” and it all works because it is a better expression of the Aristotelian justice that Rand and Proudhon both talk about.

The “Golden Rule” or “principle of Reciprocity” or the “Trader Principle” all rely on the same notion of equality of moral worth and what makes for just human relationships. In my view Rand and Proudhon both go astray in their political, economic, and social conclusions at various times, but the Randian ethical justification for property (and her broader theory of justice) is much more Mutualist than she probably would have liked, and Proudhon’s theory of justice is much more Objectivist than he probably would have liked. This shows that you can, with some work, possibly draw out a more Proudhonian, Mutualist social system from Randian ethical premises and it also shows you can draw out a Randian, Capitalist social system from Proudhonian ethical premises; the difference might lie in mere economic and historical analysis.

I would like to close with this quote:

“A Social System Based on Equal Freedom, Reciprocity, and the Sovereignty of the Individual Over Himself, His Affairs, and His Products; Realized Through Individual Initiative, Free Contract, Cooperation, Competition, and Voluntary Association for Defense Against the Invasive and for the Protection of Life, Liberty and Property of the Non-invasive.”

If you had told me this quote with no context I would have guessed it was Ayn Rand talking about why capitalism was best. This is actually the definition of Mutualism according to Clarence Lee Swartz in What is Mutualism? 

A Libertarianism with No Exceptions

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy… ‘Libertarians’… had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over…”

-Murray Rothbard, Betrayal of the American Right

“The word ‘libertarian’ has long been associated with anarchism [sic]… It came however to be applied to anyone who approved of liberty in general. In anarchist circles, it was first used by Joseph Déjacque as the title of his anarchist journal Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social published in New York in 1858. At the end of the last century, the anarchist Sebastien Faure took up the word, to stress the difference between anarchists and authoritarian socialists.”

-Peter Marshall, Defending the Impossible

The philosophy of libertarianism is quite like the mushroom’s mycelium system; the fruit which stem from it are multiplicitous, but regardless of their differences belong to the same species. Unlike mushrooms however, libertarians will try to define certain sub-species out because of such differences, making what a system of mutuality into a system of constant tension and conflict. Liberty is and perhaps will always be seen differently by those who wish reap its rewards, and thus calls on us to have conversations on how to approximate closer to it. But to disregard sub-species simply because of the differences they have cuts us all off from the mycelium needed for our survival. A liberty ruled by a libertarianism is no liberty at all; the scythe we use to cut off other sub-species will in turn cut us off. In other words, we will reap what we sow.

This is the main problem of the libertarian qua libertarian in our education of libertarianism to the world. We are so convinced that our project within the scope of libety is the one that will bring us closer to the liberty we dream of that different projects are regarded as not libertarian or not relevant to the libertarian of the here and now. Instead of defining a libertarian as “someone who holds that liberty is essential for human flourishing provided that said person holds with equal value the liberty of others”, a libertarian is defined as “someone who believes that liberty is important for human flourishing and also holds close to the project that I may be a part of.”

Let us use the example of American libertarianism to illustrate this problem (note: they are not the only ones who try to define others out of libertarianism). The American libertarian concept is one which holds that liberty is best attained through a pro-property, pro-market, and individualist standpoint. While systems of gift-economies, mutual aid, and community projects can exist within this system, the freed market must be the over-arching factor in there project of liberty. Those who might hold true to the idea of a libertarian communism of sorts do not hold claim to libertarianism in the American sense. This is because their system abolishes property and an over-arching market allowing no one to try their hand at a market-friendly approach. This creates a totalizing system, the antithesis to liberty, and therefore libertarian communists cannot be defined as libertarians in the American meaning of the word. The conversation of libertarian ideas in America then is only limited to conversation of post-classical, individualist economics (Austrian, Chicago School, Public Choice Theory, etc.) and classical liberal philosophies which either get close or fully attain anarchism. Mentions of social libertarian and anarchist philosophies and economics are made to either show that they are not libertarian or that their systems of production, consumption, and organization can better be done in a market setting based on individualist economics. If they are too skeptical of property and markets, they cannot be a libertarian by any relevant meaning of the word to the American libertarian.

This is where confusion and conflict start to kick in for the American libertarian and those having a conversation with them. For starters, many libertarian communists retort back showing the genuine nature of their libertarian standpoint and how they do allow for individualism in a full communist setting (i.e.- the Spanish Anarchists in Catalonia). They will also be quick to point out the two quotes by Murray Rothbard and Peter Marshall shown above, that the word “libertarian” was appropriated by the American side, and that the word was used to signify difference between the two sides of socialism, anarchists and authoritarian socialists. They will question the American libertarian’s credibility in libertarianism and perhaps doubt any good intentions the American libertarian may have. All the while, those on the outside of libertarianism become confused about what anything means to a libertarian because no one will show them the full spectrum of what libertarianism is. Thrown into the worlds of our ideologies, we become wrapped up in what is the most relevant libertarianism, or who is promoting “tr00 liberty”.

It is not that in-fighting has caused this (balance is found by conversation), but blind devotion to whatever specific project may be preferred in our quest to liberty. We do not take the time to sit down with people and explain to them the different flavors of libertarianism. Instead, we give them our biased preference to what a good or relevant libertarianism may be and then leave the other libertarians as an aside or fodder for a take-down. This in turn creates more libertarians of a biased nature rather than libertarians who think creatively to give us something more than just either a market or communalist alternative to liberty. Our biases create the scythe which cut the heads off of libertarians, leaving us a body to constantly fight but without a head to question if our fights are always useful.

This is what has been wrong with libertarian’s education of libertarianism to other people. It teaches within its comfort zone, making favored positions more respectable and others seem illogical or anti-liberty. Instead of a majority of thinkers, it unfortunately creates a majority of reactionaries (i.e. internet trolls) who repeat cliché arguments and spout rhetoric that they were given to them by us without considering other possibilities. If we want to create a world of liberty, then we need to stop being limited in our definition of libertarian. We need to always answer uncomfortable questions with which (re)broadening makes, such us “how do we define our anti-capitalist commitments” and “can property/communist systems be totalizing and create an ideological authority?”

We must take heed of the words of Emile Janvion in our goals of educating others on libertarianism:
“It is not at all a question of compelling the [student] to think and act as an anarchist, of weighing, in a word, on their determinations. That would be contrary to our conception of liberty and by doing so we would wound ourselves with our own weapons.

But we will teach them to conduct themselves; we will not constrain their independence and initiative, by confining them to the narrow mold of programs; we will teach them to answer only to their conscience, without desire for reward or fear of punishment, without the dire effects of discipline, source of dissembling and lies, and of grading, generator of rivalries, jealousies and hatreds.

Far from wishing to cast the child, ignorant of the reigning theories, disarmed into life, we will impartially show them the pro and the con. It will be up to them to make their own resolutions later. The simple truth will be the remains.” (“Our Free Education”, Emile Janvion, l’Aurore 3 no. 637 (July 17, 1899): 2)

What are the top 5 most important issues for libertarians?

I have a strong affinity for lists and ranking things so lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what the most important problems are from a libertarian perspective. Libertarians have a whole ton of problems with modern institutions and society but just which are the most pertinent? My friend, Thomas Michie posed a similar question on Facebook, so I decided to write up my top 5.

1. War

I tend to be a bit harder on war than the average libertarian as both an anarchist and a pacifist. I’ve long been against pre-emptive war, interventionist foreign policy, and standing armies. I’ve also recently started to identify as a pacifist, in the sense of being against war, not any individual instance of self-defense, as I found Bryan Caplan’s “Common-Sense Case for Pacifism” strikingly compelling and…well, implied by basic common sense.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise I think war is the most important issue for libertarians. In fact I think it should be the most important political issue for anyone with a conscious and I don’t think it’s particularly close. It’s obvious that war is the biggest threat to humanity. It causes the most destruction, damage, chaos, and death than any other institution we have. This is even more apparent after the 20th century; the era, as Jeffrey Tucker calls it, of the “total state.” The century where totalitarianism was widespread and mass murder was common. The time period with more war than peace. The amount of pure awfulness caused by war was, and will continue to be, unmatched. The problem of war and foreign entanglement is further complicated by technological advancements such as nuclear weapons and biological warfare. These issues, to me, only give us further reason to be adamant that war is not, and never will be, on the table.

My preference for peace underlines all my political thought. My support for strong private property rights, markets, and the division of labor are all strongly based on my belief that these institutions are favorable towards peaceful resolution and social cooperation. My disgust for states, monopoly, and centralization are all rooted in my belief that those institutions are more conducive to war-making and make peace less likely and/or more difficult to maintain. A large reason I’m an anarchist is that I think markets are a levelling force; that competitive forces create accountability and checks and balances. That is, that markets, especially in the legal and defense industries, would promote non-violent conflict resolution by forcing firms to internalize all their costs. The state socializes the costs of war and intervention through taxation and inflation, making war much easier to pursue. If there were, instead, competitive forces governing the defense sector, the costs to violence would be obvious and apparent, and therefore serve to make war less appealing.

But even if you aren’t an anarchist, war is still the most awful thing ever. Even if you don’t think that abolishing the state is the best answer, common decency says that war is just the plum worst and should be avoided. This is something all libertarians ought to agree on, even if we all have slightly different conclusions about what really prevents war most effectively. Is it a market in defense? Is it a minimal state with no standing army? Is it a non-interventionist foreign policy? These questions are vital as they address the biggest threat to human life and flourishing on the planet, but regardless of how we all answer those questions I hope we all have the same end or intent in mind: peace.

I think there is a bonus reason why this issue should be especially important for libertarians: we have been historically too soft on this issue. Many historical libertarians and a few big modern libertarian organizations have been entirely too easy on mass murder. They have either said things friendly to certain instances of war making or outright advocated for war. To further drive the point home and to make up for our predecessors past mistakes, libertarians today ought to make war our biggest concern, bar-none. We need to be unwavering and principled in our opposition to war lest we go down in history as another hypocritical, failed social movement. The libertarian movement needs to be synonymous with the peace movement.

2. Foreign Policy

See 1.

3. Non-interventionism. 

See 2.

4. Mass Murder. 

See 3.

5. Peace. 

See 4.

Geometry, A Belgian Anarchist, and Two Generations of Radical Youngsters

In the early 1950s Murray Rothbard began attending the economic seminars hosted by Ludwig von Mises at the New York School of Business. Murray’s right-leaning ideological origins were a perfect fit for Mises’ Austrian economics that place the individual as the primary economic unit and sees private property and free exchange as crucial for human flourishing. At these weekly night seminars, Murray met more youngsters infatuated by the Austrian free market view and together they created a small group of young radical libertarians led by Murray called The Circle Bastiat, after their favorite French classical liberal. Regular meetings and all night discussions at Rothbard’s Manhattan apartment were routine.

In addition to their craving for intellectual development, the Bastiat Boys were also jokesters. As recounted by Brian Doherty in Radicals for Capitalism, 

The Circle Bastiat boys [Murray Rothbard, Ralph Raico, George Reisman] were also pranksters who liked to disrupt other people’s realities for their own amusement and occasionally for moments of libertarian Zen wisdom. When talking to young socialists, they enjoyed turning some of the socialists’ predictable rhetoric back on them, for example, soberly explaining that socialism might have been all right in the primitive conditions of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. But in today’s complex, modern machine era, surely they could see that we must have lassiez-faire—it’s just the irresistible motion of history, the inevitable wave of the future, no point in fighting it.

One of their favorite stunts involved filling the audience at a talk by the governor of New Jersey air on a TV program called Youth Wants to Know, and hitting him with their brand of questions from all sides, which included adopting the attitude that theirideological universe was the norm and his was some sort of aberration. “What, governor? You are forpublic schools? Where did you get such strange ideas? Can you recommend any books on this subject?” A favorite technique of theirs was to dominate the social reality in any gathering of right-wingers or leftists. By appearing en masses (but not obviously as pals) and talking their libertarian talk, they thought they could make their opponents see them as a legitimate and real “other side” of some issue and force the majority to grapple with their viewpoint. They’d go to any right-wing meeting they could find and loudly air an anti-draft or anti-Eisenhower viewpoint. Rothbard loved the technique of pushing people who might be on the correct path further toward libertarianism.”

The origin of the circle’s name came from the 19th century French political economist, Frederic Bastiat. It seems that the Circle adopted his name around the time the Foundation for Economic Education, of which the circle’s mentor, Mises was strongly involved in, was translating and printing mass copies of Bastiat’s works. Around the time that Rothbard and his friends had discovered Bastiat, they also delved into some of the French political economist such as Comte and Dunoyer, but most importantly, Gustave de Molinari, Bastiat’s protégé. Molinari is credited with publishing the first defense of market anarchism with The Production of Security in 1849, arguing that competitive forces should replace the state’s monopoly on security and defense. Rothbard was clearly influenced by Molinari (he became exposed to his views around the time he was writing his magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State), and the arguments of other 19th century American individualist anarchists, such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker, and integrated their views on individual liberty and the state into his ideas.

Belgian born political economist, Gustave de Molinari (1819 – 1912) was strongly influenced by the classical liberal tradition and French political economists such as Jean-Baptiste Say, Benjamin Constant, Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Alexis de Tocqueville. Roderick Long details Molinari’s wide-ranging achievements,

“Writing in a clear, engaging, and witty style modeled on Bastiat’s, Molinari penned dozens of works in economics, sociology, and political theory and advocacy, on topics ranging from the economic analysis of history to the future of warfare and the role of religion in society, as well as memoirs of his travels in Russia, North America, and elsewhere; his contemporaries described him as “the law of supply and demand made into man.”  He eventually served as editor of the prestigious Journal des Économistes, chief organ of French liberalism, from 1881 to 1909.  He is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery, in a grave adjoining that of fellow radical liberal Benjamin Constant.”

Long further explains Molinari’s claim to fame as the founder of market anarchism,

“…while these thinkers tended to speak of turning governmental services over to the realm of economic enterprise rather than to that of political compulsion, they offered no real details as to how such functions as security might be provided in the absence of the state.  And here we see the significance of Molinari’s contribution.  Molinari’s account may not have been as sophisticated as those of some of his successors; he may not have addressed all the objections with which those successors have had to grapple; and he may have said disappointingly little about the market provision of legal norms, a topic that looms large in more recent market anarchist thought.  But Molinari was the first thinker to identify and describe the economic mechanisms by which the nonstate provision of security might be effected; and this arguably entitles him – despite his not using the term “anarchist” himself – to be considered the originator of market anarchism.”

Molinari also has, “concerns about unequal bargaining power between labor and capital [that] are often regarded as a concern exclusive to the anti-market left” explains Long, but he seeks to address the problem through the elimination of, “the partial insulation of employers from market discipline,” which is caused by, “laws favoring employers over laborers,” as well as the formation of, “a private network of labor-exchanges whereby employers could bid on the services of workers near and far.  Labor unions and mutual credit societies would ‘provide their collective guarantee to enterprises of transportation and job placement’ and thus secure ‘to the mutualized laborers the funds necessary to pay the cost of transporting them to the most advantageous market,'” in order to alleviate the fact that, “labor is also hampered by its lack of mobility in comparison with capital.”

Long ends his essay by noting that,

“Molinari remains not only an interesting historical thinker, but also a vital lodestar for the liberty movement today.  He understood that the solution to abuse of power is not to elect better people into power, or to persuade current holders of power to play nice, or to rein them in with paper constitutions whose interpretation the powerful themselves will ultimately control, but rather to dissolve that power by extending the range of competitive markets.

All over the world, ordinary people long to be free of the tyranny of bosses and rulers; Molinari’s labor-exchange proposal, however flawed, plausibly identifies lack of competition as the linchpin of employer privilege and abuse, while his market anarchism, however incomplete, likewise plausibly identifies lack of competition as the linchpin of state privilege and abuse.  Both proposals embody the same essential insight:  the way to break the power of plutocrats and statocrat alike is to subject both to the rule of competition – the adamantine chains of laissez-faire.”

Like the Circle Bastiat did in the 1950s, we at the Circle Molinari crave intellectual development, often have all night discussion on Facebook instead of a New York apartment, and have a penchant to joke around. Our favorite classical liberal, however, is Gustave de Molinari as he took the ideas of individual sovereignty and equal liberty to their logical conclusions. That is, classical liberalism’s foundational values don’t imply handing over the power to initiate force to a monopoly, but a total rejection of that monopoly as it must be, even at its smallest level, maintained by arbitrary, violent authority. They imply Anarchism.

Like Molinari, we share a concern for worker empowerment and agree that labor’s bargaining power is artificially reduced due to state policies that protect capitalists from competition. We see corporations not as the result of voluntary, market arrangements, but of statist policies that socialize diseconomies of scale and inhibit competition to politically entrenched elites. Furthermore, corporations tend to promote a culture of obedience and reduce the autonomy of workers through hierarchical, power relationships. We think a freed market would give labor more bargaining power, as Molinari suggested with his labor exchanges, and promote smaller, flatter firms, worker cooperatives, and self employment as more realistic alternatives than under state capitalism.

In addition to corporate culture, we reject racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, nativism, national chauvinism, religious or economic elitism, environmental degradation, militarism, party politics, a disregard for child welfare and animal welfare, and in some cases religion, the use of mind altering substances, and resistance to technological change as we view these cultural values as detrimental and incompatible with the cause of liberty. It is impossible to specify the application of the principles of liberty or to even adopt the principles of liberty without invoking tangential values. Lew Rockwell explains,“…no political philosophy exists in a cultural vacuum, and for most people political identity is only an abstraction from a broader cultural view. The two are separate only at the theoretical level; in practice, they are inextricably linked.” While Rockwell defends a rightist version of libertarianism, we embrace a leftist version.

Th Circle Molinari is a group of left libertarian market anarchist students who met, not at the economic seminars of Ludwig von Mises like our 5 decade old counterparts, but through their joint efforts at school and community organizing, conference planning, mass education, and direct action aimed at communicating the idea that, “the true remedy for most evils is none other than liberty, unlimited and complete liberty, liberty in every field of human endeavor.”