In this vlog I discuss two philosophical approaches to libertarianism: consequentialism and moral absolutism. I also make a defense of the consequentialist school, and also do some critiquing of the moral absolutist school.]…
I commend you for your thoughtful take, but as you may expect I have some counters I hope you’ll consider.
I disagree with your initial premise that the non-aggression principle is best as a personal code of ethics, but that it is not “constructive” for “a society that’s trying to get stuff done.” In fact, I would counter that it is the opposite - being essentially the “Silver Rule,” it is best suited for social constructs like government since it only details that which cannot be done to others and makes no requirements on what should be done. In other words, libertarianism and the NAP is incomplete as a code of ethics.
The market - the free exchange of consenting individuals making mutually beneficial decisions - “gets stuff done,” as you note in the video - and non-aggression is foundational to a free market. I understand that, as a minarchist, you believe there are certain aspects of society that are impossible to fulfill without the coercive force of the state (such as defense, of which I posted a reply to your minarchist case here). But just because the “stuff” that gets done in a given society may not be that which you find necessary doesn’t mean force is justified.
I tend to take the deontological approach more often than the consequentialist one, but I don’t think they are necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, I sometimes find it difficult to divorce the two. Arguments for greater liberty tend to also be arguments against the inefficiency and ruination of central planning, bringing the moral deontological foundation of natural rights to a consequentialist conclusion of greater prosperity, happiness, choice, safety, etc.
Ultimately, I am not an amoralist as some libertarians and anarchists can be, I think, when utilizing a more Misesian framework. But even accepting a more “ends justify the means” approach, we cannot abandon liberty to achieve liberty - whether liberty is the moral goal or consequentialist goal. And by disregarding, as it were, natural law and inalienable rights and focusing only on the best outcome, the state (that is, non-voluntary force) remains an option. And while I can make the best of a bad situation by implementing gradual changes within the system (and would certainly take your system of government joyfully over any existing in this country today), the ultimate goal is to collapse the system of state dominion and coercion as it congenitally requires in most cases at least some loss of individual freedom. I suppose this makes me something of a Rothbardian radical.
Though of course I cherish Mises and Hayek, I have to quote Rothbard who best encapsulates my thoughts:
If liberty should be the highest political end, then what is the grounding for that goal? …[F]irst and foremost, liberty is a moral principle, grounded in the nature of man. In particular, it is a principle of justice, of the abolition of aggressive violence in the affairs of men. Hence, to be grounded and pursued adequately, the libertarian goal must be sought in the spirit of an overriding devotion to justice. But to possess such devotion on what may well be a long and rocky road, the libertarian must be possessed of a passion for justice, an emotion derived from and channelled by his rational insight into what natural justice requires Justice, not the weak reed of mere utility, must be the motivating force if liberty is to be attained.
When I considered myself a minarchist, though (not very long ago at all), I preferred and embraced more of a consequentialist approach because the logical conclusion of deontological libertarianism tends to be absolutism. I preferred the warm reasonableness of ostensible pragmatism and acquiesced to “necessary evils.”
Eventually, though, that levee broke: I realized that my self-ownership is absolute. What I viewed as pragmatism was merely a small opening for statists to wedge and erode my absolute rights further. The aforementioned “stuff” that needs getting done in society will be prioritized differently by different people, therefore transforming my self-ownership into something arbitrary and not concrete. Once liberty becomes subjective with exceptions and asterisks, the ethicality of the premise becomes shaky at best. Evil is evil - there is nothing necessary about it.
A code of morality cannot be structured through the exceptions of Hobson’s or Sohpie’s choices, where difficult decisions in tricky circumstances mold the entire framework of principles.
It comes down to one idea. Yes, an absolute one: you own you.
From this, we understand that no one else owns you. Conversely, you own no one else. Further, this ownership extends to ownership over your life, the decisions you make (liberty), and the products of your time and labor (property).
And from this self-ownership, the non-aggression principle emerges. If I aggress against your life, liberty, or property, I violate your ownership of yourself. If my aggression is actually self-defense, then it is justified because in your instigation you gave up that much of your ownership that approximates the violation against me. If, however, I aggress against you to prevent a much greater evil - then this is an exception for society and courts to sort out. The exception cannot be codified preemptively; self-ownership is not conditional to supposed utilitarian goals.
A state or government does not exist outside of this. What is immoral for a man to do cannot be made moral because a group of men calling themselves a government do it - even for truly beneficent reasons. Exceptions would again be assessed and judged as exceptions and not in anticipation.
Finally, there were a few other parts in your video I would not necessarily agree with (about taxes, corporations, financial regulations and the crisis of 2008*).
And although I would tend to agree with your statement “Society isn’t a mathematical proof, society isn’t a bunch of formal symbols and sets and algebraic formulae that you manipulate and combine. Society is fluid. Society is not rigid like mathematics.”… in context, I find it a particularly preposterous non-sequitur. That you perceive Rothbard’s style of argumentation and logical thought process as mathematical and apply that to his laissez faire philosophy simply doesn’t follow. Nothing could be further from Rothbard’s philosophy than to state that it is the belief that society can be “manipulated.” And Austrian economics specifically shuns mathematical models for a sociological (praxeological) approach - its methodenstreit.
In any case, my point in responding was not to quarrel on our differences but instead explain my deontological - or as you disparagingly call it rigid and absolutist - perspective.
When I was a minarchist, I also believed, as you put it, that “there are some things a monopoly government actually does better.” It took years of reading literature by the likes of Walter Block, Bob Murphy, Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe, Gustav de Molinari, et al. to come to grips that free society actually can function (and prosper!) absent the coercions of a non-voluntary state. In fact, the tipping point was a little paper called “Minarchy Considered” by Richard Garner (I know, who?). At first, I ridiculed it, then I was angry at it, but after some time marinating on it and other works - I came around.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I find greater merit in discussing those values and ideas all libertarians share than emphasizing the differences between us. Likewise as a minarchist resents an an-cap’s seeming aspersions of ideological inconsistency, so does an an-cap resent a minarchist’s claims of intransigent naïveté.
Personally, I think we’re better off tag-teaming actual statists.
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- conza said: Society does not exist. It doesn’t “set” anything. Nor does the “absolutist” school start with the NAP. It starts with the concept of self ownership -> nap/homesteading. As per consequentialism -> tinyurl.com/6cfyveq
- anti-stateaaron said: Deontology is the correct word btw.
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