Over at the Devil's Kitchen, where nuance fears to tread...
Why thank you. It does strike me that an awful lot of people seem to take this blogging lark very seriously; there have been an awful lot of people critiqueing the style in which this internet character likes to write.
... we are presented with nothing less than the philosophy of liberty [hat-tip] - in a Flash animation at that.
The whole thing starts with one of the most astonishing assumptions ever taken as an axiom:"You own your life"
The great thing about axioms of course, is that technically you don't have to do anything as boring as support them with evidence.
Most philosophies start from an essentially unprovable axiom. And, yes, the philosophy of liberty starts with this axiom because without this there is no philosophy of liberty. Liberty simply doesn't matter.
However, anyone who might question this bizarre assertion is immediately warned of the perils with which they flirt:"To deny this is to imply that someone else has a higher claim on your life than you do."
Dash it all, I was all set to argue the point, but now I realise I might as well just fetter myself and be done. What nonsense. To deny this axiom is simply to reject the absurd conflation of ownership with existence. I live my life. I am my life. But to claim that I "own" my life, presumably in similar fashion to the way I own this PC (which I bought), or my copy of Luther Bisset's "Q" (which was a gift) is meaningless.
I certainly didn't take it as meaning that you own your life like you own a possession, but that you own the right, when faced with a set of choices in your life, freely to make your own decisions. This is a premise that you must accept is you are to belief in any kind of personal liberty. If you don't accept this concept, that's fine; by all means say so.
But without this concept, there are no human rights at all and we can just return to the law of the jungle in which the strongest can dominate the weakest. Is this what you would advocate? Are you denying that you should be able to make your own informed decisions about how you want to live your life?
But it's the second assertion which really highlights a lack of serious thought: there are whole classes of people capabable of exchanging property voluntarily who must not be allowed to do so. Let's just pick one: minors. The kiddies, bless their little hearts.
Really? I had always taken it as read that the reason that we do not allow minors to live their own lives is because they are incapable of being able to make rational, voluntary decisions (which is why we have the concept of "an age of consent"). I had always just assumed that the animation applied to adults in their right minds who are capable of rational thought.
Evidently, I was just a crazy fool in assuming that people might understand that a rational understanding of the consequences of an action was a prequisite for making a voluntary consensual choice.
Of course, you could argue this another way, and say that—if this philosophy does include children (or any others that are deemed irrational, e.g. the insane)—that they have made a contract, through rational choice, to subsume some of their practical freedom for a limited time in exchange for protection and succour. As you like really.
You see? You thought you lived in a democratic society, which had collectively decided to a) submit to the will of the electorate...
"Collectively decided"? Ah, you mean that other people made a decision for me and never actually bothered to ask me what I think about it? That's the joy of collectivism, isn't it?
Libertarianism does, of course, allow for voluntary collectivisation, but the emphasis is on the word "voluntary", of course.
... and b) empower the government to collect taxes to provide a safety net for poor people, but no! You have empowered fine-hatted governmental officials to deprive others of their justly earned property; you have tolerated the initiation of force for your own ends.
Yes, quite. Your own end is that you think that the government should provide a safety net for the poor; this may be because you have a social conscience or because you are one of the poor but you are, ultimately, still doing it—voting for it, if you like—for your own ends. Otherwise, you wouldn't do it.
But since when did living in a society equate to empowering a state to provide a safety net for the poor (although that is not to say that I would not opt to do so)? Has the state provided a safety net for poor people for the entirety of human history? No. In fact, it is a relatively new phenomenon.
Essentially, in Andrew's world, we have all "collectively decided" (without actually being asked) to live in a democracy (the particular implementation of which, as of the last election, forces 78.4% of the electorate to "submit to the will" of the other 21.6%) and to "collect taxes to provide a safety net for poor people".
Still, at least Andrew is consistent, for this state of affairs is entirely at ease with Andrew's (assumed, on my part, I'll admit) belief that we should not have a right to make our own decisions about the choices in our lives.
What is perhaps worse: you have deprived the poor of their glorious failure, from which they could learn and grow. (The poverty of others is always a noble and inspiring thing, isn't it?)
For someone who entitled his article "the sophistry of liberty", this is taking something of... well... a liberty; the full sentence reads as follows:
Success and failure are both the necessary incentives to learn and grow.
Success and failure, you see? Not simply failure. Need we point to the various self-made millionaires, or those who have come from poor backgrounds to become successes (in whatever way they might measure that term).
Many of them—indeed, many of the born-rich—have even set up charities so that they might voluntarily help those who are poor or disadvantaged (demonstrating that the state is not the only agent that can deliver a safety net).
Is failure "glorious"? No; it's usually painful and humiliating. But it does teach. My last company was a failure, but I understand why it failed and, having learned from that, I now have now put much better options in place and am doing far better. Failure does teach, sometimes rather more so than success.
But, fundamentally, all that this exchange demonstrates is that, if you come from a different mindset, you can never agree. Andrew is, I assume, a collectivist: at the very least he will be more in favour of positive liberty than negative liberty. I favour the latter, so I can appreciate the philosophy of liberty as laid out in the animation; Andrew does not and thus denies the first axiom without which the philosophy is void. Fair enough.
But I would still challenge the idea that even if you believe in a safety net (in whatever form), that the state is the best organ for delivery. And for me, even if you do believe that the state is the best form to do so, if the state is taking more money from you than you would be willing to give voluntarily, it is still theft (or, rather, extortion with menaces).
And it follows that, if you think that the state is the best organ for delivery, it is because you do not believe that others would give as much as you; thus you are sanctioning the forced removal of property from others (even if not from yourself) and that you are, indeed, condoning the "initiation of force for your own ends".
You may think that those ends are noble, but fundamentally they are your ends and not the ends of others. For if others truly shared your motivation, you would not need to use the threat, or actuation, of force in order to make them comply. In effect, you wouldn't need the power of the state at all: it would merely be a mechanism for delivery.
And if the state is only a mechanism for delivery, is it really the most efficient mechanism that you can think of? With every pound going into the Treasury being worth roughly 30p by the time it comes out, not to mention the other problems (overpayments, underpayments, delaying payments, fraud, etc., that often most harm those that you are trying to help), then surely there must be more efficient means of delivering your largesse to the poor? I would suggest that there are.
In which case, if there are more efficient means of delivery that the state, then what is the point of the state (leaving aside issues of criminal law, etc. for the moment)? By this logic, there is no point to it, of course, apart from to curb people's freedom by forcing them to pay money in taxes in order to provide the safety net for the poor, etc.
So, either you believe that the state is needed because people would not voluntarily give (enough) money to the poor, in which case you must accept the premise of the animation that taxes are theft; or you should accept that you do not need the state (because everyone will give voluntarily) and thus accept the premise that people own their own lives and that they have the freedom to make whatever choices they deem best.
Unless, of course, you feel that some human beings are naturally higher than others and should be able to coerce them without the assistance and special powers of the state? In which case, I would love to hear the premises for that idea.