Sunday, August 03, 2008

On Libertarianism...

Obnoxio the Clown, a regular commenter round these parts and a very fine swearblogger, is writing a series of posts outlining his personal take on libertarianism and, if the first is anything to go by, they will be rather well argued.
"There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences."—P.J. O'Rourke

The essence of Libertarianism is that you own your body and all the consequences of your efforts. For example: if you till the soil, then no-one has the right to deprive of the fruits of your labours. It also completely opposes the idea of anybody using force to deprive you thereof.

One of the most fundamental misconceptions is that the philosophy is "do what you will." It's more accurately, "do what you will with yourself" or "do what you will, as long as it harms no-one else." So arguments that Libertarians would be soft on crime are completely wrong: crimes such as mugging, murder, rape, burglary are the very things that I or any Libertarian would be outraged by. "Crimes" such as pensioners not paying council tax or someone being offended by someone else's expression of free speech are somewhat lower down on the list of things that I would worry about.

Do go and read the whole thing...


anthonynorth said...

'do what you will, as long as it harms no-one else.'

'An if it harm none, do as you will.'

The second is the Wiccan Rede, from its 1964 formulation to define much of Neo-Paganism.

Obnoxio The Clown said...


I don't have any time for paganism or any religion, but it's a better creed than "Fuck everything up for everybody else, as long as your motives are good."

Anonymous said...

"Only a completely different type of politics can change the landscape. Politics that defines the individual as the most important political entity, and the state as a necessary evil that needs to be kept in check and needs to do as few things as possible, only do them well."

Great. Well done, Obnoxio.

And I LOVE that quote of P J O'Rourke's. I see it that way too.

John Archer said...

WTF? I signed in and they're calling me 'anonymous'.

Unh? Now they recognise me. Tsk.

Anonymous said...

"There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences."—P.J. O'Rourke

Thus it is perfectly acceptable that I kill you, take over you farm and carry on prior business as if nothing changed.

Someone else can do the same to me.

If a 'group bands together' and does the same, then what happens to the property?

Devil's Kitchen said...

"Thus it is perfectly acceptable that I kill you, take over you farm and carry on prior business as if nothing changed."

Tell me, are you being wilfully obtuse, or are you seriously asking?

Is that, for instance, the kind of society that you would like to live in? Is it the kind of society that anyone that you know would like to live in?

I would imagine not: so, now you have to ask yourself what resonable boundaries we might put on said rights.

And those reasonable boundaries might be that those rights are constrained by what you would like others to be able to do to you.

And when considering those boundaries, you might even come up with the idea that you wouldn't want to be allowed to murder, steal from or offer violence against anyone else with impunity, for they might do the same to you (you "take the consequences").

So, you might, like almost any other society approaching the civilised, you might consider that you will accept some constraints on your right to murder, steal or do violence to others if others will also accept those same constraints.

And so we come to the idea that you can do what you damn well please as long as you do not infringe on the same liberties of others.

Of course, I assume that you had thought all of this through, not being a total moron, and were merely attempting to get a rise out of me -- and in this you have succeeded. Well done.


Anonymous said...


I thank you, seriously.

Upon reading that quote (and taking it as a singular axiom) I was quite shocked at the implications should I follow it forwards without limitation, though I agree with it on a natural law basis.

A rise? Well... yes. I needed it noted. I'm one of those almost-libertarian-but-not-quite types (I need more thought on the direct matter) and some words regarding 'reasonable boundaries' are something I liked to gleam from somebody real; not in past texts.

I find the aforementioned quote to be 'pure libertarianism' as equals natural law and as such flawed given human propensity: I cannot envision it as a founding (civilizational) axiom as such.

It's all philosophical reflection for me, for now.

I apologise for the trollishness!

I'm not a Dirty Fucking European Socialist, you know. :-)

Anonymous said...

Do unto others as you would be done unto.

This doesn't mean, like the fucking socialists, that one size fits all. It means that you would like others to treat you in the best way possible for your needs.

Since very few like being told what to do, the assumption is that this is the case.

If you want to be told what to do, then there is nothing stopping you getting together with like minded people and set up up the "office for those who can't think for themselves". You pay a fee and they tell you what to do. Staffed by Labour MP's who have lost their job


John Archer said...

Anonymous (at 2:46am). If you're looking for an axiomatic basis—and by the way, I think that's the ONLY way to go about it—then start with a simple model and work your way up from that.

For example, say you crash-landed on a remote island with 20 other passengers who all just happened to be a varied mix (by occupation and education etc) of regular, reasonable Englishmen and the island was large enough and came with sufficient resources to sustain you all but where, say, you'd have to work at it. The reason for the crash was technical but ultimately the cause was the nuclear holocaust that destroyed the rest of civilisation on a global scale, except perhaps for some other isolated islands in other parts of the world. And these facts you were all well aware of.

What would be your suggestions for organising yourselves, if at all? I think each person has to do this 'calculation' for himself, but I'd suggest that the resulting deals that would be struck among the 20 would be acceptable to all on the basis only of what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

I think you can start to build up an idea of what is appropriate in terms of governance, if any, from there. With 20 people there is probably no need for any kind of representative government, and each man gets a vote on everything in their 'parliament', assuming they decide to have one. Lots of scenarios. Lots of questions.

Then vary the circumstances. The plane—from Luton, as it happens—crashes with 20 Englishmen and women, and 20 paki muslims, who just so happen to hold British citizenship, as survivors. How does that one work out? Do they all mix together happily as one People 'bonded in their enriching diversity' with sufficient in common to be able to get along, or do they agree to cut the island into two territories and live as neighbours? Or do they do something else? My guess is that they would end up doing that 'something else'.

There's no end to where you can go with these thought experiments. Take morality for one, or rather people's inevitably differing views on it, at some level at least. Are there any circumstances where it trumps consent ('consent of the governed', that is) and who decides that, and whose version? Now I do like that particular question.

As I say, you just have to work these things out for yourself.

For what it's worth to you, no appeal to 'morality' ever trumps consent as far as I am concerned.

pagar said...

Of course The Clown is right in everything he says- a well argued case for libertarianism that most people reading DK's blog will undoutedly agree with.

But where does this kind of manifesto get us? How can we slow the growth of the increasingly authoritarian state apparatus that will continue to increasingly oppress us over the coming years?

I hope he will address this in future posts.

We could, of course, go down the democratic route but does anyone seriously believe that the UKLP is going to save it's deposit in an election anytime soon? Surely part of the problem is that a group of individuals who are libertarian by temperament and nature will not necessarily form an effective, or even a coherent political organisation. Even if we could create an effective political party there will never be a majority of the UK electorate with the will and courage to want to take responsibilty for their own lives. It is a fact that most people prefer security to freedom.

And I believe, in any case, there are some strong arguments for not participating in the traditional political system which, as we all can see, is rotten to the core. Democratic politics is the shield that the party politicians use to give moral authority to their interference in our lives. How many people on this blog have defended Boris's alcohol ban on the grounds that 'it was in his manifesto'?

What about civil disobedience?

It seems to me that this has more interesting possibilities. Perhaps internet communication might help to allow individuals who decide to take a stand over a certain issue to offer each other help and support. For example, I have decided, on a matter of principle not to pay my TV licence and I encourage others to do the same. No doubt in due course this will end up in a court of law where I will be fined or worse. In extremis, I will welcome any support (emotional or financial)from any invividuals who share my views on the matter. Civil disobedience has a role in affecting the political debate.

But ultimately perhaps libertarianism works best as a virtual movement- I had no idea before stumbling on the blogosphere that anyone else shared my views on the erosion individual freedoms and there must be millions of people out there who share these views but feel isolated and unempowered.

So maybe it is better to allow the libertarian movement to continue to develop organically on the net rather than to create any kind of monolithic entity. Individuals and groups could specialise in their particular areas of interest (smoking, drugs, climate change,freedom of speech etc) but link to each other and/or to a central forum. These groups could apply pressure through organising polls and petitions and campaigns on the various issues and highlighting and confronting anti-libertarian views and policy initiatives. (For example, it is hard to believe Kerry McCarthy feels quite the same way about smoking as she did a few months ago).

So, let's have som action plans for the future.

anthonynorth said...

John Archer, if we take your initial sample of 20, one will be a natural leader, whilst a small faction will rally around the one who thinks he is - party politics resumes.
Two or three will work together to clear a golf course, whilst at least ten will work on five-a-side - social segregation will appear. They will all come together to work out how to ferment or brew something, which will eventually lead to further social division in the early hours, and whilst all this is going on the good little environmentalist will be ignoring the other 19 as he gathers and plants so they all can live.

Pagar, the answer is to poularise the importance of Independents - attempt to whittle away at party politics, full stop.

Devil's Kitchen said...


Libertarianism is built on the concept that you own your life, liberty and (justly acquired) property.

Therefore property rights are absolutely central to libertarianism.

There are a number of people who have argued that you cannot, in fact, have a free society without property rights, for if someone can simply remove your property, then you are not free to do with it as you choose.

In fact, a libertarian society actually only requires one, single law: "you may not use force or fraud against any person's life, liberty or property."


FlipC said...

But how would that one law be applied? All the examples given above seem to me to be idealised thought experiments so imagine one from the 'street' -
You're walking home from work and somebody runs past you and snatches your briefcase from your hand. Question 1: Are you or any of other people allowed to stop or restrain the thief?
Question 2: If you don't stop the thief what do you do?

If you're not allowed to stop the thief due to the One Law then everyone can do whatever they choose as per anonymous's point. If you are allowed to stop them then it would suggest that you give up your rights under the One Law if you violate it, now where does burden of proof lie in that instance?

Likewise what do you do? If you have a police force then they must have powers to violate the One Law. If you don't then you're back to forming a gang and going off to find the thief.

Devil's Kitchen said...

"Question 1: Are you or any of other people allowed to stop or restrain the thief?"

Yes. The thief has initiated force against your property and therefore you are allowed to use force against him. Further, you are allowed to recruit people voluntarily to help you defend your property.

See the relevent section in the Philosophy of Liberty.

"Question 2: If you don't stop the thief what do you do?"

What? Well, what do you think that we currently do when someone breaks the law?

Seriously though, what do you mean? Are you assuming no police force, no criminal justice system? Who or what is going to enforce said single law?


FlipC said...

Q1 But the other people are initiating force when they themselves have not been affected. Are you explicitly stating that if someone breaks the One Law they are no longer protected by it?

Question 2 was about the delay, if you know where the thief is can you get a group together to get your property back, or do you have some form of police force that's what I was asking in a round-about way. Your philosophy makes no mention of how it is all to be maintained.

If someone decides to build a bomb then surely it's fair play to them. It's their property and they can do what they like, but what if they decided to take it for an outing to some crowded tourist spot; does the potential for causing loss of life outweigh their self-possession rights?

You say yourself "Well, what do you think that we currently do when someone breaks the law?" what I'm curious is to how your libertarian principles would alter anything about the current situation.

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