Free Markets, Free People

Libertarian Values: Can They Bridge The Red/Blue Gap?

Michael Shermer has a very interesting post over at the HuffPo, surprisingly. It’s entitled “The Case For Libertarianism”. His thesis is that there actually are agreements in moral principle between conservatives and liberals and those agreements should be exploited to put a system together that would be mostly satisfying to both sides. Read his explanation as to how he arrives at that conclusion – it’s interesting.

But the list below is what he concludes would do the job. Surprisingly, or actually unsurprisingly since I gave you the title of his piece, it’s libertarian at base. Here’s his ideas of the limited governmental functions that would, or should, if they actually believe in their avowed moral principles, satisfy both sides (and libertarians as well):

1. The rule of law.
2. Property rights.
3. Economic stability through a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system.
4. A reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country.
5. Freedom of speech and the press.
6. Freedom of association.
7. Mass education.
8. Protection of civil liberties.
9. A robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states.
10. A potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by other people within the state.
11. A viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws.
12. An effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws.

For the most part, his list is ok, but, being a libertarian, I disagree with one of them outright and disagree with the wording of a couple of others.

The one I outright disagree with is “mass education”. No. Not under the auspices of government. We’ve seen how that works – it doesn’t. Let’s not continue something that is obviously beyond the government’s capability.


10 – A military robust enough for protection of our liberties ….

11 – A police force potent enough ….

As for the banking system – yes, the point is valid and yes, I know that we’re pretty much stuck with what we have right now because it is a global system, but, given the last few months, I’m not at all sure it is the system I want in the future because I’m not at all sure it is either stable or secure. But that’s a topic for another time.

Last, but not least, yes, I understand that many infrastructure projects become reality because the people see their benefit and empower the government to use the power of taxation to fund them. My problem, of course, is how easily that power gets abused. Yes, I’d like a “reliable infrastructure”. But I’d also want strict controls over the government entities in charge of that. Again a topic for another time.

Notice, given the list, that he’s not talking about a large government. In fact, he’s talking about a “night watchman” type. One that would be pretty much limited to preventing the use of force or fraud by bad actors.

As much as I’d love to believe his conclusion that this would satisfy both conservatives and liberals, the last 40 years have a tendency to disabuse me of that notion.


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55 Responses to Libertarian Values: Can They Bridge The Red/Blue Gap?

  • Like you, I have reservations on a few of the ideas.  However, with any of them, the devil is in the details.  I think it is highly likely that when it came time to implement ANY of these ideas I would, as a libertarian, be oceans apart from what the liberal had in mind.
    I’ll stick with the ideas we already have in the U.S. Constitution.  We should try them again.  They worked pretty well the first time we tried them.

  • As Mc Q says, the “Devil is in the details” that list is so broad as to be meaningless, we all like Motherhood too, and oppose Murder…does that mean Rosie O’Donell may adopt or have me pay for her IVF, via US Tax Payer funds? OR is Abortion Murder, or Capital Punishment, or defending home against invasion where the burglar is shot? “Motherhood” may be unobjectionable or Murder most foul…at the list level, but gets, rapidly, a lot more complex and divisive at the level where the “rubber meets the road.”

  • Problems with the List:

    1. The rule of law.
    a. Progressives don’t believe in the Rule of Law. They believe in “Social Justice” and see the Law as the formal rules imposed by the elites upon the “Masses.” The “Law” is a reified concept designed to justify and support the “Structural Violence” inherent within Modern Society. The “Law” merely justifies the power, not the Right, of the Elite to rule the Masses. On a particularly bad day, the Masses imbibe the False Consciousness propagated by Elite and ensnare themselves, willingly, in the chains provided by Elite.

    b. Ok, Conservatives may believe in law, but we’re not too keen on Abortion or what happened to Terry Schiavo.

    2. Property rights.
    a. Come on now, Progressive and Liberals don’t believe in Property Rights…Cap N’ Trade, high tax rates, the GM bankruptcy…’nuff said.

    b. Conservative believe in your property more, much more it’s true, but we have RICO statutes, and drug asset forfeiture laws, and believe in “zero tolerance” laws weapons and drugs.

    3. Economic stability through a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system.
    a. Really? Cash for Clunkers? TARP? Stimulus Bill I (& II)?

    4. A reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country.
    a. High gas taxes to support inefficient and non-economical AMTRAK, light rail bike paths, and other Mass Transit Programs?

    5. Freedom of speech and the press.
    a. Progressives: As long as you are speaking the RIGHT words…”Health care is a Right”, “Free Mumia”…don’t start talking about Immigration Enforcement or Control…and G*d forbid that you might not like African-Americans, Asians, or other People of Colour or Gays, then you are using “Hate Speech” and must be silenced.
    b. Conservative: sure UNLESS you are talking about distributed representations of consenting adults performing sex acts or are attempting to distribute sexual aids.

    6. Freedom of association.
    Try being a Nazi or a Klansmen, get back to me on this.

    7. Mass education.
    a. You MUST be kidding! Libertarians aren’t in favour of this, save in the sense that it’s nice if we all can read, but it’s not a requirement to be imposed on anyone.
    b. Liberals/Progressives: Yeah, IF, by “Mass Education” you mean a Unionized Public Education System, supported by taxation upon ALL members of society, and administered by reasonably insulated education bureaucrats. Don’t get me started on “Home Schoolers!”

    8. Protection of civil liberties.
    a. Progressives TELL themselves that they care…but generally “Progressive” Civil Liberties involve you screaming “Chimpy McShrub is a Nazi”, “Impeach Boooosh” and the right of homosexually oriented sado-masochists and other fetishists to hold an open air festival in a public square…or for Homosexuals to participate in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.
    b. Conservatives: Generally speaking the OPPOSITE of the above list, Hooray for The National Right to Life Committee Float….Boo-Hiss at the GLAAD Float.

    9. A robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states.
    a. As long as it has Gays and Lesbians openly and actively serving, has womyn in all units. Has Minority officer and NCO elements, in proportion to their share of the populace as a whole, and undertakes ACTIVE steps to ensure this proper gender and ethnic balance. And as long as the states that “threaten” us are ruled by folks who are NOT Progressives or Progressive allies, e.g., Venezuela or Iran. Examples of “threatening” states might be Columbia, Honduras, and Israel.
    b. Conservatives: All over the board. Some are all in favour of stopping’em at the 12 Mile Limit. Others wish to “transform the Middle East.”
    c. Libertarians: The standing military is a THEAT to our liberties. A well-armed militia and privateers will suffice. Stop’em at the 12 Mile Limit and can’t we employ some mercenaries to do the dirty work…or MY Anarcho-Capitalist Collective opted to purchase a small thermo-nuclear device, that’s OUR defense!

    10. A potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by other people within the state.
    a. Liberals: Sure we NEED to crack down on the vicious Right Wing Death Beasts who threaten our safety and right to Health Care.
    b. Conservatives: Sure we need to crack down on those Filthy, Smelly Hippie, Commie Lib-Symps and their drug-using allies

    11. A viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws.
    a. Progressives: And a viable legislature has womyn, and People of Colour in a proportion to their share of the populace and if it does NOT, then the Legislature is suspect, at best, and illegitimate at worst. Qualified voting based on gender and ethnicity needs to be included. An effective and fair legislature allows for National Health Care and Hate Crimes and Speech Laws, and dis-allows, as illegitimate, the despairing efforts of the Oppressive Hetero-Normal Society the ability to frustrate the ends of the “Oppressed.”
    b. Conservatives: When we are the minority, the Filibuster is good, when we’re the Majority, not so much

    12. An effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws.
    a. Liberals: Sotomajor ruled correctly in the Ricci case.
    b. Conservative: N’un-uh…did not.

    Bottom-Line: we agree on very little…where it REALLY matters.

  • I notice one glaring omission from that list — the individual right to keep and bear arms.
    Disarm the entire populace by omitting to recognize this fundamental right, and then trust the government to respect “the rule of law”, “property rights”, “civil liberties” et al. What could go wrong?

  • I wonder if someone could compose a precise and reality-referenced definition of the term, “rule of law”.

  • Joe’s list is excellent and underscores the real rift that exists between conservataives and liberals on many key issues. I suggest that, to a large extent, these can be set aside or mitigated by following jjmurphy’s lead and getting back to the Constitution and the federal system it describes: let the people of the various states decide exactly what they want in the way of “universal education” or a “robust police force”. If the federal government contented itself with the enumerated powers and stopped (though the much-abused commerce clause and XVI Amendment) trying to force one-size-fits-all solutions on the country, there would be a lot less tension, and like-minded people in the states would be much more free to try their pet theories without bothering the people elsewhere who have no interest in them (or think they’re outright goofy; e.g. California).

    Billy Beck – “I wonder if someone could compose a precise and reality-referenced definition of the term, ‘rule of law’.”

    I think you’re out of luck. West’s Encycolpedia of American Law has this to say:

    “The rule of law is an ambiguous term that can mean different things in different contexts. In one context the term means rule according to law. No individual can be ordered by the government to pay civil damages or suffer criminal punishment except in strict accordance with well-established and clearly defined laws and procedures. In a second context the term means rule under law. No branch of government is above the law, and no public official may act arbitrarily or unilaterally outside the law. In a third context the term means rule according to a higher law. No written law may be enforced by the government unless it conforms with certain unwritten, universal principles of fairness, morality, and justice that transcend human legal systems.”

    Going back to Joe’s post, people have different ideas about what the PURPOSE of the law is. That’s a “first principle” that would be interesting to determine. I seriously doubt that there can be any sort of consensus on this.

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  • <i>”I think you’re out of luck.”</i>

    Okay.  Let me put my position a different way and make things a bit more clear:

    What on earth are we talking about, then?  And if we don’t know, then isn’t it rather quite daft to be talking about it?  Do you people commonly go about treating with this much respect something that you do not and cannot understand?

  • I’m with Billy on this. If it starts at the HuffPo, it starts from a “Government (with a Cap G) is good” perspective. Rule of law is a Lewis Carrol concept of “exactly what I want it to mean.”

    The rest of the list stumbles immediately into government regulation–

    Banking is essentially a free market solution–government keep out
    Education is not the role of a national government and at best shouldn’t be handled above the local community level.
    Freedom to move about the country shouldn’t be dependent upon government infrastructure–the market and local community again.
    Police, it goes without saying, are always going to be a potentially dangerous commodity–Gestapo, Stazi, etc. etc.
    Legislation and judicial systems to establish what is morally and ethically proper? That is most essentially anti-libertarian at the core.

    Nah, there isn’t much on the list I can buy into without very heavy caveats and that brings us back to liberal/conservative perspectives and severe disagreement.

  • The essential political dispute in this country is between individualism and collectivism.  No one who cannot keep this in mind and proceed from it with integral logic has anything to say in the debate, and this essential problem cannot be banished or even disguised with attempts like this.

    Stop whistling past the graveyard and fact facts.  There is no other way.

  • “face facts”.

    (I hate this editor, for lots of reasons.  I would far rather have the old QandO back.)

  • Yes, is there some reason that the comments system here — the HTML in particular — is so screwy? I mean, what are those weird question-mark symbols crammed into the middle of Beck’s comments, for instance? Why is the paragraph break not honored in jjmurphy’s comment?
    I don’t get it.

  • The paragraph break wasn’t honored in my comment above, either, for that matter.
    I’m starting a new paragraph here — this is the first sentence.
    And another here. Will the breaks show up?

  • There was once a Saturday Night Live cartoon skit that had the constitution itself (qua parchment) running around smiting those who had presumably offended it. The only extant referent for the term “Rule of Law” is a cartoon. I guess that completes the trifecta with our Elmer Fudd congress and Foghorn Leghorn president.

  • #1 should properly be called what it is, “The rule over others.” That is, someone makes the rules and people are arbitrarily forced to comply.
    If you make #2, #1, then all of the rest instantly fall by the wayside.

  • The theoretical questions are profound, but in real immediate concrete terms it’s not “rule of law” that we are facing, but rule by lawmakers who are anything but disinterested parties deliberating a set of sensible standards. I like the dichotomy that someone recently came up with, that the country is now divided between those who work for a living and those who vote for a living.

    Coulter got the political parties about right when she said that “there are a lot of bad Republicans; there are no good Democrats.”

    I guess the best way that can be demonstrated is that you see Orrin Hatch or Charles Grassley coming and you just want to fall to your knees in exhaustion and desperation and then Chuck Schumer shows up and the situation moves on to puking your guts up. I’m a lifelong New Yorker, born upstate, living there now, and with a long tour of duty in Manhattan, and I can barely stand the thought of Schumer being in the Senate from this state. It starts bad, it gets worse. And these people are incapable of embarrassment.

  • What Michael Shermer was trying to say is that the broader values of liberals and conservatives overlap in a fairly libertarian place.  They disagree all the time about the particulars of statism, but the areas they agree on would be the outlines of a pretty stripped-down, libertarian-ish state.

    Let’s take these one by one:

    1. The rule of law. There is broad ideological consensus between liberals and conservatives for rule under law and rule by law.  Neither side will admit to being broadly against the ideas that no one should be above the law (including the President, Congress, military and police) or that people should be judged according to duly passed laws under our government.  They each make particular exceptions, but the places they can agree do fall under what is popularly known as “rule of law.”
    2. Property rights. Again, both Lefties and conservatives make exceptions, but things like Kelo v. New London piss off a wide spectrum of the populace.  Americans hate having their stuff seized without due process, and most of them apparently don’t like some of the due process either.  The broad swaths of agreement here are basically libertarian.
    3. Economic stability through a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system. Lefties and conservatives both appear to want this.  They have different ideas about how to accomplish it, but they broadly agree on it.  Very broadly, Americans prefer inflation to be steady and low but positive, they want their money in banks to be insured, and they don’t like financial fraud or scheming to screw over large numbers of people for the benefit of a few insiders.
    4. A reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country. Again, some disagreement about the particulars, but they do agree on basic public infrastructure like highways and water and power, and they agree on the negative right of free movement.
    5. Freedom of speech and the press. Once again, some disagreement on the particulars, but their very broad agreement is essentially libertarian.  Some Lefties want positive government action to promote speech and the press, and some people on both of those sides make exceptions for particular kinds of “expression” they consider harmful, but the middle ground is libertarian: protection of the negative rights of speech and publishing.
    6. Freedom of association. Same line of argument as I’ve been using above.
    7. Mass education. There’s some argument that this isn’t a particularly libertarian policy, but Lefties and conservatives do agree on it, and so did many of the Founding Fathers (I imagine this would be one of the few things on which Jefferson and Hamilton could agree).  Conservatives and Lefties will disagree about the particular ways to accomplish it (conservatives being more likely to support church-founded schools and school choice), but press them and they won’t disagree that mass education is necessary and probably good.  They will agree on laws requiring people to educate their children up to a certain age and will agree that there are certain functions every person raised in America should be able to perform upon adulthood, like reading/writing/speaking English, performing enough arithmetic to handle basic transactions and understanding the basics of government.
    8. Protection of civil liberties. The middle ground here is libertarian.  Very broad agreement on voting rights and due process.
    9. A robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states. Again, very broad agreement on this.  Each side will criticize the other side about the particulars (each side has its crusaders and its peaceniks), but they both agree with this principle.  And in fact, the number of people at each extreme of military adventurousness is pretty small compared to the broad middle.
    10. A potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by other people within the state. Once more: their beliefs about the role of police overlap in a relatively libertarian place: strong protection of negative rights.
    11. A viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws. Their mileage may vary on what is fair and just, but there’s plenty of agreement on the basics of our legislative system.
    12. An effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws. Same as above.

    One conclusion you can draw from this is that if Lefties and conservatives were better able to restrain each other (especially each other’s special interests), then their areas of agreement would make for a relatively libertarian country.  It would at least be recognizable when compared to the country laid out in the US Constitution.

  • “There is broad ideological consensus between liberals and conservatives for rule under law and rule by law.”

    Why can’t anyone state what that is, Bryan?

    I demand: what, exactly, are we talking about?

  • As I said in the next sentence–and following up on the definitions docjim supplied–we’re talking about everyone being subject to duly-passed laws.  That means even the highest legislators, executives and enforcers are subject to the law, and the law must be passed by a set (generally: constitutional) method.

    You would know you’re not living under the rule of law if high officials could pass judgment on a whim without having to refer to any previously passed law, or if some people were privileged to not be subject to laws.  Examples of these behaviors generally piss off both Lefties and Righties, and while partisans may try to justify it when their guy does it, the broad swath of agreement is that these things are Bad.

    Example: both sides hate it when they believe that judges on the other side make judgments based on their personal values and whims.  Both sides have to pay lip service to the law when making such judgments or seeking appointment.

    Second example: both sides hate it when someone on the other side claims some privilege to act above the law.  Some on both sides are willing to call their own side out on it, but very few are willing to allow the privilege for the other side out of principle.

    [Edit: Third example: both sides attack the other side for passing laws they consider unconstitutional. The Left had several episodes of constitution-defending outrage during the Bush administration over wiretapping and the Patriot Act and questions about war powers. On the Right there are wide-ranging accusations that not only many laws but entire bureaucracies are not provided for in the Constitution.]

    If they were better able to restrain each other, they wouldn’t come to an agreement that some people should be able to act above the law or that some laws should be made on a whim.  They would agree on the more libertarian position that all should be subject to duly-passed laws.

  • “As I said in the next sentence–and following up on the definitions docjim supplied–we’re talking about everyone being subject to duly-passed laws.”

    Black slavery in America.  There is your example.  Tell me why that’s not what you describe.

  • Ps. — you should be careful, Byran.  I see this whole argument several moves in advance of the logic.

  • Back when black slavery was law, that was what I’m describing.  That absolutely was the rule of law.  Today there’s no law that comes anywhere near upsetting the consensus in favor of rule of law as slavery did back then, and both Lefties and Righties are pretty solidly determined to resolve even their most contentious issues through the political process rather than through extralegal force.

    And I’m not worried about being embarrassed or anything. If you’re leading me somewhere and it turns out I was wrong, I’ll gladly learn the lesson.

  • Follow the money–always . . .
    On the western frontier, “law” was protecting family, yourself, and your property with the round end of the barrel of your rifle.  Worked extremely well.
    Grow your grain, shine some of it to make it pay, feed the fam, and defend the homestead.
    But Hamilton, the first Geithner or Bernanke or Greespan, needed money for the debt.  He persuaded George the Washoutington  (Geo IV–lol) to use a standing army to go get the taxes he figured those “criminals” should pay.
    Geo Washout did..  It’s all been constitutionally downhill since.  The more or the bigger the guns . . .
    That’s the rule of law.  The rest is all commentary–even if “constitutional.”
    Still applies today.

  • Bryan,

    How many individual lives are you willing to sacrifice to the rule of law? Mrs. Kelo, that’s one. I guess Peter McWilliams would be another. Hmm, this could go on a while. Lets just try to agree on a number. Is a million to rich for your blood? OK half a million, then. Would that do it?

  • Kyle, why are you making this personal?  I described what Lefties and conservatives could broadly agree upon if they could better restrain each other, and one aspect of that would be the basic rule of law.  And there were a lot of Lefties who hated Kelo too, remember.

  • It seems to me that living under the “rule of law,” as Bryan defines it, is like being placed in a guillotine face-up.

  • Geezopete–
    Obama’s Health Care might pass before my original comment gets “moderated.”

  • Sorry, jb, but we don’t sit there staring at the WordPress dashboard waiting for unapproved comments to come up.

    On the western frontier, we also had internecine warfare between the natives and the settlers, with the occasional help from various armies.


    RWW – It seems to me that it’s better for people to agree that the lawmakers and enforcers should be subject to laws than for them to agree that some people should be totally unaccountable.  It seems to me that it’s better that people be judged by existing laws than for them to be judged on a whim, or by post ex facto law.

    We libertarians may insist that some things should never be infringed upon (like property rights, or the freedoms of speech and the press), no matter how open and accountable the process, but that’s a separate matter.

  • “Kyle, why are you making this personal?”

    Because it *is* personal. There are real lives behind your consensus and bi-partisan agreements. And they’re not yours or anyone else’s to use as markers in some game.

  • Bryan–that was cute.  Been through this before.  Your argument sucks.
    You are “why.”
    Moderate that.  Sign up for the next SEIU union bus to a town hall meeting.  Maybe Sheila Jackson Lee can take you on tour with her.

  • Kyle – It isn’t “my” consensus. I just made an observation and suggested that if the Left and Right could better restrain each other on their particular preferences, they’d have a relatively libertarian set of agreements: an accountable government with limited powers but the strength to exercise those powers effectively.
    jb – With a response as tautly argued as yours, I clearly have no option but to change my mind on the subject. Your work here is done.

    And in case you didn’t notice, we only moderate your first comment and then you’re free to keep posting.

  • “Back when black slavery was law, that was what I’m describing.  That absolutely was the rule of law.”
    You *do* see that law cannot be substituted for morality, don’t you?

  • I think we’re both somehow on the same side, Dude.
    I am not here to argue.  Maybe I can refine the argument about law a bit, maybe not.  If Beck toasts my ass, then maybe I will have to back up and examine my thinking.  But–everything since Washington and Madison has been big gummint.
    And that’s our problem now.  Bamm-Bamm is going way beyond anything we know.  And I, for one, will have nothing to do with his horse-shitted-ness.
    His concept of “law” is contained completely within his temproal lobes, and I reject it out of hand.
    He is a Chicago hack.  Period.

  • Bryan, I take note of your courage. Keep it up, and we’ll have peace in our time.

  • His thesis is that there actually are agreements in moral principle between conservatives and liberals and those agreements should be exploited to put a system together that would be mostly satisfying to both sides.
    There are agreements in moral principle between conservatives and liberals.  These agreements boil down to the idea that individual rights are not absolute, but the “public good”, is.  It should be clear from that why a system that is mostly satisfying to both sides would be tyrannical, not libertarian, in nature.  The compromise “solution” between them is the same as it was for their Weimar analogues: “Along came Hitler who said: you’re both right, let’s have total control.”
    If he were right, the everyday interplay between the Left foot and the Right foot would be leading us towards liberty, if perhaps by a maddenly meandering path.  But the opposite is true: we are heading for tyranny.  The everyday debate is not about liberty at all, but over which part of life should government take over today, and to what extent?

    Shermer’s thesis is dead in the water right there.
    I wonder if someone could compose a precise and reality-referenced definition of the term, “rule of law”.
    It’s the alternative to “rule of men”.
    It only exists in the context of a society that has been subordinated to the moral law of individual rights, and in that context specifically pertains to the idea that individuals are not free to pick and choose which laws he will or will not obey at any given time; in what sense are they “laws” then?
    As for bad laws, e.g. slavery, the society or government in question is being “insubordinate” to the extent of that law.  The concept of the rule of law is part of the answer to the question of how sovereign individuals deal with an insubordinate society; it means that one bad law does not invalidate an entire legal code.  A properly constituted society contains in its laws means of correcting bad law, of returning society to its proper, morally subordinate state.
    After all, the only option in the absence of such corrective channels, is revolution — overthrow and (temporary) anarchy.  Those, being horrendously expensive in life and wealth, are to be avoided at all costs.  The rule of law stems from knowing this.
    How many bad laws does it take?  Well that’s the tough one right there.  I’ve seen different proposed “tests” for when the sovereign individual should consider a government as a whole as being his active enemy.  But I would agree that in such a situation, “rule of law” doesn’t mean much anymore.

  • Note: I agree with others about this editor.  WSYIWYG, it isn’t.

  • Why does anyone want to negotiate with people who will ultimately settle for nothing less than complete control over your life? There is no “common ground” possible, only an illusion where tyranny gains another foothold against liberty.

  • Bryan: “And I’m not worried about being embarrassed or anything. If you’re leading me somewhere and it turns out I was wrong, I’ll gladly learn the lesson.”

    I’m damned not sure I can.  I should be at least as careful.

    It occurs to me that must happen now is to demonstrate the manifest immorality of “the rule of law” in order to reject it as a political value.  See here: doesn’t the case of slavery do just that?

  • Brown - I’d really like to take a lot of things off the negotiating table.  But there is common ground between people who are suspicious of how the other side wants to control them, and keep in mind that in the popular perception of things, there’s a wide spectrum of different kinds of control.  Only libertarians look at all coercion roughly the same, and we’re not a majority.

    The Left is suspicious of the social conservatives for their idea of social control, suspicious of the pro-business Right for their brand of corporate welfare and opposition to unions, and suspicious of the “neo-cons” for their expensive adventurism and military-industrial complex.

    The Right, in turn, has groups suspicious of the Left for their broad range of statism — their welfare (corporate and otherwise) and other entitlements, their gun-grabbing, their attempts to ban religion from the public square, their own kinds of social control (lately through environmentalism and health), their high and progressive taxation, their own version of Wilsonian crusading, etc.

    There are two basic ways for the relationship between two coalitions to handle their differences under one political system: they can restrain each other from getting the particulars they want (which in America would result in a fairly libertarian state), or they can both get some of what they want by taking advantage of temporary swings in power and/or by trading horses (which long-term means more control).  We have a political system that encourages the latter, and is structured to resist changes in its trajectory.

    But I don’t think our government has to be this way; I think that it’s possible to reform the structure of government to create checks and balances, but that this job requires some brilliant statesmanship to put in place and constant vigilance to maintain.


    Billy Beck - I should preface my comments by stating that I don’t believe in “necessary evils.”  If something is necessary to avoid less desirable things, I don’t see how it’s evil.

    Tragically, I don’t think that human beings by our nature can coexist in any significant number without somebody trying aggression to get what they want.  Moreover, I think that even people who share the same metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics will disagree about the truth of events in their interaction, and people may aggress without meaning to (e.g., because they incorrectly believe they have been wronged, or that their neighbor imminently plans to wrong them, or because they don’t realize they’re harming someone).  In short, I believe that while human beings must reason to survive, coercion is a feature of human nature.

    However, I believe it can be minimized.  I don’t know how to ultimately check aggression without law playing some part, though I know that law always codifies at least a bit of aggression.

    I don’t believe that the case of slavery, though it certainly qualifies as an example of injustice under the rule of law, illustrates the immorality of all law.  Law can codify lots of aggression, as in the case of slavery, or it can help check aggression, as in the case of a legal system that is well-built to minimize the costs of coercion, both from crime and from the law itself.  I tend to judge law (or the absence of law) by how well it minimizes aggression.

    If there must be law, then it strikes me as reasonable that no one should be above it, and law should be knowable and predictable.

  • Compromise means nobody gets what they want – see also Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem.  People starting from different premises aren’t even arguing in the same information space – what the frak is
    “compromise” supposed to really mean?

    The fundamental problem I have with the “The Rule of Law” is that it, as a matter of observable fact, presents a mechanism by which smart, evil, people can game the system to their own advantage and use the overwhelming force of the collective against the interests of me in particular and most other people in general.  What makes “The Rule of Law” unbearable in the modern age is its increasing universality – there is nowhere you can escape from it for reasons of good or ill. There is no sanctuary for transgressors.

    “The Rule of Law” allows slavery and the existence of nuclear weapons (and quite possibly weapons of insane destruction more awful than that which we don’t even know about).  That’s enough to condemn “The Rule of Law” for me.

    The collective can always gang up on the individual and impose its will.  What even is the point in codifying it as “The Rule of Law?” (Which is never and never will be knowable and predictable, even with stare decisis, as proven by observation of “The Rule of Law” in actuality. Who would have predicted the abolition of the property rights that made slavery possible in the thousands of years of human history that slavery was a mainstream part of human societies?)
    Indeed the simple answer to the question asked here is, obviously, “no” because “The Rule of Law” requires the use of the initiation of force against people who really are minding their own business and nobody else’s.
    All it has ever been and ever will be… a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

  • Bryan: all I would have to offer at that point would be the emphatic suggestion that the non-concept of the “rule of law” be overthrown in favor of the doctrine of “necessary law”, and that it be made clear that morality is no necessary feature of such a political scheme.

    At the very least, all the fearsome caveats should be made clear.  If morality doesn’t count, then everyone should know what they’re getting into.

  • Bryan –

    To restructure something, in this case government, you have to define the problem(s) so that the restructuring serves a beneficial purpose. I don’t think you’ve defined the problem, The fallacy of a Right and Left in this country is an untrue dichotomy which perpetrates the steady march of increasing government control and the suppression of liberty. You’ve missed the forest because of the trees!

    We have gone from a government that was supposed to promote individual liberty to one bent on slavery and confiscation of property. It is a single entity made up of a myriad of bureaucrats, fronted by used car salesmen who are elected from gerrymandered districts. This Government is simply a beast that moves steadily in one direction gobbling up everything in front of it and uses the “rule of law” to steal, beat down and grind under everything that gets in its way. The right and left hands of this beast are both pushing the same plow and the common ground between them will do nothing to change the direction of that plow.

    That, I believe, is the proper definition of the problem and we need to stop being vigilant in our efforts to maintain it. Fundemental change is needed.

  • Libtertarianism in my view, is in direct opposision to what we today call ‘leftism’, the former being individualism, the latter being collecivism. So,the answer is no, it cannot bridge the gap, having helped create that gap. It strikes me that the ‘rule of law’ is a tool used rather neatly by the collectivist toward his own ends, in the way Brown suggests.

  • Before public education there was vast illiteracy. Public education made the western world the best educated on the planet. Those who have caught up — Japan, and others who top the list — all use public education. It is supremely ignorant to think we could ditch that shows you are really putting theory ahead of practical reality (indeed, those who score highest are far more centralized than we are in their public education). Luckily, we’re never going to be the only industrialized world that would gamble on leaving it up to parents and the markets. There are too many horrible parents out there, and the market services those with money.

    On the broader question of common principles. I think John Dewey was right when he noted that philosophy emerged in Greece with the aristocratic idle class, causing a false dualism — theory vs. practice. This lead to a litany of false dualisms, such as mind vs. matter, that has created conflict and misunderstanding. Moreover, it leads to a philosophy that seeks to create an imagined perfect system — even though every philosophical system is full of simplifications and errors since the world is so complex. Thus we get Isms battling each other when really, we could be conversing about how best to deal with problems we all know and agree exist. Conversations like that would cease being religious like feuds between ‘market or government,’ but might make progress. “OK, I see how public education is failing here, and some private involvement might help, let’s figure out what WORKS, not what’s right in some abstract but ultimately foundationless philosophy.

  • Ahh, the Banal One has again darkened a doorway. My day is diminished for having read his words, as it always is.

  • “…we could be conversing about how best to deal with problems we all…”

    I really don’t have any problems except you, Erb.  And there is no “conversation” with you.

  • LOL!  Billy, the fact you feel compelled to insult shows that  you’re bothered.  That’s because deep down you know I’ve got a point, and that questions everything you’ve done in your life until now.  That’s why you consider me a problem.

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