Monday, November 30, 2009

God and Secular Government

Introducing scripture into any argument centered on using the coercive hand of secular government is dangerous. What is characterized as scripture is not the same for everyone in a multi-cultural society such as America. Whether or not what one set of scriptures says is okay for secular government to do is just in the eyes of the true God, promoting those actions diminishes your objections of the promotion of like actions by those who believe in the divinity of a different set of scriptures. Let's think about it.

Assuming its accuracy, this 2-part article written by Gabriel Fink uses the Book of Mormon to show that God has authorized a limited form of secular government, as well as some coercive taxation. Now, I accept the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, and assuming these scriptures have been interpreted correctly, I accept as well that God has authorized limited government and coercive taxation. But this does not move me to promote limited government and some coercive taxation. Why?

Just because God has authorized limited government and some coercive taxation, that does not mean that we must have limited government and some coercive taxation. All it means is that those who seek to have limited government and some coercive taxation are held accountable to God to not overstep the limits that he has authorized. Think of the Sabbath. We have been commanded to observe it and keep it holy. We have been authorized by God to hold at least one day as the Sabbath. This is the minimum. Could we reserve more than one day for Sabbath observance, so long as it did not interfere with everything else we are commanded to do for ourselves and family? I think the answer is obvious. The standard is one day and we are accountable to God to observe at least one day. Likewise with government.

According to Fink's interpretation of the Book of Mormon, we have been authorized to setup limited government and some coercive taxation (I have no concerns about his interpretation at this time). But this is merely a standard that cannot be surpassed. His authorization does not mean that we must have limited government with some coercive taxation, or even that it is what is best for everyone.

I said above that promoting secular government based on scripture diminishes one's objections to the promotion by others who follow another set of scriptures (or even interpret differently the same set of scriptures). This is true because promoting secular government based on scriptures "opens the flood gates," so to speak, for all to do the same. Not everyone's collection of scripture (now or in the future) authorizes the same type of secular government and coercive taxation. Some could even authorize unlimited government and taxation. Either way, what's involved is force. That should be remembered as we battle to setup the type of secular government our respective Gods have authorized. Secular government is necessarily established and maintained by the sword. Is this really a worthy cause?

Or should we instead focus our scarce energies on "striking the root", ie. the institution known as the state?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Self-Ownership and God

In a recent essay on LDSFreemen.com, the author begins, "Contrary to libertarian philosophy, man does not have the right to full ownership of his body." He then goes on to explain in his thesis that the "the right to full ownership of the human body belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ." While I don't disagree with this belief (of course it may not be presented here correctly, theologically speaking), I do object to it being used to critique the libertarian principle of self-ownership. And here's why.

Whether or not you believe that God exists, or that he owns our bodies, it must be understood that libertarian philosophy only concerns the relationships between mortal men. It does not concern the relationship between men and animals, or men and the earth (insofar as it unrelates to other men). And it absolutely doesn't concern the relationship between men and God.

Don't misunderstand me. What a man does with himself in relation to anything may or may not be God's concern (I believe it is), but the libertarian principle of self-ownership is used to distinguish what men can legitimately do to each other. Not what God can do to man.

This quote by James A. Sadowsky is instructive,
"When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical force or the threat thereof. We do not mean that any use a man makes of his property within the limits set forth is necessarily a moral use."
It really says it all. The purpose of arguing for self-ownership is to understand if the actions of other men are justified. Though God may own our bodies, this fact would not alter the relationship between men. For example, I own a laptop computer. I acquired this through trade. What I traded was legitimately earned, therefore this laptop computer is legitimately my property. It is an extension of myself. If a man named John took my laptop computer without my permission, that would rightly be considered theft and a violation of my property rights to my laptop computer. God only enters the equation if John claims God told him to take the computer from me because it was his will that John have the computer instead of me. Unless God corroborates this claim to me personally, I can rightly consider it theft and a violation of my property rights.

This is how the libertarian principle of self-ownership is applied in the real world. Because I own myself, I own my labor. Because I own my labor, I own whatever it produces, or trades for. The only other alternatives to self-ownership as it concerns the relationships between mortal men, is what Murray Rothbard examined. And they are, "(1) the 'communist' one of Universal and Equal Other-ownership, or (2) Partial Ownership of One Group by Another – a system of rule by one class over another." It is completely irrelevant to this discussion the belief that God owns the bodies of men. What God does with his property are not the actions we're trying to justify. It's what men do with the property (including bodies) of other men that we are concerned with.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The State and Proper Role of Government

Among those who promote liberty, it is a fundamental principle that the proper role of government is to "secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens." Further, government can only perform those functions delegated to it by "the people". Since the people have the inherent authority to defend themselves and retaliate against wrong-doers, they are able to delegate that authority to others. The people do not have the authority to take the honestly acquired property of one person or group of people, without their consent, and give it to others. Thus, the people's government cannot possess such authority. This is the great fallacious foundation of socialism and communism, and every other form of statism and collectivism. Under this principle, it must be asked if the institution known as "the state" operates under the proper role of government. I seek to answer that question in this brief essay.

The State

We must first consider what exactly the state is. Murray Rothbard, in his definitive essay on the anatomy of the state, first explains, using Franz Oppenheimer, the two different ways that Man acquires property. These are the "economic means" and the "political means." The economic means involve production and exchange, whereas the political means involve using force and violence to seize the property of others. Understanding this, Oppenheimer defines the state as the "organization of the political means." Rothbard adds, "it is the systematization of the predatory process over a given territory."

There are two types of force Man can use against others, "initiatory" and "retaliatory". Initiatory force is Man initiating an aggressive act against another. Since Man has no inherent or legitimately delegated authority to do such, initiatory force is unjust. Retaliatory force is Man retaliating with an aggressive act against the initiatory, aggressive act of another. This is a just use of force since the one retaliating has been the receiver of unjust aggression. This type of force can be delegated to others, ie. a sheriff and his deputies.

Therefore, we can define the state as that institution "in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion." Even if a government did collect revenue voluntarily, holding a "monopoly of the use of force" would make it a state. Explains Ayn Rand, "The difference between private action and governmental action—a difference thoroughly ignored and evaded today—lies in the fact that the government holds a monopoly on the legal use of force."

The Proper Role of Government

As has been explained, the only proper roles the government can act under are those delegated to it by the people. The people have the authority to retaliate against initial aggressors (assault, theft, vandalism, etc.), so are able to delegate that authority to others. The state claims a monopoly on the use of force in a given territorial area. This means the state only allows itself to retaliate against initial aggressors in the form of arrests, convictions, and punishments. How can the state prevent others from doing this?

The only way the state can prevent others from engaging in retaliation against initial aggressors is to initiate aggression against all would be competitors. The state is then in stark contradiction with itself. Any government that acts in this regard is acting illegitimately. It is initiating aggression by enforcing its monopoly on the use of retaliatory force. This act is unjust, and contrary to the proper role of government.

Allowing Competition

If the state were to allow competition with itself, that is allow some other entity to arrest, try, convict, and punish wrong-doers, it would not only be operating under the proper role of government, but it would no longer be a state. It would be one among possibly many "defense agencies" in a given territory. It would be simply a non-coercive institution in the anarcho-capitalist tradition. Only then would such an organization be legitimate, moral, and just. And only then can it be honestly supported by those who believe in limiting government to its proper role.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shouting Fire and Property Rights

A year ago I quoted Murray Rothbard on what he had to say about shouting fire. Sheldon Richman recently argued the same thing, rather conclusively in my opinion:
The "fire in the crowded theater" matter is not an exception to free speech but a recognition of property rights, of which free speech is but a derivative. There's no right to "free speech" on someone else's property. If you buy a theater ticket and then endanger the audience by falsely yelling "fire," you have (among other things) violated the terms of your being in the theater. There's no need to claim an exception to the free-speech doctrine. Properly conceived, free speech is ultimately a property right.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Omnipotent State

Via Karl Hess's essay "The Lawless State", ask yourself these questions to determine how you view government:
  • Do you feel that the state is more important than you are?
  • Do you feel that the state should enjoy freedoms that you do not?
  • Do you feel that the state should be able to rise above the law?
  • Do you feel that you could not live unless the state protected you?
  • Do you feel that you could not thrive unless the state nourished or subsidized you?
  • Do you feel that service to the state is more desirable or more noble than service to your self, your family, your neighbors, or your own ideals?
  • Do you feel that it actually is a privilege to pay taxes?
  • Do you feel that since the government, the state, is more important than any one man, that every single man should be prepared to give his all, even his life, to or for his government?
  • Do you feel that the state is something with a life and identity of its own, beyond the men who might hold office in it?
  • Do you feel that "the government" and "the country" are the same?
  • Do you feel that, when all is said and done, your life belongs to your government?
  • Do you feel that your "rights" are given to you by government?
  • Do you feel that, when all is said and done, if big problems are to be solved in this world that government will have to do it?
I can say with confidence that my answer to each is a capitalized "NO". Can you?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Vices Are Not Crimes

Liberty is often categorized into types: economic freedom, political freedom, freedom of conscience, etc. One who seeks to promote freedom and liberty must consistently promote all types of liberty, so long as those freedoms do not infringe on the liberties of others. I consider moral freedom one of those liberties that must be protected.

For that we come to what is called vice. "Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property," says nineteenth century libertarian Lysander Spooner in his essay "Vices Are Not Crimes". Statists, conservatives and liberals, who use the state to promote their ends, will often support laws against vice. What vices have been prohibited have changed over time and change from one political arena to another. For example, drinking alcohol, considered a vice by many, including myself, was once prohibited in the United States in the early twentieth century, but not any longer. Smoking and chewing tobacco are not currently illegal, but smoking marijuana is. In some places in the U.S., smoking marijuana prescribed by a physician is legal. And in a few places in the U.S., prostitution is legal. The federalist nature of the United States has created this inconsistency. As his title states, it is Spooner's argument that vices are not crimes.

Since vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property, crimes, then, must be defined as "those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another." The biggest difference between crime and vice is "that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that is, without the intent to invade the person or property of another." He goes on, "no one ever practices a vice with any such criminal intent. He practices his vice for his own happiness solely, and not from any malice towards others." And unless this clear distinction of vices and crimes be "made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property."

How so? After explaining that judging the difference between virtue and vice, that is those actions that lead men to either happiness or unhappiness, and their degrees is "the profoundest and most complex study to which the greatest human mind ever has been, or ever can be, directed," Spooner examines how each of us escapes the state of ignorance that we are born into by acquiring for ourselves knowledge. "To learn it, he must be at liberty to try all experiments that commend themselves to his judgment." Some succeed, and because so, are called virtues, and others fail, called vices. "He gathers wisdom as much from his failures as from his successes; from his so-called vices, as from his so-called virtues. Both are necessary to his acquisition of that knowledge - of his own nature, and of the world around him, and of their adaptations or non-adaptations to each other - which shall show him how happiness is acquired, and pain avoided. And, unless he can be permitted to try these experiments to his own satisfaction, he is retrained from the acquisition of knowledge, and, consequently, from pursuing the great purpose and duty of his life."

It is written in the Declaration of Independence that men are endowed with the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Though others can claim they know how to achieve happiness, only the right "to inquire, investigate, reason, try experiments, judge, and ascertain for himself, what is, to him, virtue, and what is, to him, vice" can guarantee to someone their right in pursuing happiness. "If this great right is not to be left free and open to all, then each man's whole right, as a reasoning human being... is denied him."

Spooner's essay goes on to examine what right men have to force their own determinations of happiness on others, the utter impossibility of enforcing laws against vice impartially without quickly throwing everyone into prison, the legitimate and proper roles of government including only those delegated to it by individuals who do not have the right to punish vice themselves, the "attempts of parents to make their children virtuous" and the resulting ignorance, weakness, and viciousness that such attempts, in practice, produce, and also that of vice in relation to poverty and the commission of crime. It is obvious that liberty cannot be attained while their remains public laws prohibiting the indulgence of vice.