The libertarian tradition has been slowly but steadily growing in the United States since the 1970s. From Rothbard to Gary Johnson and from Ron Paul to John McAfee, the movement has been kept alive. Yet obviously, the libertarian social order doesn’t yet exist. The theoretical foundation is already here. Libertarians know what they want broadly speaking. The pragmatics of libertarianism, though, are in their infantile stage. Chomsky seems to think this is because libertarians believe in a senseless utopia.
By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial
A recent article by an unknown guest contributor on the Bilan Report suggested that a libertarian society is unsustainable for various reasons. Among these are the ideas that all personal freedom leads to libertinism, individualism is incompatible with the NAP (non-aggression principle), and the supposed libertarian assumption that all governance is bad. The author makes many misconceptions about libertarianism in their article. In response, this piece attempts to set the record straight on libertarian philosophy.
By Craig Axford | United States
If only the world could be neatly divided between winners and losers, and complex issues reduced to arithmetic that can quickly be done on the back of a napkin. But, alas, our problems are rarely that simple, and not solvable with zero-sum thinking.
Zero-sum thinking is a theory that suggests that one person’s gain is another person’s loss. It is a pitiful philosophy that casts aside human collaboration and compassion. Zero-sum thinking implies a finite amount of resources in the world, and an antagonistic nature to social relations. In many ways, society has moved beyond this primitive way of thought.
Donald Trump, however, sees the planet in just those terms. He’s convinced millions of Americans that anyone who thinks global challenges can’t be addressed in 280 characters or less is needlessly complicating things in an effort to bamboozle everyone else. Through this purely additive and subtractive lens, immigrants are merely sucking scarce resources from the wallets of one group so that they can be added to their own. Likewise, trade is only beneficial when the words balance or surplus are attached to it. The presence of a trade deficit signals Americans are being taken advantage of, so government intervention in the form of tariffs is necessary to initiate an adjustment.
This zero-sum thinking is taken directly from the traditional playbook of nationalists and racists. If you don’t think so, it shouldn’t take more than a day or two on Twitter reading white nationalists’ responses to critics of the zero-tolerance policy Trump imposed at the US/Mexico border to convince you. One unapologetic white supremacist just kept stating over and over again in broken record fashion that my opposition to the policy necessarily meant I wanted to “displace white people,” or worse, “hated” them. By the time I finally blocked him it was clear he thought I was a traitor to my race.
In his mind, any decline in America’s white majority meant whites were losing. My suggestion that the only race we needed to worry about was the human race went nowhere. He, like too many others, had used zero-sum thinking to separate humanity into separate locks that only allowed boats to rise by drawing precious water away from others that needed it to keep their own floating high.
Astronauts consistently wax poetic when they speak of viewing our home from space. Sooner or later they all mention the profound change in perspective that they get from seeing the world without artificial lines. Our capacity for abstraction, like our fondness for forming strong group identities, casts a shadow over our minds. No other species has so far come up with the idea of creating so many obstacles to inhibit their own movement. Eventually, I’m convinced, we’ll see the wisdom of taking down our walls and opening up our checkpoints, but, it seems that day is somewhere beyond 2020.
For now, we must begin to reacquaint ourselves with ideas like reciprocity. Human relations are best when they are a game in which all the players are striving to make sure everyone wins rather than a scramble for scarce resources that can only be fully enjoyed by a precious few. There is no one on this planet that does not have something to share. There is no one from whom we cannot learn something we do not know. When that wisdom is shared, the one offering it does not lose it so that we might have it. It becomes the property of even more people than was the case before. Knowledge multiplies. The more it does so the more likely we are to find solutions that work to the benefit of everybody.
Seen in this light, the question we should be asking ourselves is not what those crossing into the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their children will cost us, but what they have to offer that we have not yet identified. Cultures only clash when minds are closed. They are better suited for blending. Contact creates richer more dynamic experiences for those willing to overcome their fear of the unknown. No culture will last forever no matter how fiercely we defend it, but culture itself will be around as long as people still walk the earth. It describes a process rather than a destination.
Eventually, the current crisis will pass, hopefully without bloodshed. Regardless, we already have a pretty good idea who the winners will ultimately be. Those individuals and societies that are open to new experiences and fully embrace the ideal of reciprocity will be the ones that gain the most. Those who recognize that every newcomer comes with a gift and do not cling excessively to a particular identity are the ones best positioned to enrich their own lives and the lives of others in return. It’s not that life isn’t a struggle. It is. But in the struggle to survive cooperation has consistently proven itself to be the best strategy. The wider the circle of cooperation the better. That’s how our species got this far.
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By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial
I think it’s pretty clear that Friedman is a statist. -Murray Rothbard
Milton Friedman is popular, and not just “libertarian popular” (although he is) but mainstream popular. His book Capitalism and Freedom has over half a million sales and Free to Choose has also had its fair share of economic and political influence. I have spoken to many fellow lovers of the free market and many have stated he was their primary influence in pushing people towards libertarian ideology.
By Mason Mohon | USA
Ideas make or break a state of things. The status quo only perpetuates itself because popular opinion is in favor of it. We saw many instances of ideas shaping the state of things in American history alone. When the colonists decided that they were fed up with a monarchist society, they revolted, and it only took a small minority. They held close the ideas of the enlightenment, which gave them the drive to gain independence. In the South in the 1850’s a minority of “Fire Eaters” pushed so strongly against the American Union that they got many major states to secede, culminating in a war. They managed this by showing the pressure the Northern states had begun to put on Southern slavery. Most people in America are contented with a Democratic-Republican government, so there is no radical opposition to the status-quo as there was in those times. Recent history in America alone shows that ideas are what change societies and these ideas are held by the individuals.
The specificity of how this change occurs, though, is not clear. The German philosopher and economist Karl Marx argued that societal change and historical development occurred with the advancement of the material productive forces of society. Once they had advanced, the next step could be achieved. In stark opposition, the Pioneering Austrian economist and sociologist Ludwig von Mises argued that historical development and societal change was done through individuals. Along with their action, which was backed up by their ideas about the world. In the Misesian view, ideas were the driving force of society. In Marx’s view, the productive forces were what defined society.
The first part to be examined is an excerpt from Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:
In the social production of their subsistence men enter into determined and necessary relation with each other which are independent of their wills – production-relations which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces… It is not the consciousness of men which determines their existence, but on the contrary their social existence which determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development the material productive forces of society come into contradiction with the existing production-relations… Then comes the epoch of social revolution.
Marx argues that society advances when the material productive forces (the means of production, which includes tools and resources) come into contradiction with the production-relations (the place society has determined for a person) that is when society may advance and reach its next level. Marx states that these relations do not spring from the consciousness of men, but rather the consciousness of men stems from the society, for he did state that “It is not the consciousness of men which determines their existence but on the contrary their social existence which determines their consciousness.” Marx states that a man’s ideas are shaped by the world around him and are the result of the influences upon him, rather than them being his own. Furthermore, Marx states the man’s entire consciousness is not his own, but rather should be accredited to the world around him.
Marx described an example of this being the transition from feudalism to industrialism in The Communist Manifesto, where he describes the feudal state of things. He states that the bourgeois built themselves upon the feudal system. Then eventually, the feudal structure had become incompatible to produce in the same way that it had with its current level of production-forces. The result was that “In their places stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted to it.” Because of this, Marx argues that the bourgeois class has a particular sway in the ideas of society, and hence, they can bend what is true, resulting in economics seeming to always work in their favor. This essentially just supplies Marx with a historical example of his theory in action.
Mises stood in opposition to this. His theory was that ideas were the driving force of humanity and its progress. Beginning with the action axiom, the statement that man acts, Mises deduced that man acts based on ideas that compel him to act, whether it is to merely quench thirst or hunger, or if it is to start a business or paint a painting. On a broader scale, though, these ideas could change everything, causing societies to change their entire course. In revolutionary America, it was the ideas of John Locke and the layman spread through Thomas Paine, who were both individuals, that resulted in the societal change and transition to a new type of government. Mises went as far as to say on page 184 of Human Action that “There is no other means of preventing social disintegration and of safeguarding the steady improvement of human conditions than those of reason.” In Mises’ view, it is reason, logic, and thought that is responsible for the upkeep of humanity.
The issue with the Marxist view is that it starts with society, and says that the individuals are shaped because of its existence. While a group or society most likely will influence the members of it, this does not mean it is the sole shaper of the people within. Society starts with the individual, for the individual is the one who acts and creates the society. Societies are made of individuals, and without them they are nothing. Individuals can exist without society, and hence, individuals are the basic building blocks of society. The must be the focus of where the trends of society come from, and in result, they are the focus of where the change comes from. As Robert Murphy said in his book Choice, “sharing… economic deductions with the masses [is] a moral duty because the fate of civilization itself rested on teaching enough people the truth.” In the Misesian view, society and its changes are shaped by the advancement of ideas which spread to what popular opinion is, not a vaguely defined material productive force and its clash with production-relations.