“The greatest strength of “The Commanding Heights” is its comprehensive portrayal of socialism’s ascendency—the road to serfdom, as F. A. Hayek put it. Yergin and Stanislaw reveal an amazingly consistent pattern of political connivance and the distressing ease with which professional politicians and their coterie of “economic advisers” systematically capitalize on fear and gullibility among the masses to replace freedom and property rights with central planning and bureaucracy. The authors illustrate how eagerly totalitarians have—and in the future, will—pounce on every economic crisis as an opportunity to grasp more power.
But there are significant weaknesses in the book stemming from the authors’ deficient background in economics. This deficiency leads them to repeat familiar misconceptions about the free market, such as blaming it for the Great Depression. Readers are bombarded by “market failures” as the reasons for the subsequent rise of the central planners, but if the authors had looked more closely, they would have found that government intervention was responsible for all the economic shocks of the century.”
Despite any shortcomings, I highly recommend this show as entertaining and educational. Part One –
The one thing that separates libertarianism from all other political philosophies is a rigid adherence to the notion that no one has the right to initiate aggression. It’s not right to do so in order to provide for the less well off, it’s not right to do so because doing so is intended to have a positive outcome, and it’s not right to do so even if it will benefit those who are deserving. Individuals own themselves, which means they own their honestly acquired possessions, and there is nothing about the needs, wants, or desserts of others that changes that.
This leads some critics to come to false conclusions about the willingness of libertarians to ignore the sufferings of others, and in an effort to illustrate those conclusion, those critics deploy life-boat scenarios the likes of which I discussed in this previous post. These scenarios are extremely implausible (and certainly no justification for coercive redistribution) but critics know libertarians have plenty of evidence to support our rationally-derived confidence in the ability of civil society to tend the less-well-off, so they must try and concoct situations where civil society doesn’t come into play. That’s not easy, but since I’m a good sport I don’t mind helping them out by supplying a more likely scenario, and then responding to the criticism –
A libertarian is out camping with some buddies, one of whom has recently purchased some rope. It has been strung up between two trees to hold up a tarp, and about thirty feet of it dangles down into a coil on the ground. The rest of the group goes on a hike, while the libertarian tends the campfire. Suddenly, a call for help is heard, and the libertarian dashes over to a nearby precipice where he sees a man hanging on for dear life to a branch about ten feet down. Our hero runs back to camp, but the only rope available is his friend’s new one. Not only is his friend unavailable to give him permission to use the rope, it is tied so tightly that the coil would have to be cut away. At this time the critic would point out that taking the rope would amount to theft (which is a form of aggression), and the libertarian must either let the cliffhanger plunge to his death, or acknowledge that it is okay to steal (aggress) for a good cause.
Stupid imaginary critic, even when I hand it to you, you get it wrong! The non-aggression principal doesn’t mean you have to let people die rather than commit an act of aggression to save them. It just means you have to make restitution for your aggression afterwards. So the libertarian cuts the rope, saves the day, and buys his buddy a new rope. And in real life, if his buddy was such a dirtbag he insisted on restitution, the cliffhanger would probably cough up for it. So even life-boat scenarios fail to discredit libertarianism. Tough luck, critics.
In studying the history of liberty, I have found many scholars begin with the Epic of Gilgamesh, citing it as the earliest written example of using one power to check and balance another. There are various versions of the tale, but a widely accepted version is something like this –
Gilgamesh is king of Uruk, in Mesopotamia. Two thirds god and one third man, all things are known to him. His beauty is perfect, his strength is terrible. He has built great things, and none can withstand him. And like so many men of power, he can not leave the young girls alone. On the night of every wedding, Gilgamesh rapes the new bride, thereby flaunting his dominance and humiliating his people, who can only pray to the gods for relief.
In answer to their prayers, the gods create an artificial man. He is named Enkidu and he lives with the wild beasts, knowing nothing of mankind. In time, Gilgamesh comes to hear of Enkidu, and he sends Shamat to seduce him. A beauty of substantial sexual prowess, Shamat civilizes Enkidu by having sex with him for six days and seven nights. Satisfied, Enkidu tries to return to the beasts, but they don’t know him anymore, and flee his approach.
Shamat convinces Enkidu to return to Uruk, and tells him of Gilgamesh and his lust. Incensed, Enkidu blocks the street leading to the home of a newly-wedded woman and awaits Gilgamesh. When the king arrives, the two grapple in a ferocious battle until, at last, Enkidu acknowledges the superior strength of Gilgamesh. They embrace, and their friendship is sealed. Gilgamesh and Enkidu then embark on a series of travels and adventures, distracting Gilgamesh from his oppression of his people.
There is more of the epic following this, but this is the portion relevant to the history of liberty. The version linked above can be read in less than half an hour, and is well worth making time for.
Libertarians must, always and everywhere, condemn state intervention in health care that goes beyond enforcing prohibitions against the use of force and fraud. That said, I acknowledge that some interventions offend me less than others. Interventions such as perineal re-education –
“When I gave birth to our daughter last November, my husband and I spent five government-sponsored days in the maternity ward at Clinique Leonardo Da Vinci, where we learned that French hospital meals come with a cheese course and that as part of my postpartum treatment I would be prescribed 10 to 20 sessions of la rééducation périnéale. This is a kind of physical therapy designed to retrain the muscles of the pelvic floor, including the vagina, and is one of the cornerstones of French postnatal care. Two months after our daughter was born, I summoned the courage to teach my vagina some new tricks.”
All kidding aside, this is still an egregious attack on the individual sovereignty of French citizens, and should be brought to an end immediately. Furthermore, while some may applaud this program for being innovative, one must keep in mind the displacement effect state intervention has. I am quite confident that absent government meddling in health care, free enterprise would have made the benefits of post-natal vaginal tightening both inexpensive and widespread a long time ago. Just one more reason to hate the state.
It may be vital to national security that you ask this woman out!
Not being fully recovered from the romantic vapours surrounding Valentine’s Day, I was struck by an idea while reading a portion of Franz Oppenheimer’s article for the Mises Institute, “Barter in Prehistoric Times” –
“On the other hand, the exchange of women is observed universally, and doubtless exerts an extraordinarily strong influence in the development of peaceable intercourse between neighboring tribes, and in the preparation for barter of merchandise. The story of the Sabine women, who threw themselves between their brothers and their husbands, as these were about to engage in battle, must have been an actuality in a thousand instances in the course of the development of the human race.”
Intermarriage has indeed been a strong force for maintaining peace between neighbours for many, many years, and I have to ask: wouldn’t this effect continue into modern times? What if Canadians and Americans began actively seeking spouses from countries allegedly hostile to our respective nations? I think if the phenomenon were wide-spread, it could have a chilling effect on the likelihood of warfare between “us'” and “them”. Granted, there are cultural and linguistic barriers to overcome (not to mention government-created impediments e.g. immigration regulation) but as they say, love conquers all. And although the state may limit one’s ability to trade goods with Iran, for example, so far it doesn’t prevent you from marrying the (heterosexual) person of your choice. So if you’re a single person, consider broadening your horizons a little.
After I finished high school, I served three years in the US Marines, shortly after which I moved to Canada. I took a carpentry apprenticeship and worked my way first to become a journeyman, then a lead hand, and then a foreman. After that, I started my own construction business, and while I was running that I got my certification to become a building inspector. While working as a building inspector, I attended university at nights, and completed a degree a couple years ago. I have done all of this in order to earn more money to provide good things for me and my family, and to spend on the things I care about, not so that a great deal of it could be taken away from me and spent on things I don’t care about. Things like a Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate –
“The Poet’s role is to encourage and promote the importance of literature, culture and language in Canadian society. Federal legislators created the position in 2001 to draw Canadians’ attention to poetry, both spoken and written, and its role in our lives.”
“The position comes with an annual stipend of $20,000, up to $13,000 in travel expenses annually, a budget for administrative expenses and translation/adaptation into Canada’s second official language.”
Not the jackpot that would result from getting Oprah’s nod, but still, not too shabby. And although it’s not as fiscally devastating as most government projects, it’s still $40,000 +/- that won’t be donated to cancer research, protection of endangered species, education of girls in developing countries, or any other of the causes Canadians might have otherwise supported voluntarily. There’s no justice in that, poetic or otherwise.
“A conservation group demonstrating an anti-poaching method for reporters in South Africa accidentally killed the rhinoceros they were using in the demonstration.
The rhino, nicknamed Spencer, went into convulsions and died after he was shot with a tranquilizer dart in front of a crush of TV cameras and photographers who had been invited to document an operation to insert a poison capsule into his horn.”
This articles raises two questions for me. First, if the rhino’s nickname is Spencer, what is his actual name? And second, why don’t more conservationists recognize that their preferred policies are exacerbating difficulties, rather than providing solutions? Well, we may never know the answer to the first question, but another quote in the article suggests that ‘a stunning lack of personal responsibility’ could be the answer to the second –
“It’s sad for us; it’s the loss of another animal,” Hern said, referring to the rhino’s death. “It’s a death that I still chalk up to poaching.”
”I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.” -Étienne de La Boétie
The image and quote above both come to us via the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which recently had another item concerning withholding consent –
“Rather than utilize the suspicious paper chits issued by the Khan’s local governor, Tabrizians either fled the city or remained and subsisted on emergency food stores, sometimes raiding the gardens of neighbors who had left. Merchants refused to transact or trade; tents in bazaars stood empty.”
Withholding consent is a potentially dangerous activity, in that it involves ignoring regulations, an act which can have severe consequences in some circumstances. In order to minimize the risk, it would probably be safest to do so on a small scale. If a regulation is being widely violated on a small scale, the state has a difficult time catching and punishing all the little rebels, and loses some respect and power as a result. Perhaps growing just enough cannabis or distilling enough spirits for personal consumption. Even easier would be to enter the black market, by providing and/or purchasing goods and services on a cash basis. Keep your day job, and operate a cash business on nights and weekends. At the very least it’s fun to daydream about.
I was reviewing some of my notes recently, and was reminded of a meeting the Victoria LBC held some time ago, during which we discussed libertarian parenting. I have not seen much written on this topic, but I only came to libertarianism about 5-6 years ago, so there are tons of material with which I’m not familiar. It may be that there is something substantial I have not come across yet, but it appears to me there are some very tough questions concerning the rights and responsibilities of parents and children which libertarianism may not answer sufficiently.
That aside, I have noted that having a libertarian father had a definite effect on the way my sons approached their schooling. Each of them developed a keener interest in history, law, economics, civics, and social studies. Both of them delighted in challenging their teachers, and derived great satisfaction from going toe-to-toe not only with the teachers, but sometimes the bulk of the class. And it was very rare that I would ask what had been learned in school that day only to be told “nothing…” In fact, on more than one occasion my work phone would ring with a call from one or the other of them eager to give me an account of the terrific debate they had just had. Rather than being upset at being challenged, the teachers seemed invigorated at having someone who could bring a little excitement to classes that are often dreary. So there was that.
Not having many personal acquaintances who are libertarian (and parents, to boot), I would love to hear from any readers who have experience to share on this topic. Don’t be shy!