Practicing Political Pacifism: The Immorality of Voting.

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Up until recently, I had never missed a political election that I was eligible to vote in (to be fair, I’m only 20).  Philosophically, I’ve considered myself to be what some call a “voluntaryist” for over three years.  However, for much of that time, I also considered myself to be a “pragmatic libertarian” who was willing to combat the government through the system of voting.  I now realize that, ultimately, voting is incompatible with a voluntary society and that it constitutes an act of aggression.

To understand these conclusions, one must understand the nature of the political process.  Libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard summed it up nicely when he wrote that “libertarians regard the State as the supreme, the eternal, the best organized aggressor against the persons and property of the mass of the public. All States everywhere, whether democratic, dictatorial, or monarchical, whether red, white, blue, or brown” (For a New Liberty).  How exactly is the state the “best organized aggressor against the persons and property of the mass of the public”?  Again, Rothbard has the answer.

For centuries the State has committed mass murder and called it “war”; then ennobled the mass slaughter that “war” involves. For centuries the State has enslaved people into its armed battalions and called it “conscription” in the “national service.” For centuries the State has robbed people at bayonet point and called it “taxation.” In fact, if you wish to know how libertarians regard the State and any of its acts, simply think of the State as a criminal band, and all of the libertarian attitudes will logically fall into place. (Rothbard, For a New Liberty).

However, if governments are in fact a “matrix of coercion,” why would disengaging in the facility of government that gives me some voice be the morally correct thing to do?  The answer to this lies in the libertarian axiom of non aggression.  It is also referred to as the Non Aggression Principle and holds that all initiations of aggression against humans are immoral.

What does this have to do with voting?  To put it simply, voting is not self-determination.  I was not just selecting who I wanted to represent me when I went to the 2012 New York primaries and voted for Ron Paul.  I was also attempting to select a person who would “represent” 330 million other people (it is important to note that politicians don’t actually “represent” anyone seeing as their policies are enforced via coercion).  Therefore, even though I voted for a voluntaryist, I attempted to enforce a ruler on everyone else.  This did not sit well with me when I first realized it and for good reasons.  If it is immoral for me to force another person to live a life that I deem fit for them, how is it any less immoral for me to support someone who would then force another person to live a life that I deem fit for them?

However, I did not stop voting after drawing that conclusion.  Instead, I started to just write my own name on the ballots in an act of reclaiming my “personal-sovereignty” and to show my disgust with the choices being offered.  I eventually realized that even this act of the “protest vote” violated the NAP.  After all, I was writing my name on a ballot that would give the winning person the power to rule other people.  By writing my own name down, I was just as guilty as the politicians who sought those government positions of power.

This just leaves one question to answer; how should one go about changing the current state of affairs if not through voting?  The answer is through voluntary interactions among those whom are needed to change the world in the way that you see fit.  Don’t attempt to change the world through voting or through the use of government.  After all, government is force and brute force is the lazy way to solve any problem.  Regardless of the immorality involved, an idea that requires forced cooperation of the people involved is probably not that great of an idea.  What would you prefer? A world you changed dramatically through the instruments of coercion or a world you changed minutely through voluntary interactions?  Jeffrey Tucker summed it up on his Facebook page when he wrote

You know what’s evil about politics? It turns people into enemies when they should and would naturally be friends in a normal society. In the marketplace you are happy to cooperate with anyone to mutual betterment. But in politics, it’s all about hating your neighbor… a person who believes all of civilization rests on a Romney win would naturally and rightly regard all Obama voters as mortal threats, wreckers of the good life itself. And the demographics of voting are rather predictable. You can often tell quickly how a person will or will not vote, by appearance alone. That creates prejudice, bias, and hate. So politics creates these stupid battles between people — for absolutely no reason — and wars against the brotherhood of man. It creates the divisions it pretends to heal.

– By Will Shanahan, Contributing Editor for the Humane Condition

Contact Will: wshanahan.student@manhattan.edu

The Immigration “Problem” & The Libertarian “Solution”

I know this may sound dreadful to many of you, as we tend to stay away from sideshow distractions that our political circus in the media wants us to focus on. But the immigration debate is fascinating for the divisions it makes so obviously clear within the libertarian camp. This article will highlight the works of Dr. Walter Block that promote entirely free immigration as the only consistently libertarian position. As usual, there are points of agreement and disagreement with Block, but I agree with essentially the same theory of “immigration policy” that Block says is the libertarian theory.

First we have to note the hilarious immigration debate that is going on in the District of Criminals right now. This has been a great display of ignorance. Since neither the Republican nor Democrat parties have anything remotely resembling a foundational philosophy or guiding principles, the debate on immigration has been strictly politics, as usual. The Republicans are afraid that the “illegal immigrants” will vote overwhelmingly Democrat, and the Democrats are pretty convinced of that as well. Nowhere does this debate acknowledge principles. Why is it important to apply principles to the immigration debate? Because immigrants are people to, believe it or not, and must not be aggressed upon.

Immigration is a word that serves a purpose only in a world of Statist parasites. The difference between migration and immigration is based in the illegitimate theory of a just Nation-State. Without a monopoly of force on one side of a “border”, there is no need to seek permission to cross into another area that lacks a monopoly of force. This potential exposes the illegitimacy of borders as we know them today. According to Murray Rothbard:

“There can be no such thing as an “international trade” problem. For nations might then possibly continue as cultural expressions, but not as economically meaningful units. Since there would be neither trade nor other barriers between nations nor currency differences, “international trade” would become a mere appendage to a general study of interspatial trade.” 1

There would still be names of regions, whether they are called counties, provinces or even States all with unique cultures preserved, but no monopoly of force would exist. The only borders existing in a truly free society are those surrounding private property. If there are no borders enforced by a “legal authority” with a violent monopoly, then there is no difference between migration and Immigration. Dr. Walter Block argues this point convincingly in his essay A Libertarian Case for Free Immigration:

“If it is non-invasive for Jones to change his locale from one place in Misesania to another in that country, then it cannot be invasive for him to move from Rothbardania to Misesania.”2

Walter Block

Block and Rothbard have theoretically proven that immigration, or migration itself is not an aggressive act, it is only an exercise of one’s right to own themselves. This however does not imply that immigration is itself a human right. The “immigrant” has no right to the use of another’s property unless, as Block stated “the immigrant moves to a piece of private property whose owner is willing to take him in (maybe for a fee), there can be nothing untoward about such a transaction.”3 It follows logically that the place of origin of a migrant need not be considered to determine the rights of said migrant. As I noted before, this is what makes our argument different from those of the Democrats and Republicans, we consider immigrants as human beings possessing the same rights as those on either side of any border.

No Borders

No Borders

But we live in a Statist World!

And in this statist world, there are minarchist libertarians. After arriving at the above conclusion it is easy to simply dismiss further debate due to the illegitimacy of borders and the State. This is fine for discussions sake, but here we will examine some common minarchist libertarian policies and hold them to libertarian principles.

Many minarchist libertarians agree with the principle that humans should be allowed to move freely, and they accept that it is in fact the migrant’s right to self-ownership that guarantees this. Therefore they advocate a simple, non-invasive means of legal immigration. Libertarians advocating this view are trying to minimize the amount of force employed, because they see government as a necessary exception to the principle of nonaggression. I would argue that even this is up for debate. This solution, however “simple” or “non-invasive it is, requires State officials to monitor the entire border. This single step requires vast amounts of violence. First, to purchase, settle, and make ready for siege all the land across a border requires countless amounts of stolen “taxpayer” dollars. Next you have to pay the salaries of officers working for whichever agency is tasked with securing the border. And lastly, should a human not be free to run across the border, perhaps without waiting in line for an intensive grope of person and property? In the proposed “simple, non-invasive” system, the person who refuses to go through the proper checkpoints, or the person who exercises his freedom to move across a “border” is liable to get shot and killed, or arrested and deported.

We do live in a statist world, but there is still a way to minimize the use of force at the border. Is there a good reason for the State to have a presence on the border at all?  The most common objection to this proposal is the very true fact that we have a welfare state in the United States. Without some sort of pragmatic solution, the country would be overrun with people only making the economically beneficial decision of immigrating to the United States.  Again, let’s go to Dr. Block:

“Pragmatic matters … can form no part of the libertarian world view. The only issue is: do emigration, migration, and immigration constitute, per se, a physical trespass against person and property or a threat thereof?”…”There can be no countenance for partially restricted immigration, any more than for partially restricted murder.” 4

There is also no legitimacy in attacking proposed immigration policy based on a fear of added expenditures to the welfare system. Dr. Block quoted Hans-Herman Hoppe in his Libertarian Case for Free Immigration:

“It would also be wrongheaded to attack the case for free immigration by pointing out that because of the existence of a welfare state, immigration has become, to a significant extent, the immigration of welfare bums, who, even if the United States is below the optimal population point, do not increase but rather decrease average living standards. For this is not an argument against immigration but rather against the welfare state.” 5

Libertarians, both anarchists and minarchists, desire to reduce the amount of coercive force employed in our lives, and most especially, force by the government. I have sincere appreciation for the minarchists who fight this battle. Rather than turning a blind eye to the fact that there are migrants who are being subjected to government force every day, rather than hiding behind the theory that borders should not exist in the first place, these minarchists are fighting towards freedom. For this they deserve no contempt from libertarian anarchists.

Like so many other problems created by the State, a libertarian solutions will not always be possible inside the parameters of a State, but it does not change the morality of said solution. By applying the simple principle of nonaggression we are lead to the same conclusion that Dr. Block reached years ago: “either migration is totally legitimate, in which case there should be no interferences with it whatsoever, or it is a violation of the non-aggression axiom, in which case it should be banned, fully.”6 The pure libertarian solution to the immigration “problem” could be reached by asking one question, and it’s a question that would stump Democrats and Republicans. Do the “human rights” of immigrants differ from the “human rights” of migrants?

by Adam Alcorn, Editor, the Humane Condition

@AdamBlacksburg, thcondition@gmail.com

A free PDF of Dr. Walter Block’s essay “The Libertarian Case for Free Immigration” is available here thanks to the Mises Institute.

 

NOTES:

  1. Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, [1962] (1992), p. 550. Accessed May 7th, 2013
  2. Block, Walter. “The Libertarian Case For Free Immigration.” The Journal of Libertarian Studies 13.2 (1998): 167-168. Print.
  3. Block, (page 173.)
  4. Block,( page 169.)
  5. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “Free Immigration or Forced Integration,” Chronicles 19, no. 7 (July 1995): 25.
  6. Block, (page 185.)

Taoism and Libertarianism – From Lao Tzu to Murray Rothbard

Lao-Tzu

Lao-Tzu

Lao Tzu and the work he is supposed to have authored entitled Tao Te Ching and was the foundational text of the spiritual and philosophical schools of Taoism. It has been estimated to have been written in the sixth century B.C. and is largely a collection of “Various cryptic passages suggesting the Dao pervades all reality…”1. A basic introduction to Taoism must include the path of wu-wei, or roughly translated “Do nothing, and nothing will be left undone”. Taoism evolved in a religious landscape that practiced the rigid Statism that Confucian ideals led to, and it was only a matter of time before the political implications of such a philosophy would become evident. Asian religious expert John Esposito noted “The Daoists felt that the Confucians harmed society through imposing rules and artificial practices that interfered with humanity’s natural inclinations.”2. It would take over 2500 years before the Western school of Classical Liberalism would pursue the political implications promoted by the Tao Te Ching. In the meantime however, the philosophical Taoists political theories have unwittingly become entwined with modern libertarian movements.

Murray Rothbard

Murray Rothbard

Twentieth century political philosopher, historian, and economist Murray N. Rothbard wrote about Lao Tzu in the Fall 1990 edition of The Journal of Libertarian Studies. The first section of this essay was entitled “Retreatism: Taoism in Ancient China”. Rothbard argues that Lao Tzu was “The first intellectual libertarian”3.  Rothbard is often noted as the founder of the anarcho-Capitalist school of the libertarian political ideology. While ultimately believing that all human interaction should be free of force, fraud, and coercion; Anarcho-Capitalists also understand the government as an institution based solely on the monopoly of the legal use of force. Whereas Lao Tzu and his Tao Te Ching preached minimal intervention in society as the most efficient means, Rothbard and others argue that there is no room in society for the State at all. The goals of the two political movements are almost entirely compatible however, with agreements on 99% of the issues. The first move is to limit governmental intervention.

Rothbard said of the State “To the individualist Lao-tzu, government, with its “laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox,” was a vicious oppressor of the individual, and “more to be feared than fierce tigers.” 4 Government, in sum, must be limited to the smallest possible minimum; “inaction” was the proper function of government, since only inaction can permit the individual to flourish and achieve happiness.” 5. Anarchist libertarian theory fully appreciates the limiting of State intervention along the way towards statelessness.

Directly from the Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu said “The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be. The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be.”6 The libertarian parallels are obvious here, and in very simple but straightforward terminology, Lao Tzu illustrated one of the most important points that libertarians have been attempting for decades. It was not until his 1978 book For A New Liberty: A Libertarian Manifesto that a political philosopher offered such a similar perspective regarding government sponsored welfare. Rothbard said “If people wish to be ‘spontaneous’, let them do so on their own time and with their own resources, and let them then take the consequences of this decision, and not use State coercion to force the hardworking and ‘unspontaneous’ to bear those consequences instead. In short, abolish the welfare system.”7

Neither Lao Tzu, nor Murray Rothbard felt that it was unnecessary to help the poor. In fact the majority of the Welfare chapter in For A New Liberty is devoted to historical evidence in which private charity has done a far more effective job at taking care of the less fortunate. It was in fact out of concern for the less fortunate that motivated Rothbard, and it is likely Lao Tzu would have agreed with Rothbard’s final criticism of the welfare state, “Perhaps one of the grimmest consequences of welfare is that it actively discourages self-help by crippling the financial incentive for rehabilitation”8.

While attempting to determine what led Lao Tzu to these philosophical conclusions, but kept him just short of advocating complete anarchy, Rothbard says “It surely was unthinkable for Lao-tzu, with no available historical or contemporary example of libertarian social change, to set forth any optimistic strategy, let alone contemplate forming a mass movement to overthrow the State. And so Lao-tzu took the only strategic way out that seemed open to him, counseling the familiar Taoist path of withdrawal from society and the world, of retreat and inner contemplation.”9 Rothbard felt it was intellectually possible to imagine a stateless society in his day, but under the strict rule of ancient regimes, the only possibility for Lao Tzu and his followers to avoid State oppression was to retreat from it, hence the name ‘Retreatism’ that Rothbard applied.

Through the works of Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek and other free market economists, the ideas of Lao Tzu have been unwittingly represented to the world. There is an emerging Austrian school of economic thought coupled with an emerging ferocity within the libertarian movement. The intellectual and philosophical links have been established between Lao Tzu and Murray Rothbard, and the spiritual aspects of Taoism will weave an interesting story as it makes its way through the libertarian anarchist movement.

– Adam Alcorn, Editor, the Humane Condition

As always, you can contact the author at thcondition@gmail.com or on twitter @AdamBlacksburg

NOTES (Thanks to Mises.org for the free literature)

  1. Esposito, John L., Darrell J. Fasching, and Todd Vernon Lewis. Religions of Asia today. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 271. Print.
  2. Esposito p. 271
  3. Rothbard, Murray. “Concepts of the Role of Intellectuals in Social Change Toward Laissez Faire*.” The Journal of Libertarian Studies IX.2 (1990): 44. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Web. 14 Apr. 2013.
  4. Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu
  5. Rothbard, p. 46
  6. Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu
  7. Rothbard, Murray Newton. “Welfare and the Welfare State.” For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. Rev. ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Fox & Wilkes, 1978. P. 191. e-Book.
  8. Rothbard, Murray Newton. “Welfare and the Welfare State” For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. Rev. ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Fox & Wilkes, 1978 p. 193. e-Book.
  9. Rothbard, Murray. “Concepts of the Role of Intellectuals in Social Change Toward Laissez Faire*.” The Journal of Libertarian Studies IX.2 (1990): 47. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Web. 14 Apr. 2013.

Statism: Warfare, Welfare, and Cultural Violence

Destruction in Lebanon

The violence in our culture is appalling, heinous, tragic, entirely predictable and yet not uncommon. As an individualist, the use of words such as a “society” or “culture” must not be afforded the status or rights of an individual, but the concepts are necessary and can remain useful in discussing cultural ills. The “culture” referred to in this article is simply the amalgams of human values and tastes across the world. It is important not to focus simply on the blatantly forceful culture of the United States but to focus on the world large. The purpose of this article is to offer a simple thesis as to a contributing cause behind these acts of violence that we have become all too familiar with.

As is the case with many distorted and corrupted issues in our time, we can begin with the real meanings of certain terms as they are used to misconstrue one good idea after another. (See liberalism, capitalism, etc…) The foreign policies of the U.S. and the majority of the Western world have since before WWII, dramatically shifted back towards the Mercantilist ideals of the late middle ages.  The populace of any given nation has never been too fond of their overlord’s imperial adventures, and they especially hate footing the bill. Serving to change public opinion the term “Isolationist” was dragged through the mud and defined as a derogatory label that Murray Rothbard referred to as meaning “If not actively pro-Nazi, “isolationists” at the very least were narrow-minded ignoramuses ignorant of the world around them.”1

Rothbard again pointed out that it was not enough to simply make up a word and ruin it, but that a word with positive connotations must be redefined. “Until the smear campaign of the 1930s, opponents of war were considered the true “internationalists”, men who opposed the aggrandizement of the Nation State and favored peace, free trade, free migration and free cultural exchanges…”2.

So here is where we have a shift in lexicon that allows entirely imperialistic exercises of government to be sold to the populace as acts of internationalism, multi-culturalism and all that other crap that doesn’t have any meaning.

When the government acts on our behalf overseas it plays by no rules. They are bullying other kids on the playground of the world, and what happens to bullies? This is an oversimplification of the principle of blowback, but it can’t be overlooked in terms of international/political violence. The same behavior that sparks the blowback we have experienced also sparks terror here at home.

In much of the West, and the United States in particular, the governments are over-the-top paternalistic. They treat the ‘citizenry’ as if they are at best useful idiots, and at worse in the way of “collective progress”.  It is naïve to think that people will react differently to governments doing the bullying than they would if it were anyone else. Of course it is not as easy to deal with the Leviathan that is the State as it is the playground bully. To punch Uncle Sam in the nose is a suicide wish. But it is equally naïve to assume that the anguish and discontent created by the policies of the State will simply wash away unnoticed.

I do not have any extra knowledge as to what motivated the murderers in Blacksburg, Aurora, Newtown, Boston, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. No matter the aggressor, be it the U.S., NATO, Iran, or foreign/domestic terrorists there is one commonality. Everyone alive on Earth today has grown up under the blanket of force that we call the state.

Whether it be through the foreign policy of any number of nation States, or the violent nature of the welfare state, violence is constant in our lives. There can be no effective discussion of cultural ills until the amount of violence and coercion in our lives is recognized. Statism is a kind of slow and painful torture. People react in a million different ways. Some develop a sort of “Stockholm Statism”, and others submit peacefully so to protect their families. Others react violently and irrationally. Does that sound familiar?

A child grows up and imitates the bad habits of their parents. When kids of the paternal state grow up, do they see a problem with violence? Or do they see it as the answer?

Notes 1 and 2: Rothbard, Murray Newton. “War and Foreign Policy.” For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. Rev. ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Fox & Wilkes, 1978. 329-330. e-Book.