Race vs. Culture

Culture is different than race, and yet, the two are often confused.

Warning. I am about to enter politically incorrect territory. Ironically, it may even earn me the accusation, “racist” (which I’m not). But I have a very simple point to make, albeit it one that won’t win me any brownie points in today’s PC society, and one that I have not observed made virtually anywhere, let alone among the regular information sources or media.

Allow me to begin with a practical and personal qualifier.

First, let’s define racism and clarify what we mean by race. A google search turns up this definition of racism: “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Race is often (although not always), especially in the United States, considered correlative to a person’s skin color, but the basics of race don’t preclude various differences among peoples of similar pigmentation, such as the historical Franks, Germans or Slavs of Europe, among whom differences in physical appearance were minimal.

At best, the idea of “race” is a loose description of a person’s biological heritage . At worst, race is a pathetically invented and gross distortion of biological heritage, whereby people with various amounts of pigment in their skin are “grouped” in a category of “race.” (I have written on the dangers of collectivism here.)

Race is a meaningless concept to me insofar as it has no impact on any conceptions I have about people. To have pre- or post-conceived ideas about someone, let alone condemn them as inferior, because of their skin color or their biological heritage is—forgive the unprofessional language here—stupid. Period. Still, that genuine racism seems entirely irrational and illogical (not to mention immoral) does not make it any less real, and I don’t intend to pretend otherwise. To do so would require ignoring historical and present (if overstated) realities. Many Nazis truly believed in the superiority of the “Aryan race.” Many Americans in U.S. history really did believe in the inferiority of the “African race.”

But I didn’t come to write a sermon on the topic. And while that is a rather long qualifier that some readers will think I simply put in there for the purpose of remaining politically correct (despite my initial warning), I really don’t mind ensuring that I am not misunderstood. My main point is not compromised.

And we’ll get to that now.

Culture is different than race. Culture is the vast array of traditions, norms and features of a society. And while cultures are vastly nuanced and complex, there are distinct differences between them. Given my own aversions about collectivist thinking, I do not believe that any individual should be viewed first and foremost for any cultural tendencies; this is as irrational and wrong as racism. They are an individual first and foremost.

And so long as we understand that norms and tendencies are laden with exceptions and must be held very loosely, we can still evaluate the aggregate. Cultures differ. It is common in “U.S. culture” (good luck trying to tie that down!) for people to ensure that aging parents are entrusted to an elderly care facility, whereas in “Central and South American cultures”, you will often find extended family, parents and grandparents all living under one roof. Whether this is the product of wealth disparity or other factors are entirely beside the point. I’m not playing anthropologist here, simply making an external observation that helps demonstrate cultural differences.

This is my key point: The problem is that many people confuse culture and race. Many people fail to recognize that a cultural critique is not racist simply because there is a correlation between people of that “race” and people who share that culture. The only way you make that connection is on the assumption that a person’s cultural norms are the result of their biological heritage or race. This has no scientific or logical defense.

How do you jump to the conclusion that a person is racist simply because they take issue with an aspect of a culture different from theirs?

Here’s an example that will get me slandered in politically correct groups. It is a cultural norm in Islam that men have complete political and personal authority. Women are not given legal representation, and in moral matters pertaining to Islam, many men are given the responsibility to stone their wives if there has been any real or alleged infidelity. Many men in Islamic culture are prone to this position of dominance over women (and this is not unique to this culture), a cultural difference that is currently causing cultural clashes in Europe. None of this has anything to do with race. And yet somebody out there is ready with the label “racist”.

But some will recognize my logic and go for “ready-to-use” insult #2: bigot. A bigot is defined as someone who “is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices” (Merriam-Webster). Still, how did you reach that conclusion? I made an observation regarding cultural tendencies in one specific area.

So, if cultural observations are often confused as racist remarks (a logical fallacy), and those who make such observations are often considered racists and/or bigots, then what can we draw from this?

First, prejudice, regardless of the reason, is a tragic and natural tendency of human nature. I’m not digging into the reasons for this here. Nevertheless, I believe adamantly that it is wrong for me (or anyone) to hold prejudice of any kind, whether I exalt myself and degrade others for my gender, my “race”, my intellect, my level of education, my culture, my skin color (or lack of it), et cetera. If I think less of Muslim men generally because of the cultural tendencies from which they come, that is the real issue, not the observation made. I believe equally adamantly that charity and compassion should always describe our view and action toward any individual.

Second, and as I have said before, recognize the individual first. Collectivist thinking is a logical fallacy, and the individual should be recognized for who he or she is, not for his or her biological heritage or their cultural tendencies.

Third, don’t get confused by the tendency to confuse cultural observations as racist remarks. Recognize the skewed reality that is perpetuated around us, sometimes by habit and sometimes deliberately. To call someone racist for a particular commentary on something that is cultural is, in and of itself, an empty argument that merely perpetuates the collectivist thinking that is so problematic in the first place.  It’s a non-argument.

Sadly, there is truth in the words of economist Thomas Sowell: “Some things are believed because they are demonstrably true, but other things are believed simply because they have been asserted repeatedly.”*

*Video link here.

 

 

 

 

I Am Not Partisan

I am not partisan. I am not a team player in politics.

To be partisan is to be loyal to a political team—usually a political party—regardless of whatever policies that team pursues or puts forth. Sure, most people who are very passionate followers of their party have their limits and will abandon their party in time if it strays too far. This is why you saw massive numbers of Democrats switching to the Republican Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s, preferring Richard Nixon to an heir of Lyndon Johnson. (Yes, this touches on where we’re going in my recently started series, “The History of Conservatism, Liberalism and Libertarianism.” Sign up for email notifications to find out when the next one in that series is published.)

Still, there are many people who clearly side with their party through much that might be otherwise considered contradictory positions. A clear sign of partisanship is when a person accuses the opposing party of doing something and then later praises or supports, or as is more often the case, makes excuses for their own party when it does the same.

We all see it. Especially in our political opponents and in the media. It’s something that is so blatantly obvious, yet so common. The message sent is, “Don’t accuse that guy of wrong; you’re on the same team!” Where we don’t see it so much is in ourselves.

After his notorious Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, Psychology Professor Phillip Zimbardo said, “Most of the evil in the world comes about, not out of evil motives, but someone saying, ‘get with the program; be a team player.’” (More on that experiment here. Some caution advised for younger viewers due to the nature and results of the experiment.)

Human nature is prone to just such a mode of categorization. That is why it is so easy to assume a collectivist view of the world, a topic I addressed a couple posts ago (“The Reality of Collectivism”). That is why so many young Germans in Nazi Germany could end up committing the atrocities of the racial and biological hygiene programs and the full horror of the holocaust. Most of them, as young men, if given a chance to choose those actions from the comfort of their childhood homes, would be appalled at it.

And of course, that level of brutality, the psychology of which was specifically being studied in the Stanford Prison Experiment, is beyond the more “mild” accusations I am making. Still, it serves a good and sobering tool to demonstrate the dangers of this sort of thinking.

Fundamentally, there is no principle behind a partisanship that stays true to team rather than a constant standard. For those who say that there is, we often call that situational ethics, which, by definition, hardly fits any definition of principle. It is either okay to steal, or it is not. I cannot say the other team is wrong to steal, but there must be some good reason for it if mine does it.

I am not partisan. I do not adhere to a political team. My standards and beliefs are far and above any situational ethics, a concept I personally find repulsive, if I can be about as blunt as I have on this site. To the extend a political party aligns with my principles, those areas have my support. To the extent they violate my principles, those areas do not.

Many Democrats scoffed at George W. Bush when his military authorizations caused greater unrest in the Middle East, but were silent when the Obama administration pursued similar policies. Many Obama opponents among Republicans readily screamed about and scolded his healthcare legislation, but now support measures that keep most of it intact.

I would go so far as to call this cognitive, if not moral, dissonance. A harsher, yet fully applicable term: hypocrisy.

But there is nothing that can tie me to a team. I belief first and foremost in a Truth built upon the Word of God and His revelation. All else flows from there. I also support, as should be most obvious to my readers, liberty. (I lay out my case here: “On What Basis Liberty? Part 1“.) Not because I support all the activities protected by liberty, but because I believe that the power of the state is too great a danger to equip with the power to punish on its own ebbing and flowing standards of morality. (More on that in my post, “Church & State”.) Christians, of all people, should see the clear tide of acceptable opinion marginalizing and looking to correct or punish our “narrow-minded” views, and yet in many cases we are often as guilty of being team players as the next guy—just as ready with the excuses. (Want to know my recent thoughts on the Libertarian Party? Sign up for my email.)

To what extent will you violate principle and truth to stay true to your team—to your political party? To what extent will you make excuses for your favored candidate when he or she acts in opposition to what you know is true and right?

 

The Reality of Collectivism

In his recent book, The Problem With Socialism, author and professor Thomas DiLorenzo directs the reader’s attention to “Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a clergyman who is also an economic writer and speaker,” who “points out that anything made by God, whether it be humans or stones (which can range from small pebbles to glittering diamonds of infinite variety) is unique; while things made by man, like bricks, can be made uniform” (page 32).

I’ll address that quote again at the end.

A few posts ago, I discussed the issue of individualism (“Individualism: Good or Bad?”). In that post, I defined individualism as the idea that each person is responsible for their own actions and the consequences of those actions.

That reality is premised on the truth that only individuals can act. Only individuals can think. Only individuals can make decisions.

Groups—or collectives— cannot act, think or make decisions. Basic logic lends itself to this understanding. (“But Lukas, what about group-think, or mob-mentality?” I’ll address that at the end of this post.)

Sometimes for convenience, sometimes with political or social agenda, we are prone to use broad sweeping terms that suggest that a collective acts. As a social studies teacher, it’s much easier to say, “the United States went to war with Japan.” Clearly, this is a misnomer. The United States is not an entity that can act. What we really mean by saying something like that is that individuals in the United States made certain decisions that resulted in the American soldiers going to war with Japanese soldiers.

Merriam-Webster offers this definition of collectivism: “emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity.”

By no means a recent phenomenon, there are powerful societal and political movements that seek to act on behalf of some group or some collective, whether it is women, the poor, blacks, immigrants, et cetera. We call this identity politics, and it is predicated on the idea of collectivism.

Collectivism, by suggesting that groups can think, act and make decisions, readily places the group above the individual. In social terms, this means that we are happy pursuing a “collectivist” agenda at the expense of any particular individual. In economic terms, this premises the pursuit of egalitarianism, the pursuit of material equality in a society. Ayn Rand put it this way: “Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group–whether to a race, class or state does not matter.”

Let me leave you with a few key points:

First, collectivism, insofar as it suggests that groups can act, think and make decisions, is a self-inherent falsehood. This is a logical fallacy. Only individuals act, think and make decisions.

And this is not to entirely abandon the idea that a sort of “mob-mentality” can have a powerful effect on members within a group. History provides an abundance of examples. Take Nazi Germany. Or the Rwandan genocide. Place large groups of individuals with lots of anger and/or passion, and those individuals in that group can begin to behave in ways that they might not otherwise have if left alone. But still, the principle of individualism is not lost because of the powerful influence of what individuals in a large group can have on each other. Human nature is quite prone to atrocities committed as groups. Still, the individual cannot submit as his scapegoat, “I am not responsible for the murder I committed because we were all caught up in the passion to kill.” A court of true justice will never let this person off the hook.

On that same note, the fallacy of collectivism means that groups are not victims of other groups. This one will not particularly sit well with some readers, but it is the logical extension of the principle of individualism and that only individuals act. I am not, by collectivist default, any more guilty of racism because I am white than my wife is the victim of sexism because she’s a woman. Likewise, it is not incumbent upon some “groups” to repay some wrong to some other “group” committed by people of their same “group” in the past. Individuals can be victims of other individuals, because only individuals act, but groups cannot be victims of groups. (And when this is the case, the guilty individuals should, obviously, be held accountable.)

Second, collectivist thinking lends itself, logically and bolstered by historic reality, to great danger. The rhetoric was common in Stalin’s Soviet Union: a few eggs are always broken in the process of making an omelet. The pursuit of some “group-agenda,” such as the biological purification pursued by the Nazis, has had incredible consequences on hundreds of thousands of individuals. Indeed, socialism itself is predicated on some form of collectivist ideology (we must violate individual rights of some for the betterment of all society), and socialist regimes killed more than 100 million people in the 20th Century*. We can track this back even further, to such turbulent and violent events as the French Revolution.

On a more benign level, even collectivist political, social and domestic agendas can end up hurting those they intend to benefit because the individual is forgotten for the group. As I will lay out in blogs to come, many policies meant to help some “group,” such as women or minorities, have negative consequences on individuals in those and other groups.

Additionally, collectivist victim hood can (and often does) lead to the violation of individuals’ rights as one “group” seeks out revenge or compensation from some other “group,” regardless of whether or not individuals being held to blame had any part in real or alleged abuses. An example of this is the demand that the wealthy (the collective), because they must inherently be greedy, therefore are required to account for their alleged “greed” through higher taxes, et cetera. Another purely hypothetical example would be if modern-day Irish-Americans demanded that white Americans pay recompense for the ill-treatment of the 19th Century Irish immigrants. (And please keep in mind that my principles hold in reverse: collectivist thinking was just as damaging to the Irish immigrants of the early 1800s, or to the Africans of the early American slave trade. These examples only bolster my point.)

Third and finally, I will refer back to the quote at the beginning. All that which is made by God is unique. Individuals are unique. Individuals have varying backgrounds, personalities, talents, abilities, et cetera. The collectivist, to some extent or another, abandons this truth in their thinking and either treats all in a group as identified first by their group identity, or pursues some egalitarian end in an attempt to make all the individuals in a group as “bricks.”

Rather, this blog’s author would passionately advocate that we recognize that only the individual acts, thinks and makes decisions. And we ought to couple this with the understanding that each individual is unique. I do not care to distinguish a person based on some collectivist identity first and foremost, but rather much prefer to see each individual as an individual, unique to every other. To treat the individual as primarily “one in a more important collective” is a gross dishonor. All men and women should be treated as unique individuals with dignity, respect and honor.

*DiLorenzo, Thomas. The Problem With Socialism. Copyright 2016. 

Individualism: Good or Bad?

If you subscribe to my email (which you should!), back in a November email, I narrated the attack of a Facebook troll who trotted down an ad hominem line of attack aligned against many the supporters of a free society. In essence, it is this: “You are all just rugged individualists with greedy appetites to take from others, void of compassion or care.”

My readers already know that is false for this blog’s author, but it’s not just false for me. Many people who call themselves libertarians are regularly attacked by the same argument. So I wanted to just bring a few points of clarity to the issue of individualism.

First of all, let’s just review the basic definition of libertarianism. Libertarianism is a political philosophy (and nothing more) that advocates for as minimal a government as possible, based on (or resulting from) the ideas of property rights and the non-aggression principle (I wrote on both these at the posts each are linked to). It doesn’t, in and of itself, subscribe to any religious position (it’s not a religious principle) or moral positions related to what is good or bad to do beyond those two basic foundations. Despite what the activists may communicate, libertarianism is simply a political philosophy. (Previous blog dealing with this: “Libertarianism v. Authoritarianism”)

Back to the idea of individualism. This idea is also foundational in the libertarian political philosophy, but not in the way that it is often used in attack. Individualism merely means that each person is responsible for their own actions, and the consequences of those actions.

Most people’s reaction: “well, duh.” But then look around you at the world we live in. Look at the students who are coming out of college straddled by tens of thousands of dollars of debt. The movement for government cleansing of all student debt is growing. “I shouldn’t have to pay all this off,” they say.

In this example, there is the counter-argument to be made that government has made the credit for college cheap and consequently, through the logical incentive processes, flooded the market with more and more people with college degrees, thereby diminishing the value of those degrees and driving up the price of college. (This is entirely true.) Doesn’t the government hold some responsibility, as well? Oh, most certainly, and part of the purpose of this blog is to clarify the nature of just this sort of thing.

But that does not eliminate the responsibility of the individual who took out the loans. There was not a gun placed at his or her head.

This is but one example. Without exhausting your attention, I’ll leave your imagination (or, more likely, your observational experience) to more. Individuals are responsible for their own choices and the consequences of those choices. Individualism is, then, put another way, personal responsibility.

An elementary concept that seems to be rapidly vanishing amidst my own generation.

What does individualism, in this sense, encourage? It encourages thrift. It encourages work ethic. It encourages forethought, planning, and seeking good and varied council, and follow through. It encourages taking responsibility for your own choices and actions.

So, what is usually meant by individualism when used in attack? Just the way it was used against me. Selfish. Self-centered. Greedy. Uncaring. Lack of compassion.

But that’s not what individualism is for the advocates of liberty. That is an entirely different sort of ideology than personal responsibility. Individual does not preclude working together, collaboration, mutual support, community, relationship, generosity, or any other similar ideas! In fact, I would argue emphatically, it encourages them.

(In a very real spiritual sense, I believe that Christians have a spiritual obligation to volunteer their resources, time, talents and influence in ways to help others. That is not a libertarian or non-libertarian position. Libertarianism, again, is a political philosophy that does not deal with that, at all, except to say that the government cannot use threat of force to take from some against their will and give it to others.)

Individualism (personal responsibility) and compassion (voluntary generosity) are the best and most powerful of companions. The strongest of societies are built on both.

On a somewhat related note, many people are very much unaware of what it means to be conservative, liberal or libertarian. I have been taking a class on this over at Liberty Classroom, and will be relaying the history of these ideologies and what they mean over the coming months. I hope you’ll be watching for them! And again, please subscribe to my email. I don’t send out many, but when I do, you’ll enjoy them!

Negative v. Positive Rights

Right off the bat, understand that negative does not mean bad, and positive does not mean good. Like getting back the results of a cancer screening.

We’re going a little philosophical this time, very much in the thread of posts related to rights, which I originally write about here (it will be helpful to read these, if you have not done so):

In this particular post, I need to explain the problem with people’s conception of the word “rights.”

“I have a right to healthcare.”

“They have a right to free college education.”

“They have a right to clean water.”

“I have a right to a living wage.”

And you can keep the list running…

If you go back and read my posts listed above, notably the three in the “On What Basis Liberty?” series, you understand that rights are not derived as an obligation of one party to someone else, but rather they are derived primarily from one party’s protection from someone else.

Let’s break that down in re-visiting it. I have a right to my own life because nobody else has a right to take my life. I have a right from a violation of my life. Likewise, I don’t have a right to steal my neighbor’s truck. He, accordingly, has a right from theft.

And that’s essentially what a negative right is. A negative right is a right from something. A right from someone killing you, harming you or taking your stuff. Negative rights follow from the logical conclusions drawn in the three posts mentioned above. (This also applies to things like speech or religion. I have a right to worship how I want, as long as I am not violating anyone else’s property, because nobody has a right to violate my life or liberty.)

Now to positive rights. Those phrases I placed above in quotes (ie, “I have a right to healthcare”) is an example of a positive right. The question is: are positive rights even rights at all?

Well, now, how can I even ask that!? Surely, it is the worst of humanity that would entertain such vile notions.

Well, maybe not. Here’s the problem. Every single positive “right” violates somebody else’s negative right: it puts a legal obligation on another person. For example, if somebody has a “right” to education, then, taken as the dominant “right,” it falls to someone else to provide that “right”. Now, let’s assume that nobody is there to offer their time as an educator. Well, if that is the case, and education is, in fact, a “right,” then somebody is going to need to be forced to teach via force or threat of force. And that, as you’ve already likely drawn the conclusion, is a violation of somebody’s right to life—their right to not be forced into any sort of servitude.

We could continue to look at other examples. Do you have a right to clean water? Then somebody must, as the logical conclusion, offer that clean water. Do you have a right to healthcare? Then someone is going to be paying for it. All of these negative rights are violated by a so-called positive right.

“But, but, Lukas, it’s not like people are actually forcing people to be teachers. People don’t have to be teachers if they don’t want to.”

Yes, I am aware. Nobody forced me to be a teacher. It is my passion.

To that counter-argument, though, I have two responses.

First, this is largely an academic argument showing that there is an inherent contradiction between negative and positive rights. You cannot have both. A positive right is an oxy-moron.

Second, there is, nevertheless, a very strong pragmatic side of this issue. It is correct that, at least in the United States, nobody is being forced to be a teacher. But taxpayers are forced to give money over for public education. Remember, aggression includes the threat of force. No, men with guns probably won’t show up at your house to collect your taxes, but they will if you don’t volunteer those taxes (after the auditors, of course).

Think about the extensions of this inherent contradiction with regard to healthcare. Do I have a right to good medical access? Then somebody is going to have to pay for that, violating their negative right to their property and the produce of their own labor. A positive right means that someone else has an obligation to surrender some aspect of their life, liberty or property.

And you can continue down the list to positive “right” after “right.”

Besides, what makes a positive “right” is terribly subjective. One person may say they believe everyone has a right to clean water, but I may say I have a right to a $100,000 per year salary (which really means that any employer I have has an obligation to pay me $100,000, regardless of the value I am offering his company). Who’s to say that the first person is right and I am wrong? There is no standard by which to judge what a positive “right” actually is.

And now the more antagonistic readers out there who don’t know me personally think I am of the more despicable of the earth. Based on the very fact that I support the non-aggression principle, I have already been marked by one internet troll as worthy of a lifetime prison sentence. So I get it. Ad hominem is an internet favorite.

But to believe that negative rights should be honored, and not violated in favor of positive “rights” does not make anyone heartless. I believe—and advocate for—abundant generosity. I believe it is far more loving and compassionate to volunteer your time to build wells in Africa, then to vote in politicians who will tax your neighbor to then provide those wells, instead. (And I haven’t even brought up a study that shows government charity programs have a less than 20% efficiency rating: meaning that less than one out of every five dollars reaches the person that money was intended for. Source link here.)

Do you believe firmly in positive rights because you truly desire to help people, as many who make the above claims do? Then donate. Offer your time and resources. Become a teacher in the inner-city. Begin a charity organization and ask for donors. Offer to pay for someone’s medical care. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Don’t use the threat of force to demand people donate to what you consider to be a positive “right.”

(Which reminds me, there is an excellent way to give to projects all over the world at DonorSee.com. Check them out!)

Understand, that every time you say someone has a right to something, you are advocating for the violation of someone else’s right from a violation of their person or property.

And in that understanding, might I encourage you to give generously and abundantly of your own person and property. But I’ll just try to influence; I won’t use a gun (or the threat of one).

 

Church & State

Worldview. A word that somehow seems to understate its own purpose. A word that often gets tossed around in clichéd nuance.

crown-of-thornsI believe in a world in which mankind is inherently bent toward sin, a bent that cannot be revoked from anything within him. Because I believe that God is ultimately sovereign and that His very nature is perfectly righteous, any departure from that perfect righteousness on our part renders us bound for judgment. The only means of reconcile is a perfect sacrifice. I believe that God as perfectly good and perfectly just must fulfill both qualities, and does so in Christ Jesus, who was fully God and fully man. He met the just standard for our departure from God’s perfection, allowing us therefore to be, in legal terms, acquitted, upon reception of His offer of this grace.

And I believe in a view of History that understands God’s hand to be at work throughout. I won’t dare to enter the debate many Bible scholars have had on the issue of free will and God’s sovereignty; this is not the place for that. But because many will argue that it necessarily precedes any discussion of nearly any topic, I will comment only that I believe God is both sovereign, and has somehow delegated free will to man, nevertheless. I cannot perfectly understand this paradox, but I must accept it. For what other reason would God give Adam and Eve the option to do wrong in the garden, if but to allow them to choose to do right?

And on this premise, I believe that God has a strategy in history, and “energizes all things according to His will” (in Ephesians 1:11; the Greek word Paul uses here is energio, literally rendered energizes). But I also believe that there is an active enemy of God: Satan, or the devil, who also strategizes in history. And I have no doubt about the ultimate victor. Victory lies in the One who is ultimately sovereign. The culmination of history to the believer is quite clear.

And therein lies a premise of my worldview: the lens through which I view the world and history.

At first glance, this particular worldview may not be glaringly apparent in much of what I have so far discussed. It is not void altogether, and neither will it remain void. I could not, in good conscience, depart from what I believe for merely what might be considered utilitarian ends: the goals that bring the most usefulness, or happiness. I don’t advocate for a society rooted in liberty because my ultimate goal is that people be happy. The implications of eternity are far more severe.

And certainly, some have made the point that it was not in free societies, but in those where Christianity was and is restricted, that it has grown the greatest. The Way, as Christianity was called then, spread like fire throughout an increasingly antagonistic Roman empire. Some evidence suggests that the growth of the church in current China is unmatched.

I concede, and do so readily.

Does that suggest I should argue for a less-free society or even for a society where liberty is quenched?

That is the easier of the questions I face, as it will be less asked than this objection: To advocate liberty to the full extent you have so far suggested will leave the nation without its vital moral underpinnings.

Let me return the apparent dilemma: Has the power of the state been able to truly anchor any morality in our nation? Can legislated morality transform a person’s heart?

I would suggest several key points that I will leave with you.

First, the power of the state cannot dictate the morality of the people it rules. There will beold-bible-with-swordthumbnail
several common objections raised to this. One will argue that I am flat-out wrong in some cases. Certainly, the state can limit certain activities on threat of punishment, but many such activities continue unhampered nevertheless.

A second and perhaps more difficult objection to answer will be that by advocating the repeal of laws that ban what Christians consider immoral is advocacy for those activities. That is simply not true, but before I argue my case on this one, allow me to present my other points.

Second, if the state manages to limit certain activities that it considers to be immoral, then it has also gathered to itself the power to alter its decisions. The common objection here will be that this is precisely why we need to get Christians to the polls: to vote in people who will legislate on behalf of our beliefs?

But let me ask you: what happens when the government begins to use the power given it by the electorate to make decisions that some among that electorate approve of, and then begin making decisions antagonistic to that end. For example, Christians have applauded the government’s decisions to define marriage as between a man and women. But if we have conceded to the state the power to make this definition, then we have also conceded the power for it to define marriage as whatever it likes. And despite the protest that more Christians just need to vote, this isn’t having any particular long-term impact. And this leads me to my third, perhaps more potent point.

kings-landing-churchthumbnailThird and finally, by assuming that the political process is an important means of maintaining a nation based on Christian moral ethic, it undermines the influence that the church should have. Where the church sees politics as a means of what should be done through love, truth and evangelism, it tends to surrender its passion for proclaiming what it believes to be true.

If the church believes that gay marriage is wrong, it should proclaim that boldly on the foundation of the Gospel. If the church believes that prostitution is wrong, it should be stepping up to provide for those who see the sale of their own bodies as their best (and often only) means of income. For those who enjoy the practice (which I believe is deplorable), no government regulation will stop them. The statistics bear that out.

You see, if liberty is preserved and the non-aggression principle upheld, the church would have no alternative but to influence change through its right to proclaim boldly what it believes to be true.

Let me turn this in to a plea for my Christian readers. If you don’t like the trends of society, then be bold in your witness of truth. Don’t surrender your assertiveness by relieving your conscience by voting for the candidate who claims to be a Christian. In a society built on the liberty I have suggested, it is your right to speak and say whatever you like, just as it is the right of every other to scorn you for it (without aggression).

Do not surrender to politics what the church is called to be.

And by church, I do not mean the organizations created by the leaders of local churches; I mean the members of the church: the people who otherwise go to work, get home, watch TV and go to bed. You see, the church has a profound calling in culture, but it cannot coerce anyone to its ends. It can only win through truth and love built on the Gospel of Christ.

Government does not change culture. Government cannot establish moral standards and transform the hearts of those who abide under their rule. At its extreme, an attempt to do so has resulted in nothing less than the Inquisitions of Rome and Spain and the Spanish colonies. Even if the apparatus were in place to ensure nothing of immoral activity was permitted through the most invasive violations of privacy, the most it could do is create a nation of hypocrites who hated both the church and the state.

And our government, because of its quasi-republican nature, is more prone to following the trends of culture than a dictatorship would be (you already know I don’t advocate for a dictatorship). And culture has, by and large, demanded that we walk a fine line of political correctness that readily bashes free speech that argues against things like gay marriage, while demanding we advocate for these things. And slowly but surely, law is following suit.

(There is a lot more than can be said about this and its many facets that could emerge in debate. I will touch on them from time to time, but let me for now direct you to the Libertarian Christian Institute, where you can continue to explore their content and their primary video explaining that position, which you can view by clicking here.)

I will say it once more: do not surrender to politics what the church is called to be. Do not be a church that seeks to coerce, but one that transforms through loving word and deed, not shrinking back from truth by stopping by the polling station. (I know I will have readers who immediately think I am suggesting you don’t vote, or that you don’t care which leaders are Christian or not. I’ll have a post refuting this in time, so for now, know that this is not the case.)

That is why I advocate for liberty, but I also advocate that Christians take advantage of that liberty, to be a transforming influence around them, as the early church was in Rome (while there was yet liberty, and even more so when the persecution truly began in earnest). It was after Constantine mandated Christianity as the religion of the state that the politics began to rot much of the church.

Principle & Pragmatism

I know I have laden much of what I have written so far with the philosophical. I do not intend for the entirety of this blog to continue in that way.

Nevertheless, to merely argue for or against something on pragmatic grounds without principled underpinnings is, to me, sorely lacking.

There are two approaches that can be taken in many arguments:is-it-right

  • What works? This is the pragmatic argument. Often times, this will be called the utilitarian argument, whereby something is judged by its usefulness or effectiveness.
  • What is right? This is the principled or ethical argument.

But what happens if the answer to one is misaligned with the answer to the other?

I may say that the government shouldn’t take people’s stuff (aka, tax) on the grounds of principle, but you may argue that it is necessary in order for the government to provide even the most basic functions. I might have won the argument on principle, but it will be a tough sell to many, who would think I am ridiculous because of how impractical it would be to have no tax revenue going to the government.

At its extreme, people who are ultimately utilitarian in their views see anything that produces their desired results as justified in its own right. In simpler terms, the ends justify the means. Principle is built on usefulness, regardless of how subjective that end is.

Quite frankly, there is no end to the terrible implications this might garner. Even the libertarian who says they are for the cause of liberty on the grounds that everyone would be better off, but that the basic principles I have laid out are far too impractical, has embraced relativism. If utility (usefulness) lays the ground for principle, then Hitler was justified in his treatment of the Jews and other unwanted groups within Germany.

No, principle cannot follow usefulness. Without principle, all you get is relativism. Principle is what anchors any argument and position.

Okay, before you abandon me to what you think might be continued philosophical wanderings, let me tell you: this blog will largely be rooted in showing how the ideas of liberty provide for greater blessings and benefits than a sacrifice of their fundamental principles.

Do we really need government to tax income? Or even products we buy? (Surely, now you must think I am mad! Stick around to see!)

Do we really need a Federal Reserve to try and steer the economy in the way they want it to go? Should the government really be in control of money and/or fiat currency at all?

Do we even need the government to build our roads? (“And now he’s totally lost it.” Just wait. Admit it: you’re intrigued.)

Much of this blog will be dedicated to these and related topics. What are the practical–the pragmatic–implications of liberty? Can the fruit of principle truly bring blessing? To what extent?

Though it probably goes without saying, this blog is not making me any money. Perhaps one day, I might be able to find supporters for it, but if I truly wanted it to be a source of income, I’d be better off writing the stuff of the gossip magazines, and discussing how Brad and Angelina are breaking up. A little speculation of what our glamour stars are up to may get me a larger fan base.

I write because I truly believe I must be accountable to teach what is truth. Recall what I wrote in my first post: it is my passion to continue learning that I may better teach, and to continue teaching that I may continue to learn. I, too, am learning and attempting to channel that learning into a source for others. I would challenge you to stick with me as we move on beyond the foundations.

I will stay true to principle. There is no other anchor, and it all must be rooted there. But beyond that, I will seek to bring light to politics, economics, finances and history in clear and pragmatic ways. Thank you for joining me, and I would challenge you once more to stay.


 

The Politics of Liberty: The Principled Argument

moe

(Copyright Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes)

Kindergarten. That’s where we learned the basics of libertarianism. Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff.

It’s a basic ethical principle that most readers will readily nod in agreement. We want our children to live by that basic standard. Treat others as you would want to be treated. That’s the stuff of elementary.

Libertarianism, notwithstanding the agenda of the party’s eccentric activists, is a political philosophy based on that very idea. The distinction is that the libertarian will advocate that the state should not treat anyone in a way that we would not want our neighbor to treat us. Or our child to treat another in school.

If it is wrong for me to take my neighbor’s money, then it is equally wrong for me to utilize—yes, we’re coming back around—a monopoly on force to take their money and give it to me instead, or anyone else, for that matter. The government should not aggress—initiate force—against any otherwise peaceful person. And don’t get this confused The threat of force sufficiently qualifies as aggression. Nobody would consider a 200-lb bully taking the toy truck of the much smaller peer to be okay simply because the smaller boy does not defend himself and therefore avoids a losing battle.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not of the mindset of Irwin Schiff, who died in prison for refusing to pay his taxes. It is much like the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit on the quiet road on the edge of town. I may not always like the speed limit, but I will follow it as a matter first of integrity and respect (both of which I find a fundamental part of what I believe to be a transcendent standard of morality), and second because I do not want to be out the hefty chunk of cash that I will otherwise be if caught going faster.

But maintaining my integrity on matters such as paying taxes and acquiescing to the state’s regulations, I can still advocate for the basic principles of liberty and argue that they ought to apply to the apparatus of the state. What gives officials who have a monopoly on force—and for most of us, merely the threat of force—a right to do what the average person cannot do to his neighbor?

And yes, I am aware of the abundance of arguments that are raised in opposition. “We must all pay our fair share for the protections and benefits they afford us,” is the most common raised. To sort every nuance of that out in this post would require a book (which is one reason I have a blog), so let me introduce a couple of key ideas to keep in mind, the second following from the first.

First, if you agree to the basic principles of liberty that I have stated in the previous few posts, then the burden of proof falls on you to show me why the state has a right to violate it, if indeed you think it does. Many will argue that the state is given exemption due to the legitimacy that it gains by our republican system. Let’s see if that holds up.

John Locke, an Enlightenment thinker and social contract theorist. Also a key theorist of natural rights to "life, liberty and property."

John Locke, an Enlightenment thinker and social contract theorist. Also a key theorist of natural rights to “life, liberty and property.”

Many Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries adhered to a somewhat abstract argument called social contract theory. Their held that everyone is duty bound to the state because, by involving themselves in society, they are submitting to a “social contract.” In this contract, they implicitly agree to do this submission, or at least, to the submission of society as a whole under whatever form of government they considered legitimate.¹ There are significant holes in this theory, most of which I do not have time to debate here, but the most significant is worth noting: why? Because I happened to be born into society, I have implicitly agreed to its terms of governance? Note that the monarchs and parliaments of the era loved this theory: it helped to justify their authoritarianism.

I know that many of my Christian readers will argue that governments are established by God, and that in itself gives the state its right to exemption from the basic principles of liberty. Romans 13:1-7 is a common place to refer to. A more holistic study of Scripture gives a more of a complex view, which again, after the fashion of relatively short posts, will not fit here. For now, I will offer one prime example. When Israel asked Samuel for a king, God’s warning was clear: the king will violate the liberties you have enjoyed by taxing you and forcing your children into labor and military service. The Lord viewed this rejection of His sovereignty with anger (Samuel 8:1-18).

Back to my previous point, social contract theory breaks down because it simply justifies the use of force by nature of people being united in society. Hardly a satisfying argument against the principles of liberty. (Incidentally, the greatest test of this argument is the state’s response to anyone choosing to not adhere to their rules. If social contract is binding by voluntarism, then ought it also allow someone to opt out? It’s almost a silly argument, further exposing the flaws of social contract theory.)

But still,” come the rebuttals, “our system of governmental approval is better. We may not like the laws, but we agree to them because we believe in the legitimacy of our lawmakers. We have elections, after all.”

Certainly, I could get into the myriad of regulations designed and enforced by the un-elected bureaucrats alone. But I don’t even need to do that. We may follow the laws because we believe in the legitimacy of those that pass them; not a poor argument, to be sure. But are elections that appoint the person that 51% of voters choose (or in some cases, even less, when a plurality alone is needed) enough on its face to justify allowing the state the exception to the basic principles of liberty?pillars-of-law-and-order2

And if you argue yes to that question, then we get to our second point that I will leave you with. If legitimacy alone, whether by elections, inheritance, or a belief in the divine right of kings (that kings have a right to rule because they are appointed by God, commonly held during the early Enlightenment period, as well as its modified rendition in dictators like Hitler) is enough to give a state the right to violate the basic principles of liberty, then a state naturally has no limits that it must follow, no measure of authoritarianism it cannot pursue. If given the exception, what ethical principles can bind it?

“But we have a Constitution!”

Yes, yes, indeed we do. So the Constitution is supposed to allow the government to violate these principles only minimally, and then bind them, as Jefferson hoped it would, beyond that? If the Constitution validates the legitimacy of the government by limiting our exposure to abuses, then it must still be judged on the merits of that canon. How well has it worked?

Is the Constitution our standard of liberty? Now, once again, don’t get me wrong; in context, the Constitution was one of the greatest protectors of liberties the world had yet seen to that point. I would happily argue that we return to a strict adherence to the Constitution from an originalist standpoint; it would be far better than what we have now. But was it a paradigm of upholding these principles? Not entirely, and while many of the Framers were fundamentally dedicated to the preservation of liberty, there were a great many other questions surrounding the creation of the document. The Constitution was a creation of men and politics as much as it was of principle (or, probably, even more so). (In the coming months, I will begin a series on the creation of the Constitution and understanding it from an originalist perspective.)

I apologize for a somewhat longer post. Still, I find it important to understand that if you agree with the principles of liberty for the average person—that you don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff–or do not aggress against an otherwise peaceful person—and then also disagree that the state is bound by the same principles, then the burden of proof falls on you to justify the exception. And if justify you think you can, then an even more challenging burden of proof falls to justify why it is exempt in some cases and not in others.

I say, let’s return to elementary.

“But enough of principle,” you might say. “What you implicate is a total void of any government. Surely, if we went that far, chaos would erupt.” Certainly, theory is a rather useless argument on its own, and needs to go hand-in-hand with its cousin, pragmatism, right? I’ll tackle that one next time.

¹Yes, I am aware of my oversimplification of this theory. Still, I think the essence and implications of it are not lost in my explanation.


 

On What Basis Liberty? Part 3: Non-Aggression

non-aggression-222And all this brings us naturally to our final post on the two basic principles of libertarianism: the non-aggression principle.

Incidentally, I’ve already explained this in the previous two posts. This post will merely offer a tidy conclusion and clarification.

If people have a right to themselves—a right to life and property—then it naturally falls that nobody has a right to take these away from them. See? I’ve already made this argument. You could look at it in reverse, as well. If nobody is given a right to deprive someone of their life or property, then this forms the basis of property rights. This is a rather unnecessary, in my opinion, chicken or egg argument. Either way carries the same circular implications.

This is what is called the “non-aggression principle”: nobody has a right to arbitrarily aggress against another person, that is to say, initiate aggression (defined as force or the threat of force) against an otherwise peaceful person. I cannot take my neighbor’s truck, or lawnmower, or life. I cannot force him to mow my lawn. I cannot randomly knuckle-punch him just because I am angry.

(Note that there is a qualifier: you should not initiate force against an otherwise peaceful person. To claim that liberty never allows for aggression is inaccurate. There are allowances for self-defense, as well as the defense of the victims of aggression. This is only logical.)

And this is exactly why libertarianism is rooted in ethics. The non-aggression principle is an ethical principle.

Matt Kibbe puts it in the simplest terms: “Don’t hurt other people and don’t take their stuff.”

It’s the basics of elementary school. It’s what we all learned as kids. It doesn’t go away as adults. At least, it shouldn’t.

On What Basis Liberty? Part 2: Property Rights

private

After my previous meandering into a brief discussion of inalienable rights from a Christian perspective, I ended the previous post with the claim that libertarianism is based on two basic principles: 1) property rights and 2) the non-aggression principle.

In this post, I will discuss the first: property rights.

To reiterate something I said in the previous post: libertarianism is a political philosophy.

Now to throw an apparent contradiction into the discussion: libertarianism is both amoral and, at the same time, based in ethics, paradoxically.

Libertarianism is amoral in the sense that it does not argue for or against any particular set of moral principles. Anyone’s moral principles will be necessarily derived from a standard (or lack thereof) outside of the libertarian principles. As I made clear in my post, “Ethics on the Continuum,” my standard of ethics is rooted in the Bible.

At the same time, libertarianism is based entirely on ethics. I’ll leave you hanging a little bit with this one, but tie it all nicely together by the end of the next post.

Fundamentally, libertarianism is based in and on property rights, starting with self-ownership. For my Christian readers, regardless of where you fall in relation to the discussion in the previous post, people have a right to their own body. Again, to make sure I close the gap against the expected counter-argument, I believe this strictly in relation to other humans, not in relation to an all-powerful God. We might more readily call this a right to life. Nobody else has a right to harm or kill me. Nobody has a right to make me a slave, or force me into labor. That is what we mean by self-ownership.

And that is the basis of property rights.

All other property rights are an extension of self-ownership. What I make with my body is an extension of me, and accordingly, my property. And if I choose to sell what I make (or service I offer) to an employer by mutual consent, then the profit for that product or service becomes my property.

And the argument can proceed from there. If I am given something as a gift, it becomes my property. If I purchase something by mutual agreement or consent with income or a product that I have fairly earned, it becomes my property. I do not have a right to take anyone else’s property, and nobody else has a right to take my property.

It’s really that simple.

And the natural extension of this is the non-aggression principle. See you for the next post!