Thursday, July 07, 2011

Liberty - It all hangs together, or we all hang separately

Liberty - What are you talking about?
There are a whole lot of terms flying around fast and furious right now: Rights, human rights, goldfish rights, workers’ rights, direct democracy, pure democracy, citizens initiatives, citizen rejection initiatives, republic, representative republic, socialism, communism, Marxism, capitalism... with that many terms, and even more definitions (real or implied) flying around, it's worth taking a moment to refocus on the fundamentals that do matter. Do that, and maybe it can help you to clear away the ones that don't matter and see more clearly what does - if you don't, your liberty may be just one vote away from fading away.

 When trying to figure out the details of what you're talking about, it helps to first figure out why you're talking about them. We could go back to the original, original argument, such as where James Madison gave an excellent description of the structure of the republic he was hoping that We The People would choose to become (and we did), in Federalist #39, and also in #51, but they deal too much with the details and machinery of a Republic, at least as regards what I'm after here.

We'd do well to refocus on the fundamentals of what the purpose of a Republic is, before we bother with how to arrange it.

Along those lines, John Adams nailed the purpose of a Republic: The protection of Property Rights:
"...the original meaning of the word republic could be no other than a government in which the property of the people predominated and governed; and it had more relation to property than liberty. It signified a government, in which the property of the public, or people, and of every one of them, was secured and protected by law. This idea, indeed, implies liberty; because property cannot be secure unless the man be at liberty to acquire, use, or part with it, at his discretion, and unless he have his personal liberty of life and limb, motion and rest, for that purpose. It implies, moreover, that the property and liberty of all men, not merely of a majority, should be safe; for the people, or public, comprehends more than a majority, it comprehends all and every individual; and the property of every citizen is a part of the public property, as each citizen is a part of the public, people, or community. The property, therefore, of every man has a share in government, and is more powerful than any citizen or party of citizens; it is governed only by the law...."
What Adams and many others of the time realized, was that without solid support for property rights, no other rights are even possible.
From his 'Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States'
"The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shalt not covet," and "Thou shalt not steal," were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free."
If property rights go, you no longer have rights of any kind, only favors... if you keep those with the power to bestow, or withdraw, those favors, sufficiently flattered, that is. The purpose of a Republic, is to structure a government which will preserve the property of the people, and through that their innumerable unalienable rights, through few and defined laws.

 What protects our property rights is the Law... but what do we mean by that? IMHO Cicero nailed it well:

“True law is right reason in agreement with nature"
, but what did he mean by that? Does it apply to us today? I mean after all, following the New York Times usage of Reason as a tool for the effective use of logical fallacies, should I even care if Cicero was right, if he doesn't tell me what I want to hear? And besides, Cicero wore a toga & I wear dockers... what could he possibly have to say to me, right?

Turns out, there's plenty he has to say to us, and nearly all of it extremely relevant to your life, right now. Do we flatter ourselves to think we are the first to have to deal with amoral politicians and talking heads? Are we the first to have to suffer fools who think that making something lawful makes it right? Are we the first to have to battle with proponents of a 'living constitution'? Hardly. Have a look at what Cicero described,:

"It is therefore an absurd extravagance in some philosophers to assert that all things are necessarily just, which are established by the civil laws and the institutions of the people. Are then the laws of tyrants just, simply because they are laws? If the thirty tyrants of Athens imposed certain laws on the Athenians, and if these Athenians were delighted with these tyrannical laws, are we therefore bound to consider these laws as just? For my own part, I do not think such laws deserve any greater estimation than that past during our own interregnum, which ordained, that the dictator should be empowered to put to death with impunity, whatever citizens he pleased, without hearing them in their own defense...."
Despite the prating of our elected fools in Washington D.C., laws are valid only when they are just, not simply because they've been written down and voted on 'all legal-like'. Cicero explains what makes law just:
"...There can be but one essential justice, which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.

But if justice consists in submission to written laws and national customs, and if, as the Epicureans [the utilitarian’s in our day] persist in affirming, everything must be measured by utility alone, he who wishes to find an occasion of breaking such laws and customs will be sure to discover it. So that real justice remains powerless if not supported by nature, and this pretended justice is overturned by that very utility which they call its foundation..."
Law, if not rooted in the nature of reality and of Right & Wrong, is but one loophole woven through another - a barrier to you, but an open door to the powerful, or those who have their ear. Without laws rooted in natural law, in right and wrong, the only defense you have against the government coming into your home and telling you what to eat, or taking your iPod, iPhone and iPad from you in order to spread your wealth around, is if those laws are based in what we can see for ourselves to be real and true, and so use our minds to conform to that, aka, Right Reason. And that has importance beyond the laws itself, for when the people see that law is something to be feared as a weapon against them, rather than revered as a defense of their property and rights, that it instead serves one group over another, then society itself unravels. Cicero explains:
"... But this is not all. If nature does not ratify law, all the virtues lose their sway. What becomes of generosity, patriotism, or friendship? Where should we find the desire of benefitting our neighbors, or the gratitude that acknowledges kindness? For all these virtues proceed from our natural inclination to love and cherish our associates. This is the true basis of justice, and without this, not only the mutual charities of men, but the religious services of the gods, would become obsolete; for these are preserved, as I imagine, rather by the natural sympathy which subsists between divine and human beings, than by mere fear and timidity.
If the will of the people, the decrees of the senate, the adjudications of magistrates, were sufficient to establish justice, the only question would be how to gain suffrages, and to win over the votes of the majority, in order that corruption and spoliation, and the falsification of wills, should become lawful. But if the opinions and suffrages of foolish men had sufficient weight to outbalance the nature of things, might they not determine among them, that what is essentially bad and pernicious should henceforth pass for good and beneficial? Or why should not a law able to enforce injustice, take the place of equity? Would not this same law be able to change evil into good, and good into evil?"
Sadly leftists today (and not a few little 'r' republicans) wouldn't consider this a rhetorical question, but a challenge to one up each other... for the children no doubt. But if that's the case, if passing laws makes a thing right, or if money is what the treasury department prints, then why borrow money from China? Why not just print all we need? The fact is that there is a reality, and just as there is an up and a down, there is a right and a wrong, and your journey will be smoother if you take the time to figure out which is which.

Cicero's ideas, which were very much on the minds of our Founding Fathers when they wrote, debated and ratified the constitution, are central to our form of government. If we remove them or ignore them, which amount to the same thing, we risk... well... the chaos we have today, and which is but a taste of what we may face tomorrow, if we don't check our proregress.

Cicero's ideas were further developed through Thomas Aquinas and by many others down through the centuries, such as by the likes of John Locke, into those ideas which were expressed by Thomas Jefferson when he said that,
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"
, which as Cicero noted,
"Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked"
, and their laws are no laws at all.

Hench our Independence Day which we celebrate upon the 4th of July, the 'unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'... but what do we mean by Rights?

 Whenever you hear people speaking of 'human rights', what you should set your spidey sense a tingling and direct your focus upon, is that they seem to presume that there can be such a thing as other sorts of rights, or even collective group rights - there cannot be. There are only Individual Rights, and they are not goodies bestowed upon men by kings, legislators or any other outside force; Rights are derived from the nature of man, not from groups of men. Our Rights rise from that nature and reasoning ability which makes us individuals capable of behaving reasonably and in accordance with agreed upon rules with our fellow man - the attempt to ascribe Rights to groups is only a back door method for denying their proper rights to individuals.

Anyway, here’s a whirlwind dash through it all (see Cicero’s Republic & Laws for a good development of this as Natural Reason) which I’ve found useful before, and which I think you'll find useful now.

Our Rights are all, and only, derived from our nature as human beings, from the observable requirements of living a human life; our Rights begin with thinking. As with a cow in a snow filled pasture which (it’s said) will starve to death, being unable to think of looking under the snow – the basic fact for us is

  • no thinking, no eating
But thinking in and of itself won't do it, it's got to be productive thought, - you may not get much for your efforts if your thinking tells you that digging & refilling a ditch over and over will spontaneously produce food and shelter (don't laugh, FDR, inspired by Keynesian economics, based an entire WPA program on just that - now that's shovel ready!) your thinking has to respect reality, it must be purposeful and to be effective it should follow orderly methods of self-checking (Logic) to make sure it's worthwhile from start to finish - in short Reasoning. Reason and the requirements for Reasoning, are the philosophical source for Natural Law (Cicero had a lot to say on that).

Respectful awareness of your surroundings is vital for creating any wealth - wealth being food, shelter, relationships, gizmos to perform tasks efficiently and productively - aka Property, and our individual lives as well as society, are based upon that property which we create, Property Rights.

To be able to reason, and to be reasonably productive, you have to not only be able to act on your conclusions, but to do so without being forced to act against your own reasoning. You have to be able to say what you think needs to be said, do what you think needs to be done, make the choices which you see and believe need to be made, without being forced to act against your own better judgment – the Right to Speech, the Right to not be unlawfully detained, accosted or restrained from religion and the free exercise thereof, all follow from this.

Being free to think and act to produce property is of course tied together with your need to confidently retain what you've spent your time and effort in producing, confident that your efforts won't be stolen from you, and in realizing the necessity of that to your life, you must extend the same consideration to others.

All of your productive actions are based upon, and directed towards getting, keeping or consuming the wealth of property which you have created, and none of that could be created if you denied the realities required to do so, and that same adherence to reality, to truth, is required of your actions and interactions with your fellows. Honesty and integrity contributes to all in society, while thievery steals from all in society in ways the thief never could begin to imagine.

Thievery, legal or otherwise, destroys not only your wealth, but the purpose of all of your actions and thoughts, which are requirements of your nature and ability to live as a human being.

To prevent or deprive you of your ability to think and act as you see fit, and not let you retain what you produce, is no different than plucking the wings off a bumble bee or removing the fangs & claws of a lion - neither would then be able to do what they need to do in order to live as their nature requires. In the same sense it is right, by our very nature, that we be secure in these Rights – they follow from our nature as human beings, they are unalienable from us.

So that's a rapid fire summary of our Rights and Liberties and the criminality of violating them. Our Rights are nothing but the recognition of what is required by "nature and natures God" in order for us to live as Men, from that fact we get our rights of property, free speech, self-defense, sanctity of contract - and most important of all is the fact that all of our Rights come not from words on paper, but because of the nature of being human – our Natural Rights as disclosed to us by exercising Right Reason, through Natural Law.

Collective Rights Are Wrong
The nature of Rights means that there is no such thing as "States Rights" either, states have powers, not rights (note the wording of the 9th Amendment and the 10th Amendment), and just as the attempt to ascribe rights to groups of men undercuts the rights of individual men, so too with states - recall that the first group clamoring for 'States Rights' were doing so in order to preserve slavery, rather than Individual Rights. And it was the realization of the concept of proper Individual Rights arising from the nature of Man, which made it impossible to consider one man as the possession of another.

John Locke put that idea this way,
" for law, in its true notion, is not so much the limitation as the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest, and prescribes no farther than is for the general good of those under that law: could they be happier without it, the law, as an useless thing, would of itself vanish; and that ill deserves the name of confinement which hedges us in only from bogs and precipices. So that, however it may be mistaken, the end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom: for in all the states of created beings capable of laws, where there is no law, there is no freedom: for liberty is, to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be, where there is no law: but freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists: (for who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him?) but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own."
It comes down again and again to Property Rights, Law and Right Reason... and despite the New York Times recent 'breakthrough', that means using reason to pursue truth, and only secondarily as a weapon to win arguments - reverse that order, and literal dis-aster (loss of your guiding star) results.

Some examples of Reason being used as a weapon to win arguments, and in opposition to discovering what is true? When talk turns to group rights, we're sure to see the crazies piping up, getting crazier and crazier the more they apply their idiocies, resulting in things like cow rights and so forth... but keep in mind that this is a distraction too, one which the ideas of regulatory gurus like Cass Sunstein make clear in this one,
"Its astonishing conclusions could become law in due course.
Among them is that "decapitation of wild flowers at the roadside without rational reason" is essentially a crime. "
(H/T Caroline Mueller). When people like Sunstein are speaking up for insane anti-concepts such as 'animal lawyers', that's simply one of their nudges, what they are nudging us all towards is what Sunstein has always been entirely focused on: obliterating property rights.

While Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" became popular, and for good reason, IMHO a much more dangerous book, because it and its author isn't seen as radical by many, is Cass Sunstein's "FDR's Second Bill of Rights", this book, in its fundamentals, in what it seeks to destroy, property rights, and the smooth skill with which he twists seemingly reasonable sentiments to that purpose, his radicalism makes Alinsky's rabble rousing seem quaint (Note: I touched upon one key passage in it midway through this post, and am working up to fisking the entire book).

A more fundamentally anti-American book you won't find. Not surprisingly he, Sunstein, is one of Obama's top advisors and our 'Regulatory Czar'.

Capitalism vs Free Market?
 And finally, what do seemingly all of our educational and political 'leaders' say they are against? Capitalism, right? From the halls of wackademia to shores of 'Frisco bay, they will fight against capitalists and make them pay. But what is it? They tell us today that China is doing booming business under capitalism, really? That capitalism, which has produced the wealth and technology which they use to attack it, is more evil than good. Or that our corporations, who by the way have so many board members and advisers who are in or freshly out of govt  as to seem more like an NGO than a public corporation (Goldman-Sachs, GE, etc), as they greedily seek out favored govt contracts; we're told that these are representatives of capitalism? That capitalism hates the working man, minorities and likes nothing better than to keep people down and deprive them of their rights.

Really? What is it? Which is it? Is it even any of those?

The confusion comes in through the front door with the term 'Capitalism'. It might be helpful to remember that the term was first popularized (not coined by, but brought into common usage) by none other than Karl Marx, as a useful term for dispensing with the then current, and proper, term, the Free Market. But where the term Free Market tells you something descriptive about the system, the term 'Capitalism' doesn't, and it is so easily tossed around without any glaring conflict due to its name, and being so easily associated with every dark connotation of 'Money' (root of all evil, etc.), it serves nicely as a tool to lump in systems that are at odds, are total opposites, as well as all points in between, into a single stew of slurs (remember the NY Times article I mentioned above "Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth"? This is an example of that).

What the usage of the term really winds up being in most people’s minds, is an all purpose reference to any system where financial transactions are allowed.

To put that in contrast, could you really, with a straight face, refer to the Communist Peoples Republic of China... as a Free Market? True, it does allow financial transactions to occur on a large scale, but are the owners of those businesses operating within that system free to make their own choices about what to manufacture? Sell? Hire? At what wages? Hours? Are they free from having to pay protection to political and crime (difference? There? Not much) figures? Massive regulation? Are they free to say what they think is true? Are they free to question their govt? How many of these businesses have govt as partners in their business? And so on.

A Free Market? China? Hardly.

Even Japan, though several orders of magnitude better than China, also cannot properly be called an actual Free Market, either legally, or culturally. Aside from the huge govt intervention present in their economy, business is done largely under palpable restrictions of who you know, who you are, who feels they can or should 'properly' let it be known that they know you and do business with you.

China may be riding high now, but I wouldn't bank on their remaining so high for so long, for many of the same reasons that Japan's economy (once thought to be buying up and economically enslaving America... anyone remember the 1980's? Remember the movie 'Red Sun'? Lol) crashed and has stagnated for more than a decade, and for many, many more reasons than what ended Japan's surge. My prediction is that China is going to crash, and crash hard... whether their military will be established enough to temporarily compensate for that is the real question, and one that should be keeping us up at night. BTW, my odd views on this got a nice boost a few weeks ago when I was reading the book "The Next 100 Years" by George Friedman of STRATFOR,
"The problem for China is political. China is held together by money, not ideology. When there is an economic downturn and the money stops rolling in, not only will the banking system spasm, but the entire fabric of Chinese society will shudder. Loyalty in China is either bought or coerced. Without available money, only coercion remains. Business slowdown can generally lead to instability because they lead to business failure and unemployment. In a country where poverty is endemic and unemployment widespread, the added pressure of an economic downturn will result in political instability." [pg 96]
An unfree market, may, seem to prosper, for a while... but it's only building with the bricks its taking from its own foundation, like a Ponzi scheme, it'll eventually crash and crash hard.

But anyway, back to the issue at hand, it was because of the philosophy of Natural Law, which slowly grew from the time of Homer, through Cicero, that forms the early foundations for the Free Market - but even at their height, the Greco-Roman worldview could not achieve a real Free Market, and so never rose above the horse & buggy age... not without the addition of Christianity and it's revolutionary insight that the individual, every individual, is worthwhile and that all souls are equal in value and importance. That idea, watered and tended so well, down through the ages to Aquinas and up through Locke, etc., developed into the realization that each person, by their nature as human beings, had Rights, and that none of those rights could be secured unless Property Rights were held sacrosanct.

That system has only been developed in the West. Hong Kong was one of the last hold outs of the view, which has been fading rapidly since the departure of British Rule.

So while other cultures may abound with markets where widespread financial transactions are permitted, they are not examples of Free Markets or of what is referred to as Capitalism. They may be more free than they were before, sure (China, btw, in centuries past, came the closest of any non-western society to developing a Free Market... but without that key ingredient, the value of the Individual, it quickly faltered and petered out), and a society which manages to attain more freedoms will produce more than it could with less freedom, but they cannot properly be called Free Markets or Capitalist.

They are called Capitalist by the tenured, and will be till the cows come home... being moonbats, whadya expect?

If you notice, all of this ties together:

  • a respect for reality,
  • honestly identifying what is and is not true, 
  • revering the truth, recognizing that the nature of man is where he derives his rights from, 
  • that those rights are defended in society through property rights, 
  • that a Republic is designed to protect Property Rights (and through them all Rights) through its written laws and in accordance with Right Reason.

It all hangs together, doesn't it? And we all shall surely hang separately if we allow them to be severed. Which brings me to the last point:

Marxism, Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Progressivism...
What do they have in common? One thing, care to guess?

According to Marx,
" In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property. "
, which is a fundamental tenet of every and all leftist ideologies, Marxism, Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Progressivism, and to the extent they succeed in tampering or destroying property rights, that is the extent which doom will follow close after them.

Do I really need to say anything more?


mushroom said...

That is an amazingly comprehensive post, and nicely done. I think there are a very large number of people who would benefit from understanding the distinction between capitalism as it exists in many place and a truly free market.

I agree about China. I don't think we are at all getting good information about their economy or the political and cultural turmoil that is taking place.

Van said...

Mushroom said "I think there are a very large number of people who would benefit from understanding the distinction between capitalism as it exists in many place and a truly free market."

Yep, and a large number intent of preventing that by lumping it all together as 'capitalism'.

It is frustrating. It helps to remember that Truth will eventually win out... as long as you try not to pay too much attention to the fact that it has all of eternity to patiently wait for it to do so.


jb said...

Neither a fool nor a troll . . .

You stopped too soon, a point I made at JV's site.

Good piece.

Van said...

JB said “Neither a fool nor a troll . . ."

If you’re a regular at John Venlet’s you certainly aren’t either of those (we had a little back ‘n forth on This post a while back), his and your criticism are always welcome here.

And tell JV thanks for the linking... or actually I’ll go ahead and plop this over at his site too, sorry so late in replying, work and other work has kept me busy the last few days.

“You stopped too soon, a point I made at JV's site. “

Well, no, I didn’t stop short of the conclusion... ya’ll all just entered into the middle and assumed that was it.
(Just ignore the fact that I forgot to attach the ‘Justice’ tag to the bottom of the post... nothing to not see there... move along)

I began a series of posts on Justice... an amazingly long time ago, first working my way back through the muck of modernity, then dropping back to the beginnings with Homer & began working my way forward through to Solon, Cleisthenes and knocking on Aristotle’s door.

I was just about ready to dig into Aristotle’s Metaphysics & Politics... when my oldest son went off to boot camp, Tea Party activities picked up, and my spare time evaporated.

A hint of my answer to those questions can be found in “Athens and America: The Bog of the gaps", in * ♫ ♪ ♬ You say you want a Constitution ... wellll ya know, we all want to change the world ♬ ♪ ♫ and also in
Bloomberg, Obama and the Mosque Mask of Social Vandalism"
, but there is much more that needs to be said before really digging into them.

I do know, or think I do, the arguments you might be inclined to make... this series grew out of a an extended series of disagreements with a libertarian (Murray Rothbard variety... not my fav), and I realized I needed to have my position written out to refer him to because it doesn’t really exist anywhere else.

So, anyway, I hope you’ll drop in on it from time to time, or on the previous posts in the series, I highly appreciate disagreement, even mixed in with a healthy dose of recreational slamming, as long as it doesn’t descend into gutter trolling, it’s all good.

Graybeard said...

Thanks for the very well thought out post.

I note with appreciation you take on two of my recurring themes: China is not a juggernaut that is going to keep going, straight line growth, and dominate this century. They may well dominate, but they are cruising toward collapse right now. That dominance is by no means guaranteed.

And you did an admirable dissection of Cass Sunstein, quite possibly the most evil man to work in government in generations.

I'll have to drop by more often.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if people in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea argue whether Korea is a democracy or a republic.