A Primer For Learning Liberty

A Definition:

Libertarianism is, as the name implies, the belief in liberty. Libertarians strive for the best of all worlds – a free, peaceful, abundant world where each individual has the maximum opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and to realize his full potential.

The core idea is simply stated, but profound and far-reaching in its implications. Libertarians believe that each person owns his or her own life and property, and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life – as long as he simply respects the same right of others to do the same.

Another way of saying this is that libertarians believe you should be free to do as you choose with your own life and property, as long as you don’t harm the person and property of others.

Libertarianism is thus the combination of liberty (the freedom to live your life in any peaceful way you choose), responsibility (the prohibition against the use of force against others, except in defense), and tolerance (honoring and respecting the peaceful choices of others). (From Libertarianism.org)

Unpacking Self Determination:

Different strains of the philosophy of freedom find root in other ideas, but for most (as we read above) the most basic virtue, foundation and tenant of liberty is this: Self-Ownership.

One of the first western thinkers to describe this philosophy was John Locke:

…every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. (Second Treatise of Government, 1689)

From this idea comes the conclusion that, if each man is his own “property”, then certain rights, authorities and responsibilities are granted to only the individual; no congregation or congress of men acting in unison, or by majority processes, may morally abrogate, repeal or do away with those most basic liberties. Continue reading

“King Of America” Does Have A Nice Ring To It!



(We) must do more than chase the vain illusion that someday a good and illuminated man will come to power. – ProReforma Campaign Brochure, Guatemala, 2009

I don’t know why this quote came to my mind this morning, but as I greeted Tax Day and started looking towards mid-term elections, 2016, and beyond, it seemed an apt reminder and warning. Good societies are built not on good people; they are built on good institutions.

The Rule of Law is arguably the most important institution and political tradition of Western Civilization. It allows us to hold each other accountable for our duties and commitments. It allows us to plan for our lives without surprise interference from our neighbors or a government official. It protects our lives and livelihoods from abuses of authority. It is an institution which enables progress towards equality in the only way that equality truly matters, in our dealings with a government which can and will use coercion to enforce its judgments. Like a referee on a sports field, judgments may be against an individual or on an individual’s behalf, but a rational expectation of consistent, rule-based treatment is a necessary condition of players in games and citizens in societies.

“Nothing distinguishes more clearly conditions in a free country from those in a country under arbitrary government than the observance in the former of the great principles known as the Rule of Law.” – F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chapter 6, “Planning and the Rule of Law”)

In short, if we know that government will enforce its judgments, the Rule of Law simply requires these judgments be Continue reading

This Idiot Takes On A Bigger Idiot About Who Libertarians Are

A friend asked me today if I could respond to Bill McMorris’ strange characterization of libertarians in a post at TheFederalist.com (Conservatives Will Embrace Libertarians When Libertarians Stop Embracing Government).

While my extended reply is posted below, I felt JD Tucille at Reason.com summarized the heart of the issue in these paragraphs he posted this afternoon:

Could the courts ever decide to reinterpret the law in such a way as to force people (such as social conservatives) to do business with customers who give them the creepy crawlies (such as gays and lesbians)? Courts have creatively rewritten the law before, so it’s possible.

But then, why not protect everybody‘s liberty? Make it clear that the point is to shield freedom of association and freedom of conscience for all, in a way that would protect the right of gay-owned businesses to chase Bill McMorris out of their stores as it would protect his right to toss them out of his place of business. And certainly craft it to protect the right of all of us to turn politicians away. 

But SB 1062 backers have made it clear, from the beginning, that this is all about their dislike of one group. This isn’t about paring back government; it’s about using legislation to slap at gays and lesbians. 

His full article is here.

I, in short, feel Bill McMorris is pretty close to not having a clue what he is talking about.

I’ll start with a general point that it might be true (though becoming less so every day) that the majority of libertarians are diverted leftists. Continue reading

Are We *Competent* To Use Government Power?

I have had a couple weeks of absolutely delightful “talking point” conversations with people on Twitter. These have been with several people from the left and right of the modern American political spectrum.

I call them TP convos because they almost exclusively consist of things like, “Marijuana causes insanity” and “Virtue in the People is caused by laws from the govt” on the right, and “Corp greed is destroying America”, “We should equalize all wages” and “The 99% are powerless against big business so lets give lots MORE power to Washington” on the left.

These are really fun because they don’t require much mental exertion on my part and I figure I might be able to get through to people whose depth of thought/research on these topics seems to run rather shallow. Now I don’t say that as a criticism however, I naturally don’t think people SHOULD necessarily spend much effort becoming better acquainted with these issues. Being “informed” in even a marginal sense is a fairly intensive and significant investment of time and energy. Don’t most of us have better things to do?

However, what I am left pondering in more seriousness, is how few people seem to realize they have a shallow understanding of many topics. In our lives we very regularly have to make assumptions, work from incomplete pictures, act from faith rather than knowledge, in other words, most of our day, every day, is made up of a series of our best guesses. That seems fine because individually we balance our certainty (or lack thereof) against the potential outcomes and what we will invest in the action. I guess that Campbell Ave is my quickest route to school, but if there happens to be an accident, it may take me a few minutes longer or I hop over to a different road. In this case the consequences of error in my choice are shallow even when my knowledge is relatively deep (the route I take every day). That seems intuitively rational. Continue reading

Thinking About Independence

Thomas Jefferson wrote the following regarding the celebration of the 4th of July:

“May [the Declaration of Independence] be to the world… the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of SELF-GOVERNMENT. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has NOT been born with saddles on their backs, NOR a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

How powerful is Jefferson’s idea of a nation which protects as its first principle each man and woman’s right to self determination as defined by their own “unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion”?

On this Independence Day Continue reading

Why Voluntary Exchange Trumps “Sweatshop” Criticism

 If sweatshops make poor countries better off, then we should allow them because even when benefits are radically disparate, any mutually beneficial exchange, voluntarily arrived at, is by definition non-exploitative and leads to a trend of increasing standards of living.

The power of voluntary exchange is that it naturally leads to two reinforcing effects.

First, it is most likely to capture maximum knowledge of the rational best interest of those parties involved in the exchange.  Even if someone outside the exchange feels they have pertinent knowledge unavailable to one of the participants, the trade off would not be to get in between the two parties and take from one or both the final decision, it would be to provide the information to the party lacking it.  In this way you are guaranteeing that those most likely to have the most knowledge (those with direct loss or gain at stake) are those also making the final trade decisions.

In the case of a sweatshop that is the employer and employee.

Continue reading

An Amateur Philosopher Has Lunch With Immigration Policy

Recently I had a friend drop me a note asking for my thoughts on an article she found in the Wall Street Journal (“Taking a NAFTA Approach to Immigration”), relating the idea that instead of paths to citizenship, which are just fields of political landmines, that possibly by taking a page from NAFTA or the EU we could acheive the immigration reform so many of us desperately want.

In a nutshell: Freedom of travel without citizenship.

The idea that within the borders of the agreement, all citizens of any country could freely move between nations, without ever needing to naturalize.

I told her shortly that I thought it might be an improvement, but as I told her, this question and proposal also gave me an excuse to run a little mental exercise on the issues surround inter-nation migration.

This is a highly charged topic in our nation and particularly to any of us with the good fortune to make our homes in the American Southwest. I appreciate empirical, statistics driven arguments, pros and cons, utilitarian analyses, but more persuasive to me are moral arguments, those that drive up from our core beliefs on how we think proper to treat each other as fellow human beings.
Acceptance of the “Freedom of Travel/Movement/Migration”, relatively open immigration, is a good example of a conclusion arrived at from extrapolation from first principles.

Follow with me for a couple minutes:

Continue reading

The Borders of Morality

TO PHILOSOPHY STUDENTS: You will see “morals” and “ethics” used interchangeably in this articles…  Get your grumbling out of the way now…  Okay let’s proceed…


I recently posted a quick tweet addressing a question that nags at me, especially living here on the Arizona / Mexico frontier…

If #povertyprograms are #moralimperative (vs #voterrecruitment), then shouldnt govt welfare first go to the 5B pp FAR poorer than any in US?

I was challenged on this from several fronts but primarily it came down to, in assessing government policies, what is the appropriate Control Volume.

Control Volume means, generally, “a mathematical abstraction employed in the process of creating mathematical models of physical processes.”  More specifically the above statement touches on the Control Volume concept in that a person’s opinion of our enacted policies depend on who and what they care about.  Do you draw the Volume around the U.S, around the individual, around the state, around the World?

Continue reading

Conscience and Property Rights

“Conscience is the most sacred of all property” – James Madison. When our govt has come to so blithely restrict and control our rights in real property and in the use of our time (in production and in leisure), is it any wonder that we spend more and more focus every year (on Left and Right) on government’s attempts to restrict and manage topics rightly handled by individual conscience?

If you don’t respect my prerogative to choose how I spend my time and money, why should I expect you to respect my prerogative over my beliefs and opinions. How many on the Left and Right can get behind the simple but profound idea in the history of nations instituted by men, that government, “shall make no law”?

How many of us can put aside our discomfort/unease/uncertainty and instead of supporting the VERSION of law we prefer, can simply and directly say I want NO law.