Thursday, 10 November 2016

2016 – The pulse of our times


By Trevor Watkins

2016 is the international year of pulses – a designation intended to raise awareness and to celebrate the role of beans, chickpeas, lentils and other pulses in feeding the world. You might have missed that. Nevertheless, it has been a surprisingly optimistic year for those lovers of liberty known as libertarians.

On June 23rd Britons voted to leave the EU – an unexpected and surprising decision that shocked many observers deeply. The result was a resounding rejection of the expanding, globalist state. While steeped in British nationalism, the result was also a victory for believers in limited and reduced government. It was a result welcomed by most libertarians.

Then on August 3rd South Africans went to the polls in the local government elections. The ruling ANC was dealt a resounding “warm klap” by the “gatvol” electorate, losing control of 3 major metros, and being humiliated in the 4th opposition-held Cape Town metro. Amazingly, Herman Mashaba, an avowed Libertarian, was elected as mayor of Johannesburg. The demonstration effect of good governance and economic growth in these major cities is likely to lead to even further losses for the largely incompetent ANC in other districts. Libertarians and liberals could hardly believe their eyes.

On 31st August the Brazilian Senate voted to impeach Dilma Rousseff, the corrupt president of Brazil. Once again this demonstrated the power of ordinary voters to bring their lords and masters to book, to hold them accountable for their failings.

Throughout September, October and early November, Jacob Zuma's attempts to remove his fiery minister of finance, in order to advance his state capture agenda, have been roundly rebuffed by the judiciary, and by angry protests from the citizenry. Zuma's job security is severely threatened and he will be lucky to see out the year in the job. Even in a hopelessly one-sided democracy like South Africa, individual activism can make a difference.

On the negative side, the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements, while successful in focussing attention on their grievances, emphasize that not all activism is useful or intelligent. In fact, rampaging mobs are mostly known for their stupidity. Libertarians believe in individual liberty AND property rights, putting them at odds with most of the students.

Fittingly, on 11/9 the western world was turned upside down by the unexpected election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. This may have a greater impact on the course of American history than that other thing on 9/11. Just revealing the truth about 9/11, should Trump choose to do so, might have a greater impact on the American psyche than 9/11 itself. The fact that the Libertarian party tripled its vote was completely lost in the tumultuous triumph of Trump.

Is a Trump presidency good or bad for the overall libertarian cause? Libertarians themselves seem to be pretty evenly divided. In my opinion,the mere fact that a complete political outsider with no obvious ties to party or pressure groups is now running America is good news. There is a small chance that the established and vested interests may be frustrated for awhile. Like with the change in management in South African metros, we can expect the crooks and cronies in the US corridors of power to be scurrying for the exits.

Some of Trump's policies are music to a libertarian's ears – reduced government, reduced regulation, reduced taxation. Investigating the Fed, limiting foreign involvements, reducing intervention in foreign wars – these all make sense. Some, such as renegotiating free trade agreements, will have to wait for details to emerge before rushing to judgement. Restrictions on immigration and deporting of illegals may end up impacting on the rights and liberties of individuals. Time will tell.

And to cap off what has been an unexpectedly good year for individual liberty, Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature. Does it get any better than that?

While the times may be a'changing, the answers are blowing in the wind.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Consent Axiom

I believe that the basis for successful human coexistence can be reduced to a single statement, a single concept. This statement is the Consent Axiom:
No action without consent
This statement is as brief and uncompromising as the biblical 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”.  Like most 4 word sentences, some further elaboration is required for better understanding.

Principle

This statement is a principle. It describes how you ought to behave. It does not proscribe how you  will behave. It is not changed by circumstances. It does not vary relative to prevailing conditions. It does not take utility or the greatest good into account. It says that you may take no action against another human being without their full and informed consent. Period.

Action

Like Newton, we must define the meaning of the term “action” quite carefully. For an action against another to require the consent of the other, then that action  must be immediate in time and space, must  have significant consequences for the other, and must have physical reality
  1. Immediate in time and space: the request for consent and the action must be within a reasonable time and distance of each other. Consent given now does not imply ongoing consent into the future. Consent given in one place does not imply consent in all places. Consent for an action is not required from people far removed from the consequences of that action, in space or time.
  2. Significant consequences: daily life involves many actions which have insignificant consequences for those around us, and do not require their consent. These actions are largely covered by the ordinary rules of civility and manners. However, both the action and the predictable consequences of that action must be considered. While a gentle shove at the top of a cliff may not be considered murder, the consequences at the bottom certainly are. I believe you must take responsibility for the immediate but unintended consequences of any deliberate action, even when lawful in terms of the consent axiom.
  3. Physical reality: actions requiring consent must have a physical reality. Looking at someone, talking about or to someone, thinking evil thoughts about them, these actions do not require consent. Screaming in their ear would require their consent.

Consent

Consent must be
  1. Freely given
  2. Full and informed
  3. Specific
  4. Clearly and accurately communicated
  5. Applicable only to the individual in question
  6. Preferably witnessed
Consent,  once given,
  1. Cannot be changed or revoked
  2. Is contractually binding
  3. Is limited in time and scope

Exceptions

The consent axiom only addresses relationships between human beings. Everything else, including animals and the environment are considered as property, either of individuals, or unowned.
Some human beings, such as very young children or the insane or unconscious, are incapable of informed consent. In that case they are considered as the property of a consenting individual, or unowned.  If ownership is challenged (by anyone), the decision on ownership must be taken by a duly appointed jury.  If an individual is considered unowned, by themselves or by anyone else, then they must rely on the charity and intervention of their peers.
Some actions are considered so overwhelmingly good for  society that their performance overrides any individual objections (for example, vaccination, environmental preservation (eg global warming), terrorist apprehension). This argument is inevitably the top of a slippery slope, on which all manner of further consent violations are justified. This argument should be rejected.
In a democracy, the decisions taken by a majority are considered binding on the minority, with or without their consent. In a consenting society this silly concept simply would not apply.
In some cases, such as an accident, a request for consent from the victim has no meaning. In such cases, the person responsible for the accident, even if unintentional, must take responsibility for the consequences of  the action precipitating the accident.
How do you deal with members of your society who do not consent to be bound by the consent axiom and its implications?  As described below under disputes,  both victim and violator have rights to a trial by jury under the consent axiom. If a non-consenting consent violator gives up that right, then the violator’s guilt must be automatically presumed, and punishment must follow.

An extreme example

Imagine you have spotted a young girl in an Iraqi market wearing an oddly bulging outfit under which you have clearly seen wires and straps. The consent law says you OUGHT to ask her consent, or at least wait until she makes some unambiguous threatening action, before responding.  Since the consequences of her threatening gesture may be coming at you at several thousand feet per second, you may well decide to take pre-emptive action and shoot her first. However, if you do this, YOU must now bear the consequences of your unlawful act (and for the sake of order in society, this must always remain an unlawful act). If the 12 year old girl you shot with little or no warning turns out to be a spina bifida sufferer, with wires and straps up and down her poor tortured body, then you can expect a jury of your peers to be quite harsh. If there was more semtex than child under the robe, you might yet get a medal. Its not fair, its just how it is.

Unintended consequences

Every action has unpredictable and unintended consequences. Who would have thought the invention of the atomic bomb would ensure world peace for 70 years? Who would have thought a message of love and peace would result in the crusades and the inquisition? Who knows how many deserving microbes you kill every time you breath? Are you responsible for the unintended consequences of your actions? Well, if not you, then who? God? Fate? Both are difficult to sue. I believe you must take responsibility for the immediate but unintended consequences of any deliberate action, even when lawful in terms of the consent axiom.  However, these consequences must be immediate both in time and place.

Society

A consenting society is that group of people who acknowledge and respect the consent axiom as the basis of their social interactions.  Members of such a society will understand their mutual obligation to resist and punish consent violations, and to provide jury members for dispute resolutions.

Disputes

As with all human endeavours, disputes will arise. I believe that the resolution of these disputes is a task for a jury of your peers when other avenues such as compensation and apology have failed.
The size and composition of the jury must be consented to by both parties to the dispute.  If agreement on a jury cannot be reached in a reasonable time (7 days, for example), both sides select six jurors, and a foreman with a casting vote is chosen by random lottery of the jury members.  Jury decisions are made by a simple majority vote. Any jury decision may be appealed to another jury until one side or the other has 3 identical decisions in its favour. Thereafter the jury decision becomes binding upon both parties to the dispute, and is added to the set of legal precedents for that  society which defines the common law.

The Jury

The members of the jury alone determine the rules for the hearing. They may be guided by well-established rules of legal procedure and evidence, but they are not bound by it. They may appoint a judge or judges to guide them, they may invite or allow lawyers to represent the parties,  they may call witnesses, conduct investigations, seek the opinion of experts, or do whatever is required to reach a decision. They will be funded equally by the parties to the dispute during the hearing, but may finally decide on any allocation of costs they see fit.
Because it is a matter of chance as to which side obtains the casting vote on the jury, it will be important for both sides to select jurors committed to acting on the merits of the case, rather than jurors blindly supporting the side which appointed them. I believe that a class of professional, impartial jurors will arise whose primary asset will be their reputation for fair decisions. This class of jurors will provide the pool from which most parties to a dispute will make their jury selection.

Consent violations

If someone does take action without consent, then that action is unlawful and should be punished.  Who will punish  such a violation? In the first instance, the victim of the violation, if capable, is the most obvious candidate for exacting judgement and punishment. The punishment may vary from an apology, or compensation,  through to capture and removal from the consenting society.  Failing this, in the second instance, members of the victim’s social network, such as family, friends and colleagues will assist in exacting judgement and punishment against a consent violator. If this second group is not capable, then in the final instance, the unrelated members of the consenting society must take responsibility for the consent violation, as a cost and obligation that they bear by virtue of their membership of that society.  It is likely that formal structures, such as  police forces and judiciaries, would be setup by most societies to fulfil this obligation, funded by consenting members of that society.
It is likely that any response by a victim or society against a consent violator may not enjoy the violator’s consent. In this case, the original violator may declare a dispute and the matter would be decided by a jury, as described above. In other words, responses to consent violations are themselves subject to the consent axiom, and must not violate a jury’s sense of reasonableness.

Punishment

What punishments may a jury impose on a convicted consent violator? It is my belief that a jury may impose any punishment it pleases (subject to later appeal), except one.  A jury may not decide to take the life of any individual under any circumstance.  Generally, a jury would be guided by existing precedents for crimes and punishments.
My personal suggested scale of punishments is as follows:
  1. Apology – the violator apologises to the victim
  2. Compensation – the violator compensates the victim
  3. Humiliation – the violator is humiliated before the victim and society
  4. Incarceration – the violator’s freedom of movement is restricted for a period
  5. Removal – the violator is removed from the society, by exile or internal imprisonment

Morality

Morality arises from choice, not coercion. I believe there are discoverable “absolute” moral values. Such an absolute value would optimise the success (survival, comfort, wealth, happiness) of its adherents in the majority of environments, whether they be humans, microbes or aliens from Alpha Centauri. I believe the consent axiom represents such an absolute moral value or proposition.
For example, it has been shown mathematically using game theory that the optimum strategy for survival in a competitive environment is the so-called “tit for tat” strategy. Both the “trust everyone” and “trust no one” strategies are inferior.

Conclusion

I would describe the consent axiom as the definition of a minimum ethical consensus. It is that smallest set of ethical considerations on which a useful number of individuals may agree, which are nevertheless sufficient for producing  a peaceful and productive society.
The implications of this axiom incorporate most libertarian beliefs in a non-contradictory manner, viz
  1. Prohibition on the initiation of violence (unless consented to eg in contact sports)
  2. Property rights
  3. Contracts
  4. Appropriate response to violations
  5. Primacy of the individual
  6. Dispute resolution
  7. Limits on governments and groups
  8. Freedom of speech and belief
The consent axiom here described says that the rights of the individual are paramount, but that disputes between individuals must be resolved by a group.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

2016 - 31st Libertarian seminar - Golden Gate

The 2016 Libertarian Spring Seminar was held at the Golden Gate resort in the Free State from Thursday 27 October to Sunday 30  October. It was organised by Stephen van Jaarsveldt.




Stewart Clark has provided us with a truly superb edited version of both slides and presentations from the seminar on Youtube. Click on the link below to visit the seminar.


Morning visit from some overly friendly horses

Delegates in front of the hotel

Viv Vermaak, the Ria Crafford award winner, demotivating us.

The seminar room


Delegates in front of the Golden Gate

Libdins - Monthly libertarian dinners

Johannesburg/Randburg

Charl and Stephen at Libdin

Libdin Fratellis







You are invited to join in the monthly Libertarian Dinner (LibDin), held from 17:30pm onwards on the first Wednesday of each month.
Fratelli's Ferndale Village Shopping Centre
Remember - you can also bring your own wine.
No RSVP required
Directions
From Republic (west of Bram Fischer used to be Hendrik Verwoerd) turn north on Main, Cross Harley, Hill, Dover, Bond and Oxford. Immediately after Oxford stay in the left hand lane which takes you into the Ferndale Village Shopping Centre. Fratelli's is in the left hand corner.
Contact: Colin Phillips
0725117910

Cape Town

The Cape Town LibDin takes place at 19:00 on the second Wednesday of each month, at a different restaurant every time. If you would like to attend a particular evening, please send your RSVP to either leroux.julian@gmail.com or 072 753 2181
Visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/capetownlibertariandinner/

Centurion

Contact Stephen Van Jaarsveldt at sjaarsveldt@gmail.com for further information.

Jeffreys Bay

Contact: Trevor Watkins 083 4411 721 base37@gmail.com

Ja, Well, No, Fine the authorities

By Trevor Watkins
When the authorities wish to discipline their citizens for some action or omission, they usually start by issuing a fine.  This is meant to remind you that you have done wrong, that you are being punished, and that if you do wrong again, you will be punished again.  Given the enthusiasm with which the authorities fine their citizens for every imaginable type of transgression, this system works well for them.
If you forget to brake going down the hill into Humansdorp you might get a R500 fine. If you forget your ID book and drivers license when you pop out for a loaf of bread, that could cost you R200. If your dog makes a tiny little mess on the beach, that could cost you R300. As I am sure we have all heard the official smugly informing us, “I’m just doing my job. I don’t care what your excuses are. Sign here to acknowledge your guilt please.”
If your brake light on your car has burnt out and you get stopped, then you will get a big fine. If you go out in the same car tomorrow and get stopped again, you will get another big fine.  Every citizen is subject to a possible fine every day. The authorities make an absolute fortune out of  our inability to keep up with every little rule and regulation that we are supposed to know.  It is just another tax upon the already over-taxed citizens.
So, why can’t we, as residents, fine the authorities when they mess up? When their incompetence turns our roads into deathtraps, when they fail to produce the correct documentation at the correct time, when they allow tons of sewage to spill onto our beaches, why can we not just “Do our jobs” and fine them for every transgression?  If I see a large pothole on a municipal road, why don’t I issue a fine against the municipality for every day that the pothole remains unfixed? If I see raw sewage in a pool on the beach because the municipality did not maintain its pumps adequately, why do I not issue the municipality with a huge fine for every day that the sewage remains? And since this problem affects every citizen who wanders down to the beach, why not let every citizen issue a fine to the municipality? After all, they have no problem issuing a fine to every citizen whose dog wanders onto the beach.
Of course, if we held the authorities to the same standards as they hold us, they would quickly go bankrupt due to their incompetence. Its okay for them to hold a business to a high standard of hygiene, for example, but don’t expect themselves to be held to the same standard. It would be a bureaucratic nightmare, they say. It could never work.  Actually, its really quite simple. The municipality does not need to pay out any cash to its citizens, and it does not even need to keep a record of fines issued against it. We will keep a public record of fines against the municipality, and the amount of the fines will be deducted from any fines owed TO the municipality by citizens and residents. In other words, any traffic fine or municipal fine against you can be set off against any fine you have levied against the municipality.  Good plan? Sure. Would the authorities agree to it? Never – its not in their interests.  We are the sheep to be shaved, not them.
At least we can do one side of this arrangement. The Jeffreys Bay Residents Association has setup a page on their website at https://sites.google.com/a/jbayra.com/jbayra/opinions-menings/municipal-fines
Where anyone can add an incident to the database and assess a fine against the municipality.  You can also view all the fines assessed by other residents so far.
Make your anger and indignation at the shabby way you are treated by the authorities heard. Fine them, again and again, for every act and omission they are responsible for.

The Walking Dead

By Trevor Watkins

I recently watched the first 3 seasons of the American TV series called “The Walking Dead” (Season 4 is available on the Fox Channel on DSTV in South Africa). As one critic described it, “Its a zombie apocalypse TV series made with cinema level quality and script. Go figure.” Despite the gallons of gore, the barrels of spilt brains, the never-ending horror, I found that this series spoke to me at a visceral (forgive the pun) level, providing many difficult, thought provoking scenarios to mull over.
In brief:
  • a rabies like virus has infected the United States (we never discover how the rest of he world is doing – this is an American series, so who cares).
  • Infected victims rapidly develop a severe fever and die, only to have their basic nervous system and primitive brain functions restart a few minutes later. This provides the victims with limited sight, hearing, smell and locomotion, and an overwhelming desire to feed on fresh meat, rather like a rabid dog.
  • The virus spreads like wildfire, through bites from the infected, turning most of the landscape into a nightmare of shuffling zombies looking for meat. A few hardy individuals avoid becoming infected, band together and attempt to survive in this horrific new world. The TV series is the story of their efforts to find a safe haven, to retain their human values, and to wrestle some kind of future out of their bleak present.
In many ways this is the popular libertarian desert island scenario, on steroids. Fundamental questions are quickly raised, and the consequences of the decisions taken play out before your eyes.
  • Does one elect a leader, and if so, how?
  • Is it every man for himself when survival depends on joint action?
  • Can dissent be tolerated within the group?
  • Do security issues trump all others, including questions of humanity?
  • How do decisions get taken, and who is bound by them once decided?
  • Are individual members with critically necessary skills free to leave the group?
  • Can members be forcibly restrained from taking their own lives?
  • Do property rights continue to have any meaning?
  • Can you execute troublesome members of the group despite having committed no crime?
  • Is it OK to summarily kill other humans who have a dangerous, infectious disease?
  • Which is better? Retain your civilised values, or survive?
Our band of survivors includes lawmen, housewives, religious farmers, pizza delivery boys, white trash, an old man and a handful of kids. What is quickly apparent is that their old value systems do not prepare them to cope with their new circumstances. The lawmen quickly abandon their respect for the law, the Christian farmer loses his faith, the white trash seem to have the best survival skills and ethos, the women and the old man retain their humanity.
Democracy is a useless luxury when you have a herd of zombies bearing down on you. Decisive action by skilled killers is required. Anyone not following the leader's instructions will quickly die.
Christian love and charity for zombies? No way. Turn the other cheek and they will bite it off. As the christian farmer remarks in the show, “This isn't quite how I had pictured the resurrection.” Its difficult to believe in a kind and merciful God when everything and everyone you know is trying to eat you.
A feudal system is what appears to evolve in the show, with more or less powerful leaders providing some form of security in exchange for blind obedience from their followers.
How would the libertarian consent axiom hold up in such a radically changed world? A fundamental libertarian principle is respect for life – you may not kill anyone except in self defense. As far as zombies themselves are concerned, I think libertarians would have no problem with slaughtering them, as they are no longer technically alive (having died once), are no longer technically human, and pose a grave and immediate threat.
So what about dealing with the living? A few examples from the series will help illustrate some of the dilemmas. (Spoiler alert, if you still plan to watch the series)
Our little band of mostly decent folk are attacked by a group of bandits. In beating them off, they manage to capture one of the bandits, a callow young man of 17. After treating his wounds, they are left with the question of what to do with him. He consumes scarce food and medical resources, he requires constant guarding, and he's not very nice. The former policeman recommends shooting him out of hand. Most of the rest of the group agree. Just the old man pleads for the boy's life. What would you do? Libertarians reject the taking of life except in self-defense. However, they do not feel obligated to maintain anyone else's life at their own expense. I think we would take the youth to the furthermost boundary of our property and eject him into exile, to make his own way in the world. This is in fact what our noble leader finally decides to do (he is fundamentally libertarian, without realising it, and is often confused). Unfortunately our former policeman takes the law into his own hands and kills the youth.
A young woman whose sister has been savaged by zombies is obliged to shoot her sister in the head to avoid her becoming a zombie too. This traumatic event, and their generally poor circumstances, lead her to decide to commit suicide. Her friends deny her this choice by removing her weapons and physically restraining her, to her great distress. Finally she gets over it and becomes a useful member of the community. What would a libertarian do? Nothing. You own your life and it is your choice what you do with it. We would not take an action affecting you without your consent.
A large and aggressive group threatens our little band of survivors. The leader of the large group, known as “The Governor”, demands that our group hands over one of its newer members to the governor, or else the entire group will be attacked and slaughtered. In order to save their wives and sons and daughters, many in the group are in favour of acquiescing to the governor’s demand.
What do you do? Libertarians do not take action against anyone who is not a threat without their consent. We don't believe this out of loyalty to our friends – we apply it to everyone. If you trade your principles for security, you will end up with neither. If you acquiesce to one unreasonable demand, you will end up acquiescing to many. In the end, the group's leader makes the right choice, and ends up vanquishing the governor.
I enjoyed watching this intelligently scripted series. I enjoyed putting my principles to the test in the crucible of a world gone mad. All in all, though, I would rather avoid the zombie apocalypse.

The Wolf of Wall Street

By Trevor Watkins
I watched the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” last night. It is a bio-pic about the life of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo di Caprio. It is a gruelling, action-packed, 3 hour movie, alternately entertaining, horrifying and enlightening. It is a better movie than I thought it would be, less judgemental and less respectful of mainstream values than usual.
It provides a useful acid test for one's libertarian beliefs. The main character, Jordan Belfort, rises from middle class suburban roots to astounding wealth in a few short years by dint of his ambition, personality and insight. He creates a successful brokerage firm, employing over 1,000 people, who also become extravagantly rich. His firm sells penny-stocks to suckers, most of whom end up losing money. He becomes addicted to drugs, sex, power and money. He lives an outrageous lifestyle, bacchanalian parties, trashed hotel rooms, tossed dwarves, you name it, he did it. He is unfaithful to his several wives, betrays his friends, ends up in prison.
Yet at no stage, at least in the film, does he ever coerce anyone. He uses his powers of persuasion, his personal charm, to persuade his co-workers, friends and clients to engage with him, buy his shares, get into his bed. At no stage does he use force or the threat of force to achieve his purpose. He tells people what they want to hear – buy these stocks and you will be rich. Is that any more fraudulent than a politician saying – vote for me and you will be prosperous? All his clients consented to his offers, conscious of the risks of investing in the stock market, greedy for easy profits. Collectively, these clients made Jordan super-rich.
Then the forces of law and order, of government, step in. The Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC) investigates him constantly, but without success. A sour and sad little man from the FBI is assigned his case. By tapping his phones, intercepting his communications, threatening him with endless court cases and long jail sentences, they manage to persuade him to give up his business, betray his friends and colleagues, and plead guilty to various charges. He is finally bundled off to jail for 22 months, for the crime of money-laundering – attempting to keep his own money by taking it overseas. Having effectively destroyed his business and put him in jail, he is also ordered to pay back $110 million to his “victims”, willing buyers of his stock recommendations, guaranteeing them a risk-free transaction. Authorities triumph!
From a libertarian point of view, Jordan Belfort is no hero. He is a drug-addicted, sex-crazed con-man who gets lucky and makes and spends millions. But he coerces no one, uses persuasion rather than force, employs 1,000 people, pays them handsomely, and recycles vast amounts of cash back into the economy. His personal shortcomings are just that, personal to him alone.
On the other hand, the FBI agent constantly uses force and the threat of force to achieve his purposes. He creates no value, but rather destroys it wantonly. He takes victimless crimes such as money laundering and uses them to imprison productive individuals. Through regulation, harassment and prosecution he attempts to “protect” the public from their own greed and stupidity.
Jordan Belfort may be morally reprehensible, irresponsible, misguided. But the FBI is evil.

Authoritarians

 A talk presented by Trevor Watkins at the 2014 Libertarian Spring Seminar in Jeffreys Bay.
I wish to plant a new dichotomy in your brains. You can forget your liberals and conservatives, your communists and anarchists, your republicans and democrats, your christians and atheists. The world can be divided into just 2 groups, libertarians who value freedom, and authoritarians who value control.
Don't just take my word for it – Robert Heinlein, the great libertarian author, said it more than 30 years ago - “The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.”
The advantage of this dichotomy is that it strips away the camouflage that the other terms tend to hide behind. As we all know, liberals used to value freedom, but now prefer political correctness. Conservatives used to cherish freedom, but they now prefer moral correctness. Just as we had to substitute libertarian for liberal, we can now substitute authoritarian for conservative or republican or statist, or any of the many similar terms.
On most political identity scales, libertarians tend to be consigned to some 3rd dimension, some nebulous place way off the simple left-right scale. We are a bit conservative, a bit liberal, but mostly strange and hard to identify. With the libertarian-authoritarian dichotomy our place and our purpose is clearly defined, freedom versus control.
Of course, there is a continuum from pure libertarianism to unadulterated authoritarianism, with each individual occupying their own unique niche. But the desire to control provides a very specific inflexion point.
So what is an authoritarian?
Fortunately a Canadian professor by the name of Bob Altemeyer has written an entire book on the subject. It is called, unsurprisingly, “The Authoritarians”, and is available free on the internet, because, as he says, “the greatest threat to [American] democracy
today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation”. Although Bob Altemeyer has been studying authoritarians for many years, the motivation for this book came from John Dean (yes, the Watergate John Dean), who wrote a book called “Conservatives without conscience” about the capture of the Grand Old Party by the Religious Right and its seemingly amoral leaders.
What is an authoritarian? Well, they come in 2 flavours, authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers.
An authoritarian follower, because of his personality, submits by leaps and bows to his authorities. It may seem strange, but this is the authoritarian personality that psychology has studied the most. He’s someone who readily submits to the established authorities in society, attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional. It’s an aspect of his personality, not a description of his politics. Authoritarian followers seem to have a “Daddy  knows best” attitude toward the government. They do not see laws as social standards that apply to all. Instead, they appear to think that authorities are above the law, - just as parents are when one is young. In a democracy no one is supposed to be above the law, but authoritarians quite easily put that aside. They also believe that only criminals and terrorists would object to having their phones tapped, their mail opened, and their lives put under surveillance.
Because Bob Altemeyer is a psychologist, he has devised a 22 question test to identify authoritarian followers. Predictably he found that most people score in the middle range of this test, they are authoritarians in some parts, but not in others. But the test allowed him to isolate the hardcore authoritarians amongst his students and submit them to various tests.  He discovered that these students
  • will tell you that people should submit to authority in virtually all circumstances
  • trusted President Nixon longer and stronger than most people did during the Watergate crisis
  • believed President George W. Bush’s false claims about Saddam Hussein
  • did not support President Clinton during his impeachment and trial over the Monica Lewinsky scandal
  • tolerated many illegal and unjust government actions
  • go to church enormously more often than they go to bars
  • send just about anyone to jail for a longer time than most people would
  • favored, more than others did, a law to persecute even themselves
While on the surface strong authoritarians can be pleasant, sociable, and friendly, they seemingly have a lot of hostility boiling away inside them that their authorities can easily unleash.
Where do authoritarians come from? Are they born or made? While there is some evidence from identical twins that there is a genetic component, environment seems to be a far bigger determinant of authoritarian attitudes. Authoritarians are, in general, more afraid than most people are.  Maybe they’ve inherited genes that incline them to fret and tremble. Maybe not. But we do know that they were raised by their parents to be afraid of others, because both the parents and their children tell us so.  Authoritarians’ parents taught fear of homosexuals, radicals, atheists and pornographers. But they also warned their children, more than most parents did, about kidnappers, reckless drivers, bullies and bad guys. So authoritarian followers, when growing up, probably lived in a scarier world than most kids do, with a lot more boogeymen hiding in dark places, and they’re still scared as adults. If the children of authoritarian parents enjoy experiences which contradict what they have been taught, they become markedly less authoritarian (“Hey, sex isn't scary, its great.”) If they are denied these alternative experiences, their authoritarianism is reinforced.  Wide-ranging travel at an early age may reduce authoritarian tendencies, so long as you are not in someone's army. Higher education also reduces authoritarian tendencies, although aging and having children appear to increase them.
It turns out in experiments that a person’s fear of a dangerous world predicts various kinds of authoritarian aggression better than any other unpleasant feeling. It seems that we do have to fear fear itself. This why an event like 9/11 was so successful in bringing out the latent authoritarian tendencies in the US population.
What releases the aggressive impulse that comes from fear? If you’re an average human being, you’ll think you’re a better than average human being. But authoritarians think they are way better than most. They got the 3-for-1 special on self-righteousness. And self-righteousness appears to release authoritarian aggression more than anything else.
If we measure how fearful and self-righteous a person is, we can predict rather well who, in a sample of people, will show authoritarian aggression. It is a cruel contradiction that the people who feel holiest are likely to do very unholy things precisely because they feel holiest.
Research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do. They exhibit sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and--to top it all off--a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic. As Hitler is reported to have said,“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”
Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, authoritarian leaders exhibit a completely different set of personality traits to authoritarian followers. Authoritarian leaders can be identified using a psychological test called the Social Dominance Scale, also used for measuring prejudice. High social dominators tend to score low on the authoritarian follower test. Since dominators long to control others, and  followers yearn to follow such leaders, more social prejudice is therefore connected to authoritarian leaders. Social dominators favour conservative economic policies, right wing political parties, exhibit strong racial prejudices, crave power for its own sake, want to control others. They are inclined to be intimidating, ruthless, and vengeful. They scorn such noble acts as helping others, and being kind, charitable, and forgiving. Instead they would rather be feared than loved, and are happy to be viewed as mean, pitiless, and vengeful.  Authoritarian followers do not feel this way because they seldom have such a drive to start with.
For socially dominant authoritarian leaders, it’s all about them, not about a higher purpose. If trouble arises, don’t be surprised if they start playing “Every man for himself” and even sell out the group to save their own skin. They are not particularly religious, but may act so in order to attract followers.  Dominance is the first order of business with them in a relationship, like dogs encountering each other in a school yard, and vulnerable minorities provide easy targets for exerting power. Might makes right for social dominators. The dominator acts out of meanness, as an act of intimidation and control; the follower out of fear and self-righteousness in the name of authority. Most authoritarian leaders show strong reasoning abilities, broad thinking, sound logic. They don't trust people who tell them what they want to hear. They are not dogmatic or particularly zealous. They’ve got their head together.
Authoritarian leaders share several attributes with libertarians. They think equality is a myth. People should have to earn their places in society, not get any free rides. If life treats you unfairly, that's just tough. But we believe in freedom for all individuals, the Authoritarian leader believes in freedom for just one.
Why is all this an issue? From a libertarian perspective, it releases us from any obligation to try to convert or educate authoritarians. Authoritarianism is not an error in their thinking, it is a defect in their personalities. If we are subject to authoritarians in an authoritarian state, we should not plan to appeal to their conscience or better nature – we should plan to leave. Any negotiation with an authoritarian is likely to end either in submission or in violence, as we have seen with the state a million times. Authoritarians do not want to live and let live. They are on a mission, either from God, or personal self-righteousness, to export their particular brand of dogmatism far and wide. Its either their way, or the highway to Hell.
Is there anything we can do? Not much, not in the short term, because we would be asking authoritarians to act against their own narrow self-interests. Most authoritarians  would compartmentalize, misinterpret, rationalize, and dogmatically deny that any of this applied to them  personally. Nevertheless, here are some ideas.
  • Reduce fear. Fear ignites authoritarian aggression more than anything else. By reducing fear of global warming, of Muslims, of other races, we may reduce authoritarianism.
  • Reduce self-righteousness. Encourage people to be less certain, less bigoted. Demonstrate alternative views.
  • Reduce religiosity. Throughout history religion has been a driver of authoritarianism and aggression. Authoritarian aggression from religious zealots remains one of the biggest threats to peace and prosperity today.
  • Undermine authorities. Teach children to question leaders. Show the emperor has no clothes. Laugh out loud at politicians.
  • Encourage diversity. Authoritarians are prejudiced against everyone outside their core group. Exposure to diversity within society may reduce that prejudice.
  • Encourage education and experience. Authoritarians are often ignorant and unaware from an early age. Tolerance improves with learning and travel.
  • Become a libertarian. Probably the best approach.

Predictions archive

2015 predictions archive

Friedrich Hayek's Law, Legislation and Liberty – a personal evaluation.

By Trevor Watkins

I recently had the pleasure of reading F Hayek's seminal work “Law, Legislation and Liberty”. I found the experience rather like reading Ayn Rand for the first time – an unexpected epiphany, one profound insight after another.
The book was first published in one volume with corrections and revised preface in 1982 by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
The complete PDF of the book can be downloaded here Hayek - Law, Legislation And Liberty.
I felt compelled to put this new perspective on the old problem of liberty down in writing, to order my thoughts for my own benefit, and for any benefit it may supply to others who lack the time to read all 646 pages of the work.
The reader may assume that any text within quotes is taken directly from the book. Hayek's prose is so well constructed that it would do it a great injustice to summarise or amend it.
This is Hayek's major statement of political philosophy. Rejecting Marx, Freud, logical positivism and political egalitarianism, Hayek shows that the naive application of scientific methods to culture and education has been harmful and misleading, creating superstition and error rather than an age of reason and culture.”
The thesis of this book is that a condition of liberty in which all are allowed to use their knowledge for their own purposes, restrained only by rules of just conduct of universal application, is likely to produce for them the best conditions for achieving their aims; and that such a system is likely to be achieved and maintained only if all authority, including that of the majority of the people, is limited in the exercise of coercive power by general principles to which the community has committed itself.
Individual freedom, wherever it has existed, has been largely the product of a prevailing respect for such principles which, however, have never been fully articulated in constitutional documents. Freedom has been preserved for prolonged periods because such principles, vaguely and dimly perceived, have governed public opinion.”

The Great Society

Hayek frequently refers to “The Great Society”, a term coined by Adam Smith, similar to Karl Popper's “Open Society”. This is the society to which we should all aspire - a peaceful, free and just society in which the chances of success of anyone selected at random are likely to be as great as possible.
Through its development and adoption of markets and common law, Western society has approached closer to a Great Society than any other, but is currently turning away from these institutions and is declining accordingly.
The basic order of the Great Society
  • is not designed, and cannot aim at particular foreseeable results
  • arises not from rational analysis, but through a spontaneous order
  • allows coercion only if it is applied in the enforcement of universal rules of just conduct equally applicable to all citizens
  • Derives its legitimacy from a commitment to general principles approved by widespread opinion and applicable to all.
  • rests on a system of values which have evolved over time, which have survived by trial and error from the efforts of our ancestors and which have been more successful than all other alternatives.

Law

Like so many other important concepts, the meaning of the word “Law” has been mongrelised by progressive forces to mean many things. Hayek uses “law” to mean the common law, traditional law, those rules of just conduct which at one time were regarded as the law. This law is sometimes described as private law, or lawyers law. This is the law referred to in “the rule of law”. For the sake of precision, Hayek allocates the Greek word Nomos to identify this law.
The law will consist of purpose-independent rules which govern the conduct of individuals towards each other, are intended to apply to an unknown number of further instances, and by defining a protected domain of each, enable an order of actions to form itself wherein the individuals can make feasible plans.”
The common law 'does not consist of particular cases, but of general principles, which are illustrated and explained by those cases.”

Legislation

Legislation produced by governments for specific short term objectives he describes as “public law”. These are rules for the organisation of government, easily and often changed. Hayek allocates the word Cosmos to refer to this type of law.
“It turns out that the Americans two hundred years ago were right and an almighty Parliament means the death of the freedom of the individual. Apparently a free constitution no longer means the freedom of the individual but a licence to the majority in Parliament to act as arbitrarily as it pleases. We can either have a free Parliament or a free people. Personal freedom requires that all authority is restrained by long-run principles which the opinion of the people approves.”
“The lack of comprehension of the function of law has become significant. It has resulted in a frequent interpretation of law as an instrument of organization for particular purposes, an interpretation which is of course true enough of one kind of law, namely public law, but wholly inappropriate with regard to the nomos or lawyer's law. And the predominance of this interpretation has become one of the chief causes of the progressive transformation of the spontaneous order of a free society into the organization of a totalitarian order.”“Thus it came about that governmental assemblies, whose chief activities were of the kind which ought to be limited by law, became able to command whatever they pleased simply by calling their commands 'laws'”

Spontaneous orders

We are familiar with the concept of the market as a spontaneous order, which produces desirable outcomes for the majority of participants, despite the limitations on their available knowledge and reasoning powers. The “invisible hand” of the market guides the actions of participants, through the pricing mechanism, to be of service to their fellows in the most efficient way, although that was never the intention of the individuals involved.
There are many successful spontaneous orders in addition to the market. Nature itself is a large and complex spontaneous order, largely self-regulating, unplanned and unknowable. So is the development of language, and of morals. The internet is a human made spontaneous order, which has evolved to become unplanned, unknowable in its full extent, beyond individual human direction.
Hayek's critical insight is that law itself arises from a spontaneous order which is beyond the knowledge and understanding of any one individual or group. There are limits to our power of reasoning: there are limits to our knowledge: but the spontaneous orders of the market and the development of law allow us to compensate for these limits in order to be successful and productive.

The role of reason

Because our knowledge is always limited and imperfect, we cannot rely on reason alone to tell us what we ought to do.
“Reason is merely a discipline, an insight into the limitations of the possibilities of successful action, which often will tell us only what not to do. This discipline is necessary precisely because our intellect is not capable of grasping reality in all its complexity.”
“But the desire to use our reason to turn the whole of society into one rationally directed engine persists, and in order to realize it, common ends are imposed upon all that cannot be justified by reason and cannot be more than the decisions of particular wills.”

Freedom and justice

Freedom is when you may use your particular knowledge and property to accomplish your own particular purposes. Justice is those rules of conduct that equally limit the freedom of each so as to assure the same freedom to all. A rule of just conduct serves the reconciliation of the different purposes of many individuals. In a free society coercion is permissible only to secure obedience to universal rules of just conduct.
“It is only by extending the rules of just conduct to the relations with all other men, and at the same time depriving of their obligatory character those rules which cannot be universally applied, that we can approach a universal order of peace which might integrate all mankind into a single society.”
“The only moral principle which has ever made the growth of an advanced civilization possible was the principle of individual freedom, which means that the individual is guided in his decisions by rules of just conduct and not by specific commands. No principles of collective conduct which bind the individual can exist in a society of free men.”
“Justice is thus emphatically not a balancing of particular interests at stake in a concrete case, or even of the interests of determinable classes of persons, nor does it aim at bringing about a particular state of affairs which is regarded as just. It is not concerned with the results that a particular action will in fact bring about. The observation of a rule of just conduct will often have unintended consequences which, if they were deliberately brought about, would be regarded as unjust. And the preservation of a spontaneous order often requires changes which would be unjust if they were determined by human will.”
“A judge's decision is not guided by any knowledge of what the whole of society requires at the particular moment, but solely by what is demanded by general principles on which the order of society is based.”
“Justice is not concerned with the results of the various transactions but only with whether the transactions themselves are fair.”
“In a free society the state does not administer the affairs of men. It administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs.” (Walter Lippmann, An Inquiry into the Principles of a Good Society (Boston, 1937), p. 267).

Principles

A principle describes how you ought to behave. It does not proscribe how you will behave. It is not changed by circumstances. It does not vary relative to prevailing conditions. It does not take utility or the greatest good into account.
The Consent Axiom is an example of a general principle. It says that you may take no action against another human being without their full and informed consent.
“If we are not guided by a body of coherent principles, the outcome is likely to be a suppression of individual freedom.”
“Classical liberalism rested on the belief that there existed discoverable principles of just conduct of universal applicability which could be recognized as just irrespective of the effects of their application on particular groups.”
“Liberal principles can be consistently applied only to those who themselves obey liberal principles, and cannot always be extended to those who do not.”
“The power of all authorities exercising governmental functions ought to be limited by long run rules which nobody has the power to alter or abrogate in the service of particular ends: principles which are the terms of association of the community that recognizes an authority because this authority is committed to such long-term rule.”
“Lawyers in many fields have become the tools, not of principles of justice, but of an apparatus in which the individual is made to serve the ends of his rulers.”

Protected domains and property rights

The discipline of freedom and civilisation allows each individual to try to build for himself a protected domain with which nobody else is allowed to interfere and within which he can use his own knowledge for his own purposes. These are our “property rights”.
“The individual domains which the rules of just conduct protect will have to be referred to again and again, and the manner in which such domains are acquired, transferred, lost, and delimited will usefully be stated once and for all in rules of just conduct. All the rules which state the conditions under which property can be acquired and transferred, valid contracts or wills made, or other 'rights' or 'powers' acquired and lost, serve merely to define the conditions on which the law will grant the protection of enforceable rules of just conduct.”
“The rules [of just conduct] do not confer [property] rights on particular persons, but lay down the conditions under which such rights can be acquired. What will be the domain of each will depend partly on his actions and partly on facts beyond his control. The rules serve merely to enable each to deduce from facts which he can ascertain the boundaries of the protected domain which he and others have succeeded in cutting out for themselves.”

Democracy

“What today we call democratic government serves, as a result of its construction, not the opinion of the majority but the varied interests of a conglomerate of pressure groups whose support the government must buy by the grant of special benefits, simply because it cannot retain its supporters when it refuses to give them something it has the power to give. The resulting progressive increase of discriminating coercion now threatens to strangle the growth of a civilization which rests on individual freedom.”
“For those, on the other hand, who make the power of the legislator necessarily unlimited, individual freedom becomes a matter 'beyond salvation' and freedom comes to mean exclusively the collective freedom of the community, i.e. democracy.”
“So long as the present form of democracy persists, decent government cannot exist, even if the politicians are angels or profoundly convinced of the supreme value of personal freedom. We have no right to blame them for what they do, because it is we who, by maintaining the present institutions, place them in a position in which they can obtain power to do any good only if they commit themselves to secure special benefits for various groups.”

Taxation

Hayek regards taxation as a “special measure”, an exception to the rules of his nomos. He asks whether a burden that a majority is willing to bear may also be imposed on a minority unwilling to do so. How a given total burden is to be apportioned between the different persons and groups does raise questions of justice. But he does concede that the state must raise funds through taxation, and that this will be in conflict with the principle for the use of coercion. He relies on the good nature and integrity of those in government to levy taxes fairly and evenly across the population.
For me, this represents a flaw in his otherwise admirable thinking – a concession to the status quo.

Conclusion

Libertarians and classical liberals believe in the possibility of a Great Society – a peaceful, free and just society in which everyone's chances of success are optimised. But they are often confused as to what the elements of such a society would be, and how it would arise. Hayek has applied his mind to this problem, and defines the nature of this society, the conditions from which it arises, and the constraints and conditions under which it must operate in order to be successful.
The Great Society is not designed. It is not brought about through rational analysis and concerted action. It arises as a spontaneous order through the participation and cooperation of willing individuals, none of whom know or understand the entirety of what they have wrought. It is based on principles - negative rules of an abstract nature, applicable to all, identifying what may not be done rather than what must be done. It allows coercion only under limited and specific conditions. It respects the right to own property. It is not democracy. It is not concerned with “social justice'. It is not intuitive.
What does this mean for the future?
The Great Society will not be achieved through democracy, which is merely a means for selecting the most popular group to shoulder the burden of the organisation of the state.
It will not come about through politics.
It will not come about through force, or directed action, or supreme effort.
The achievement of the Great Society depends on persuading the general populace to adopt the negative laws of just conduct as the basis of order within society. It requires men of reason to have faith in the power of spontaneous orders to bring about positive results, even where this is not the intention. It requires men of action to do less. It requires men of wisdom to acknowledge their ignorance. It requires men and women for whom peace, freedom and justice are their primary values.

Authenticity

By Trevor Watkins 24/5/2020 Some of what I have to say here is derived from a Wikipedia article entitled “ Authenticity ”. What is real? I...