More Thick & Thin / Can prisons be totally abolished?

Anarcho-Ichthus-fav“Thick” libertarians are always talking about things besides liberty. They talk about unions, racism, patriarchy, hierarchy and sexism; and whether land rent, usury, wage labor or inequality of wealth are compatible with the maintenance of a stateless society. These libertarians want to graft their issues onto the tree of liberty because they believe these questions bear on the very viability of liberty. As near as I can tell, the seminal article on thick and thin libertarianism is Charles Johnson’s 2008 article, “Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin: What Kind of Commitment Is Libertarianism?

If “thicks” see any institution as oppressive, they noisily oppose it. Some atheist “thicks” (but not all) want to be rid of organized religion because they believe that church members are hopeless statists, mindlessly following authority. They consider obedience to any authority to be erosive of freedom. Who knows, there may be religious thick libertarians who want to read atheists out of the movement, but I do not know any.

To the extent that the “thick” issues seem to reduce the square footage of the libertarian big tent, “thin” libertarians are wary of mixing these social issues with the political philosophy of libertarianism. There are (at least) a couple reasons for this: 1) “thins” are concerned that these issues can turn off potential converts to libertarianism; and 2) “thins” fear that the “thicks” may place their social issues ahead of libertarianism’s organizing principle: nonaggression. See Lew Rockwell’s The Future of Libertarianism.

We can hope that time will teach us which–if any–of the “thick” issues turn out to be important. To be fair, most “thicks” do not advocate physical aggression to implement their agenda. Instead these “thicks” urge education, advocacy, propaganda, encouragement, ridicule, ostracism, boycotts and all kinds of non-violent persuasion to change the societal consensus on “thick” issues.

gotojailPrisons in a free society

One of the topics all libertarians think about is our unjust criminal justice system. I recently ran across this Jeffrey Tucker interview of Cory Massimino, a writer for the left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society.

I have to agree with much that Massimo says. In a free society, prisons will largely become a thing of the past, but perhaps not completely, as Massimo suggests. By the time we eliminate imprisonment for drug-related crime, the prisons will be getting empty; especially as the drug war violence comes to an end. [The idea that proprietors of legal marijuana shops will still be killing one another seems about as likely as the Budweiser and Miller Light drivers shooting it out in the grocery aisle.] A greater emphasis on restitution over retribution will empty more prison cells, but Massimo may underestimate the problem of individuals who are unremittingly violent and dangerous.

As a former prosecutor and now a criminal defense lawyer, I am personally familiar with murderers who CANNOT be dealt with by Massimo’s house-arrest solution, not unless the security is so prison-like that there is no real difference.

jail celljail cell-smThe bleeding hearts need to recognize that realistic options are more limited. The most obvious non-state solutions are: 1) securely imprison incorrigible murderers and make them work for their supper; or 2) execute them.

A possible–but perhaps unrealistic–solution, might be some sort of banishment, like to Mars or Australia. The problem is that there exist certain human beings that no one–not even a thick libertarian–is willing to have around. (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, etc). I am open to other ideas, but I cannot think what they would be.

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Lew Rockwell, Thick and Thin libertarianism

dont-tread-on-neighbor300In attempting to explain what libertarianism is, we soon discover that there exists a divide in the movement.

There are the “thin” libertarians who see libertarianism as a simple thing, the nonaggression principle: thou shalt not initiate physical force against another.

Across the divide are the “thicks,” mostly–but not necessarily–left-libertarians, who have a broader agenda which they believe is essential to the success of libertarianism.

In the past year, I have sorted through some of this business in several posts (here, here, and here), but it was Jeffrey Tucker’s recent article “Against Libertarian Brutalism” in the The Freeman, that touched off a firestorm over “thick” and “thin” libertarianism.

Many words have been written since, but Lew Rockwell has done the best job yet in explaining what is at stake. It’s a short read and a good one. so give it a click:

The Future of Libertarianism, By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

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What about discrimination laws?

Anarcho-IchthusDiscrimination laws—as applied to private parties—play on the fear that, without government to keep people from favoring one person or group over another, social progress would be set back by decades. They fear that protected groups would be excluded from jobs, schools, neighborhoods and places of business.

The criteria that prompt inclusion in the so-called “protected classes” are not just the old “race, creed and color” divisions. Discrimination laws continue to create more privileged categories based on national origin, age, sex, family composition, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and even a person’s genetic code.
These laws proliferate in a downward spiral of ridiculousness, and there is a long way to fall. Recently the government of Greece added to its definition of “disabled” persons. The list now includes the categories of pyromaniacs, compulsive gamblers, fetishists, sadomasochists, pedophiles, exhibitionists and kleptomaniacs. It would be pointless trying to guess where this fire will jump next, for imagination simply fails.

discriminateMany discrimination laws seem to be advocated more for political advantage or to push a social agenda that many find abhorrent, but no one disagrees with the underlying truth that people ought to be treated with justice and dignity.

Like every law that attempts to force people to be nice to one another, discrimination laws are doomed to fail at anything but a superficial level. We may prevent or punish direct harm, but people are not made compassionate by threats of violence. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said:

It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me.

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Western Michigan University speech (1963)

The Church recognizes both the Christian duty to treat other people with respect and the inability of government to create that result by force of law:

Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother.

~ Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶ 1931

When considering modern anti-discrimination laws, we should be mindful that the discrimination laws of an earlier era—the malignant Jim Crow laws—were also brought to us by government: racial segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains, segregation of the military, public schools, public places, and public transportation. All of it deservedly came to an end in the sixties.

If equality under the law had been the end of it, the wounds of that injustice might have begun to heal by now, but the government hardly missed a beat in moving from segregation into a quota system and affirmative action, thereby enshrining the evil it sought to eliminate.

Discrimination laws are counterproductive. The one place that favoring one person over another ought to be forbidden is in government. Unfortunately government at its core is an institution hopelessly dedicated to favoring one man over another; taking from one and giving to another.

On the other hand, attempting to punish discrimination by private individuals is a futile exercise that does more harm than good. With the expansion of protected classes of workers, employers must be careful in hiring. Not many managers are likely to hire a person who may not work out when they know that the applicant cannot be fired without raising the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit.

Of course no employer would admit—and we will never know—how many pregnant women, blacks or old guys like me might have been given jobs if it were not for discrimination laws that make us radioactive.

The government could not have designed a better system to keep hatreds alive. If the federal government had stopped with the repeal of earlier discrimination laws, there was a chance that old hurts would heal and new resentments would not be fed, but government cannot leave well enough alone. Equality under the law might have been as simple as letting everyone stand up and be free, but within the logic of government, equality under the law is achieved just as well when every man is trampled as when every man is free.

[excerpted from Free is Beautiful]

Don't tread on your neighbor

Michael Dean After Dark with Randy England

microphoneMichael Dean After Dark is a new late-night, liberty-related podcast. Michael asked me to serve as one of the show’s rotating co-hosts. The 2-hour show is broadcast live at LRN.FM weeknights at Midnight Central time.

Show notes for 04/07/2014 : Libertarianism & Christianity — Saying the Pledge of Allegiance — Do libertarians support the constitution? — Leo Tolstoy and Christian Anarchism — Pacifism — How using government violence has backfired on Christians — Murray Rothbard bloopers?

Download or listen to today’s show here:

[Download here] (right click, then Save link as . . .)

Or visit Michael W. Dean After Dark

Randy England co-hosts Michael W. Dean After Dark

microphoneMichael Dean After Dark is a new late-night, liberty-related podcast. Michael asked me to serve as one of the show’s rotating co-hosts. The 2-hour show is broadcast live at LRN.FM weeknights at Midnight Central time. Download or listen to today’s show here:

Show notes for 03/31/2014 : Rules in a Libertarian Society — Homeowners Associations — Voluntary communities — Crowd-sourcing National Defense — Randy’s brother hangs up  a jury — Unions, Guilds and the Wobblies — Copyrights

[Download here] (right click, then Save link as . . .)

Or visit Michael Dean After Dark

The “vulgar libertarians” fight back

voluntaryThe term “vulgar libertarians” was coined by Kevin Carson in his Mutualist Blog to describe libertarians whom he views as cheerleaders for crony capitalism and big business, which exist to the detriment of consumers and workers.

Mutualist Carson is sometimes labeled a thick libertarian, along with other prefixed libertarians: Left-Libertarians, Bleeding Heart Libertarians and others who add to the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP) their opposition to all oppression: sexism, racism, wage labor, religious hierarchy and other concerns (both real and imagined).

A new blog–the “VULGAR LIBERTARIANS“–proudly wears Carson’s name tag, apparently embracing the word “vulgar” in its primary dictionary meaning: “generally used, applied, or accepted.” These “vulgar” libertarians proclaim an unhyphenated libertarianism that sticks to the basics, i.e. the non-aggression principle. As this post notes: “The prefixed libertarians may claim that they have gone “beyond” libertarianism, we contend that they haven’t reached it yet.”

Thick and thin are not that far apart

My FreedomTo some extent, the thick and thin libertarians talk past one another. Both harbor suspicions that the other would use force to achieve their own goals. The truth is that thin libertarians really do believe in the NAP and would gladly strip away every vestige of crony capitalism: no more monopoly privileges, government licensing, bailouts or regulations. Such changes would create many opportunities, especially for the poor.

“Thick” libertarians are quite vocal about the importance of such changes, but a substantial portion of those view such changes as the natural results of liberty, not some private agenda they would see tacked on to the NAP.

These are good reasons for a clean unencumbered libertarianism which raises no barriers to those who have differing viewspoints.

Vulgar libertarians and property titles

We vulgar- thin- plain vanilla- libertarians need to keep in mind that the thick or left-libertarians have one issue that cannot be evaded once we achieve liberty. The issue is one of property titles.

If tomorrow there were no government to say who owned what, would we all agree that each person owns that property which he possesses at that moment? Or would it be fair to assume that each person would own whatever the (now-defunct) government would have said she owned the day before it was dissolved? This issue cannot be evaded. Murray Rothbard writes about the mythical kingdom of Ruritania on the eve of its overthrow by libertarian rebels:

KingThe king, seeing the revolt to be imminently successful, now employs a cunning stratagem. He proclaims his government to be dissolved, but just before doing so he arbitrarily parcels out the entire land area of his kingdom to the “ownership” of himself and his relatives. He then goes to the libertarian rebels and says: “all right, I have granted your wish, and have dissolved my rule; there is now no more violent intervention in private property. However, myself and my eleven relatives now each own one-twelfth of Ruritania, and if you disturb us in this ownership in any way, you shall be infringing upon the sanctity of the very fundamental principle that you profess: the inviolability of private property. Therefore, while we shall no longer be imposing ‘taxes,’ you must grant each of us the right to impose any ‘rents’ that we may wish upon our ‘tenants,’ or to regulate the lives of all the people who presume to live on ‘our’ property as we see fit.

~ Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 9

Obviously, property titles will be up for grabs if those titles are known to be the result of theft. There will have to be some consensus regarding who shall own formerly-public property, which–with few exceptions–was acquired by theft.

Shall public schools be owned by the teachers? by the students? Perhaps the streets would be acquired by the adjacent property owners. Public utilities might end up as cooperatives owned by their customers, and so on. These matters can be worked out.

Property titles will always be questionable if they were granted as a government favor. Some commentators suggest that quasi-private institutions–largely or wholly funded by government–such as universities, hospitals or military arms manufacturers should be re-distributed. And it gets trickier.

Far-left-libertarians, looking to further the class struggle, believe that capital goods properly belong to whomever is occupying or using the property. It is difficult to imagine the workers taking ownership of every privately-owned factory; each renter claiming title to every house or apartment he occupies, and not encountering enormous resistance, even bloodshed.

These are issues that some “thick” libertarians present. They are worth thinking over, but they do not define libertarianism and should not limit the movement.

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“The Libertarian” (UK) reviews Free is Beautiful

“The Libertarian” (UK) reviews Free is Beautiful: Why Catholics should be Libertarian by Brendan Ferreri-Hanberry:  XXXX

UPDATE: “The Libertarian” (at the-libertarian.co.uk) seems to have retired. Here ‘s the review:

Why Catholics Should Be Libertarian

POSTED BY BRENDAN FERRERI-HANBERRY ON FEBRUARY 5, 2014 IN CULTURE 

Randy England is a former state prosecutor, a Catholic, and currently a criminal defense attorney in the midwestern US state of Missouri. He is the author of the 2012 book Free is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should Be Libertarian. Although the socially conservative Christian Right may lead some to assume that Christianity and libertarianism are opposing forces, in this concise text England makes compelling arguments to the effect that not only Catholicism but Christianity overall is fundamentally libertarian.

First of all, the author argues that the Non-Aggression Principle, the basis of the strictest form of libertarianism, naturally follows from the Golden Rule. This is not peculiar to Catholicism, or even to Christianity. As he puts it, “The basic wrongness, the offensiveness, the immorality of harming others deliberately is so ingrained in our nature as to be undeniable. …When every religion condemns the initiation of violence, we find near-universal agreement, even among people of no religion. We do not want people to harm us; so we easily grasp this corollary to the [Golden Rule]: Do not unto others that which we would not want done to ourselves.”1 This holds even in cases of actions done with good intentions.2

England makes reference to the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as the writings of the major Catholic thinkers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. England’s quotes from these two saints make them sound surprisingly similar to modern-day libertarians, despite having been born in the fourth and 13th centuries respectively.2 St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, for example, that the law was right not to criminalize many vices, but only to make crimes of “chiefly those that are to the hurt of others…thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.”3 Several Popes are quoted expressing sentiments compatible with libertarianism. These include defending the sanctity of private property, as well as strongly criticizing a central government which tries to take on powers which private or more local organizations could perform.4

England argues that human beings were deliberately granted far-reaching freedom, and could not achieve their moral or spiritual potential without it. God could have created perfect machines which could never malfunction. These would certainly be free of sin, but they would also have no humanity; they would behave correctly, but have no capacity to make meaningfully good decisions. “Good actions compelled under a threat of violence are not good in any moral sense,” he writes.5 “Only free men can become good men.”6

Instead, God made thinking human beings who would sometimes make mistakes. This is apparent from the story of Adam and Eve, who fell from their original innocent state and were thrown out of the Garden of Eden as a result of their own decisions.

God, England argues, took an unusually libertarian approach with regard to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Human authorities in such a situation would have been more likely to forcefully prevent Adam and Eve from eating from the tree. God simply warned them of the danger, though, and left the rest to their free will.

England also points out that Jesus and his disciples never presumed to make any Christian teaching into a matter of law. As he puts it, “having given us free will, did God intend that some men should…enforce His will by violence upon other men? Clearly, Jesus did not commission His Church to use compulsion to make men believe or behave, or even to pay the tithe.” He goes on to point out that the Vatican today does not even legally require its residents to pay taxes; the tithe is still voluntary.7

The author was recently a substitute host on Freedom Feens, a libertarian talk radio show based in the western US. He explains that his conversion to libertarianism, although gradual, was finalized by the issue of the War on Drugs. He objects to applying the criminal law to any behavior which does not have a victim. “It’s reached a point now,” he explains, “where there’s so many laws against so many things that don’t actually hurt other people, every man’s been turned into a criminal.”

Randy England’s law blog can be found at randyengland.com, and his free audiobook can be found here.

Notes

1. Randy England, Free Is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should Be Libertarian (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012), 15.
2. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (1993), 78; Romans 3:8.
3. See St. Augustine, City of God, Book IV, Chapter 4; see also Book XIX, Chapter 15.
4. Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 96, Art. 2.
5. See Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio of 18 Dec., 1903; Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891, 38; Pope Pius XI, Quadrigesimo Anno (“Encyclical On Reconstruction of The Social Order”), 78, and Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (1991), 48.
6. England, 15.
7. England, 18.
8. England, 19.

Yes, Catholic libertarians are pro-life

Anarcho-IchthusTime for the 2014 March for Life — I was going to write something, but Dan Smyth at Liberty Blog has done it for me (and with fewer words): My Response to a Libertarian Case for Abortion

Afraid of government