Should a Liberty Advocate Vote?

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Now that we’ve examined the nature of the state (or government) in detail, and identified it as definitively aggressive and therefore definitively immoral, a number of questions come up. One of the more common within voluntaryist and libertarian circles, is the question of whether one should vote.

To answer this question, we first have to answer what is meant by “should.” The “should”could either refer to a moral determination or a strategic one. First, I will address first the moral consideration. Does voting constitute participation in, or consent for the aggression of the state? Should it always be avoided because it does?

I would contend that morally, there is neither an obligation to vote nor to refrain from voting. The logical basis for characterizing voting as an act of force, or consent to such, has no valid basis… just as the state itself has no valid basis for claiming consent of its governed via participation in a vote. Yes, the people who claim to be our rulers construe the act of voting as consent, but they’re wrong to do so. Voting can not be demonstrably tied to a valid instrument of consent or contract by any specific individual, a point Lysander Spooner made in No Treason. His reasoning, while it was specifically directed at the Constitution itself, holds true for voting in general as a supposed act of consent. He says:

It cannot be said that, by voting, a man pledges himself to support the Constitution, unless the act of voting be a perfectly voluntary one on his part. Yet the act of voting cannot properly be called a voluntary one on the part of any very large number of those who do vote. It is rather a measure of necessity imposed upon them by others, than one of their own choice. (No Treason, the Constitution of no Authority)

Spooner’s point here is essentially that emergency ethics are in play. Voting creates an inherent “lifeboat scenario” for us all, being constantly at peril of our lives, liberty and property from the ever-present threat of the state. Therefore voting can, at best, be presumed to be the act of an individual using one of an array of available options for self-defense. Furthermore, voting can not be construed as consent to the overall condition of subjection to the state because ballots do not contain a referendum on that situation. They merely represent a choice among various referenda and candidates regarding the implementation of that coercion.

The deeper problem for voluntaryists who take stand against voting on the “consent” grounds, is that it is wrong to impose an obligation to refrain that is based on a logically ill-conceived notion of consent to begin with. To do so is also, in the context of libertarianism and voluntaryism, deeply hypocritical. One cannot have it both ways. If voting is not “consent” when the state claims it as justification to impose their whim upon anyone who as ever voted (which would indeed be an absurdity) then it is also not “consent” when a person chooses to vote for strategic reasons, or reasons other than their intent to express such consent. Granted, there may be some who walk into voting booths willfully wishing that by very act to express their consent to their general subjection to the determinations of government, however I think it’s more reasonable to presume that for most (voluntaryist or not) the act is merely an effort to influence those determinations, expecting that they will be operative.

Voting as a Strategy for Liberty

Whatever moral considerations do come into play when deciding whether to vote, are the moral considerations surrounding the use of one’s time, and the moral obligation to avoid self-deception. I used to take a position that voting is a morally neutral act, however over time I’ve become more convinced of the importance of these decisions of time usage and being honest with oneself and they are very important. Self-deception is the underlying immoral act that acts as the foundation of all others.

Voting is a failed strategy for society-wide liberty, and will continue to be so. It is clearly not a means, along with all political processes, of accomplishing the ultimate goal of achieving a voluntary society. Aside from the empirical data which abounds for this, It’s absurd to think that one can gain control of a coercive mechanism such as the state, and use it to impose voluntaryism on society. It is an inherent contradiction, and strategically impossible. The best evidence for this (aside from the fact that tyranny has steadily grown despite the voting process being in place) is that voting is the process that the state itself permits us to use to influence its actions. If it was likely to inhibit them or reduce their power, the individuals labeled government wouldn’t allow it to continue!

This doesn’t mean that there is never anything that can be improved by voting and other forms of state-approved participation. Under the right alignment of circumstances a vote or other participatory effort may indeed lead to a reduction of the individual instances of force brought to bear by the state. Each act of aggression is a moral evil, and therefore each reduction of that force even by means of voting must be viewed as a positive. Therefore it’s unwise to completely rule out the use of voting and other participatory efforts.

Next week I will discuss some effective, non-voting forms of working toward societal liberty, in terms of both immediate damage control and the long-term goal of eliminating its perception of legitimacy.

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Liberty and the Activist Mind: Implication or Contradiction?

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“The Self Owner” is an original weekly column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Now that we’ve systematically examined liberty from the ground up (meaning from its conceptual connection to reality) and examined its implications to several areas of human interaction, I’d like to circle back and address an entirely new question.

How does a proponent of liberty act? How does a person spend their time and effort if they value this principle or wish to advance it in society?

Here is where some really unfortunate societal conditioning usually kicks in. At the conscious level, we may have responded intellectually to the principle of liberty, however at the subconscious level many of us don’t immediately (or ever) shed the anti-liberty presumptions behind the way we work toward it. We immediately take steps to implement it as though it were just another political or managerial scheme to be imposed on society through collectivist rituals (politics) without fully realizing the way the very idea is antithetical to such means of social influence. I intend to address in detail the morality of political advocacy and voting more extensively later, but right now I want to focus on an even deeper question behind this.

In the libertarian community, and the circles of disaffected evangelical conservatives, with conspiracy theorists and the general contrarians that it tends to draw from, is a very passionate group. I’ve never found two self-confessed “libertarians” that agree completely, and the characterization that organizing this community is like “herding cats” could not be more fitting.

One thing that does seem to be generally accepted, however, is a presumption of the nobility of spending one’s life obsessed with building political movements, exposing conspirators against liberty and being, for lack of softer terminology, a humorless and judgmental verbal bully ready to unleash a tirade of historical facts and negative characterizations at the drop of a hat. Whether this approach is actually a positive influence on others is another question for another day. For the moment I just want to ask; “Is this really how someone who values liberty, or their self-determination, spends their time?”

I call this the “Steven Mallory syndrome”. Those who are familiar with Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead will remember this character; the embittered genius sculptor who befriends the protagonist Howard Roark. First, let me first give my standard Rand disclaimer. I realize she didn’t reach the conclusion of voluntaryism personally, and I recognize several flaws in some of the ways she applied her ethics (foreign policy) as well as some questionable personal behavior… so please don’t confuse me for a card-carrying “Randroid.”  Nevertheless, the novels she wrote brought me to voluntaryism and continue to provide valuable lessons, one of which I am about to explain.

Roark and Mallory have a series of dialogues in which the contrast in their characters is apparent and which to me illustrate the fundamental choice an individual has in their approach to personal liberty and the myriad of its violations we inevitably encounter.

Throughout the book, the protagonist Howard Roark cheerfully and even, as it would seem, naively dodges those who seek to thwart his liberty and his purposeful use thereof (his work) at every turn, without wasting mental energy dwelling on these machinations. By contrast, Mallory becomes bitter, negative and obsessed with his enemies’ efforts. For him it becomes a crippling fear and an excuse for abandoning his work (sculpting) despite his incredible genius and ability. In one passage he says, speaking to Roark:

“I know what I’m talking about–and you don’t. You can’t know. It’s because of that absolute health of yours. You’re so healthy that you can’t conceive of disease. You know of it. But you don’t really believe it. I do. I’m wiser than you are about some things, because I’m weaker. I understand–the other side. That’s what did it to me… what you saw yesterday.”

The “liberty movement” has an abundance of Mallorys. There are whole networks of activists ready to detail for you all the ways our liberties are curtailed and threatened and complain about them. Is this really the way a true advocate of liberty behaves? Is this the most consistent reaction with a true understanding of the value of liberty as an implication of self-determination?

The world is also full of people who live their daily lives, pursuing their personal goals. They regularly sidestep invasions by the state without so much as a second thought or occasional grumble at the inconvenience, moving on using the liberty they still have to implement their self-determined goals. Many in the liberty movement, who accept a presumption of some “duty to society” for such a person to stop and focus on curtailing these violations of liberty through awareness efforts and political campaigns, are very condemning of such people. Charges of “selfishness” and “greedy” or even “traitor” are not uncommon in such contexts, and those making them seem to not have even asked the question of whether the principles (collective altruistic duty, or statism) upon which they would depend for validity, are even themselves valid principles.

If liberty is a valid idea (and we have already examined why it is) then it is valid because individual priorities and goals are of value. I’d suggest that the best “liberty advocates” among us are not those who are the most obsessed with the violations of liberty, but those who are using what they have of it to its fullest.

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The Contradiction of Protective Government

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“The Self Owner” is an original weekly column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Last week we branched out of our discussion on concepts, and began examining government (or the state) as a concept. We determined that its defining conceptual characteristic is the expectation and presumed legitimacy to undertake aggressive actions. “Aggressive” here would be a characterization that builds on the other systematic concept we have examined, which is “rights.” Rights are the line that defines an act as aggressive or non-aggressive, because they are a barrier that defines the limits and implications of an individual’s self-ownership.

This week I’d like to lay out the case for why government is deeply flawed at the conceptual level, and not just merely in current practice or historical implementations.

Throughout history, the ruling class has taken various structural forms and various justifications for their power. We don’t know for certain the circumstances of its first application as a concept, but we can see throughout history that its implementation has tended to precede is justifications. In other words, all of the sanction of deities and complex philosophical arguments have come as an afterthought. They were an exercise in justifying what already existed, usually in the face of advances in the rational approach to government that caused old justifications to lose credibility.

After the old justifications for rulers, like the “divine right of kings,” had faded out of popularity, European philosophers like Hobbes and Locke started filling that deficiency with my more sophisticated philosophical arguments. At the root of all of these was the idea that people either did, or hypothetically would, participate in a contract to empower a ruler or ruling class, in order to better protect their rights. The presumption is that a condition of an absence of a single ruling entity in a geographic area creates a condition within which the typical individual is less safe, and less able to defend himself.

Government as Protector

It’s hard to dispute that in many times and places in history, this would have been a correct assessment. An association with an aggressive gang, or that gang’s eventual takeover to the exclusion of others, can indeed result in a more favorable condition for individuals when contrasted with a situation of gang warfare. A lot of theorizing and analysis on this question has been done by some very talented minds about how and why, especially in a modern world, a society without a state could operate, and be better and safer than a ruled society. For more detail I would refer the reader to Jeffrey Tucker’s It’s a Jetsons World or the Tannehill’s The Market for Liberty. My intent here is merely to examine the concept of government and measure it by the great standard to which all of our concepts and assessments of reality must be held: non-contradiction.

Since the state must fund itself by extracting, at threat of aggression, a portion of earnings from its “citizens,” it operates by the very violation of what it supposedly exists to protect. Admittedly this is not integrally conceptual to the state. Some thinkers have postulated voluntarily-funded governments, however the viability of even those still depends on another form of aggression. The state is presumed to be the singular market provider of its services. Therefore it must maintain its position by excluding other providers of those same services (protection and adjudication of law). Were it not to do this, other “governments” or private associations offering those services would enter the market. Because the state is a conceptual monopoly in a given locale, it conceptually presupposes the use or threats of aggressive force to prevent competition. In this way at the very least, government must violate the barriers (rights) that its conceptual justifications require it to protect. Self-ownership implies both my right to organize and sell (voluntarily) protective services to customers, as well as my right (being that customer) to choose not only which provider from whom to buy, but whether to buy those services at all.

Therefore the very idea of rights as a concept, implicitly negates government in all practical applications and at the conceptual level. No matter how much we may be convinced that in the “net analysis” government improves a practical situation, the idea of protecting a person’s self-ownership by institutionalizing and legitimizing its violation, will always be a contradiction. This contradiction will only become more glaring as improvements in technology and cooperation take us further and further away from the brutal ages of history during which circumstances might have made it appealing.

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The Concept of Government

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“The Self Owner” is an original weekly column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Last week we began examining the uniquely human capacity of forming concepts. We examined the proper role of the conceptual capacity as enabling man to deal more effectively with reality by forming abstractions and principles. We also discussed the dangers of the conceptual capacity when it becomes detached from reality.

One example of this is the concept we know as government, or the state. When we actually ask the question “what is government?” the typical answers refer entirely to the conceptual realm. In other words, there is no actual manifestation of government in reality (by “government” I mean the ruling entities of the world, not the larger notion of “governing” in general). It is merely an idea or an abstraction. Government is a conceptual label applied to the actions of certain individual humans. If I were to ask for evidence of the existence of government itself, not the individuals or buildings that we associate with that label, there is none.

Since government is merely a group of humans, what is it that our conceptual label holds about these particular human beings? What makes them special?

Here comes the tricky part. We have to separate the actual, definitive conceptual idea upon which almost all of society is operating when applying that label, from all of the jingoism, nationalistic rhetoric, mythology, etc.

There is a lot of variation in society about what the conceptual purpose, or proper role (if any) of government should be. One person might believe its purpose is to maintain equality, while another may see it as a protector of property. Others still, might see its primary purpose as a neutral arbiter to resolve disputes between individuals. The variations in purpose behind government are as numerous as the variations of things that it is involved in undertaking.

There is, however, a core notion at the heart of the idea of government upon which all who see that label as operative share. It is the unique capacity upon which all of those more detailed “purposes” for any given government depend. Government is a group of humans who enjoy an expectation and a unique privilege to commit aggression. For some the validity of that label is so strong, that they would actually refuse to accept the characterization of many acts by individuals labeled government as being aggression, even when the literal facts of a situation would indicate such. However, this is the defining expectation and presumption of privilege that is conveyed by the label, and the ever-looming threat that all compliance with government presupposes.

Admittedly, this characterization of any act as “aggression”depends on another concept which have addressed previously, rights. Before an act that overrides my use of my person or property with physical force, or threats thereof, can be seen as “aggressive,” I must hold the concept that I own, or are entitled to exclusive usership of them. Is government a good concept? Is it one that attempts to deny and subordinate reality or is it one that is in harmony with reality? I would argue for the former, for one key reason which I will discuss at length next week.

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Concepts: A Double-Edged Sword

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“The Self Owner” is an original weekly column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Now that we’ve thoroughly examined man’s condition as a free, choosing agent and his moral entitlement to self-ownership, I’d like to start drawing connections between this principle and the world of group abstractions that surrounds us. We’ve already discussed at length the state and its parasitic nature, but this week I’d like to take a step back and address these collective group abstractions in general and how we should be reigning them in.

Our uniquely human conceptual and imaginative ability is wonderful. Children are born with this capacity, and one of my favorite things as a parent has been to watch it develop in my two daughters. Children tend to use their imagination harmlessly, while fully aware of its detachment from reality. I watched my daughter Marissa form her own unique concept as a small child, called a “bomp.” She started applying this concept to things she observed, and eventually I was able to learn from her applications that a “bomp” meant a rapidly moving object, living or otherwise, whose movement was exciting and unpredictable.

Concepts are a critical guide for interpreting and applying the signals we receive from our senses, and they allow us to prepare for situations in reality that we have not yet encountered. By forming a general mental concept about something (for example, a chair) we can have a larger, objective guide for how we approach our encounters with chairs. Without this capacity, we would see each instance of a chair we might encounter as an isolated object containing four legs, a flat surface, etc. From this example we can see how foundational the conceptual ability is to science, economic exchange, innovation, and more.

The Danger in Unrestrained Concepts

The most important thing to understand is that the “chair” part, or the part that is our larger concept, does not literally exist. What exists is the materials that make up the chair, in the shape we have come to associate conceptually as a chair. The concept itself, however, exists only as a mental formation we have made as rational beings to guide our interactions with reality. This may seem basic, but it is essential to understand and continue to apply when we start dealing with more complex concepts.

As we age, the lines separating our concepts from the literal reality they serve to help us navigate can become blurred. We, unfortunately, come to believe that our concepts exist in reality in many cases. One of the most revealing and persistently agitating things I’ve encountered in the last few years has been the typical reaction a person has when I say “the government does not exist.” Admittedly, I am doing this to get a reaction and their attention, and don’t immediately expect them to understand my meaning, which is that the state itself is merely a fictional concept applied to a group of human beings, certain buildings, etc., but which has no actual manifestation itself in reality. It is interesting to watch however, that even with careful explanation of those nuances, the resistance that many feel. There seems to be a deep need, for many people, to believe that the government does itself have an existence apart from the individual actors who act under that label.

Almost 2,500 years ago, the philosopher Plato made a very grave mistake from which western philosophy and religion have yet to recover. Plato viewed the conceptual as real, and even theorized that a perfect world of “forms”existed, of which our flawed, material world was a degraded subset. Since then, all of the Christian thinkers and writers of philosophy (and there have been many) who have adopted this premise have made the mistake of trying to subordinate reality to man’s imagination, instead of vice versa. This can be a harmless enough fantasy (or at least harmless to all but our selves) until we start adopting concepts as a society that become an accepted basis for aggression to others. Next week I will discuss how government is such concept.

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Selling Free Markets as an Ethical Mandate

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“The Self Owner” is an original weekly column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

I’m going to take a break this week from the systematic, philosophical discussion and turn to strategy. If you’ve been following this column, you’ve no doubt anticipated how the concepts of rights and trade have huge implications on the areas of government and economics. If individual natural rights is a valid idea, then the absence of intervention into people’s personal property and economic decisions is morally obligatory. When we apply that conclusion universally to the societal level, this brings us to that dreaded “c” word…

Let’s face it, free market capitalism has gotten a bad rep. Whether you blame left-wing rhetoric, or big-government partnerships in using the control of government undertaken in the name of “free enterprise,” the term has become essentially a dirty word to generations of Americans. Any mention of “capitalism” tends to conjure images of greedy men in top hats carrying dollar signs out to fleece the public. Many self-styled “libertarians” understandably, therefore, steer clear of the term or even redefine it to be synonymous with mercantilism or state/corporate partnership (fascism).

The first challenge in upholding a free-enterprise system, then, is the challenge of shedding the pervasive baggage which accompanies this word and the “hands-off”relationship between government and economics it originally conveyed.

Even for those informed and reasonable enough to reject such sensationalism, capitalism still tends to be evaluated under the implicit presumption that it’s just another “ism” plan of economics to be compared against schemes of greater economic control and, like any plan of managerial control, to then be imposed from the top-down in the pursuit of some nebulous societal end to which it is presumed to be the best means. This is due to the generations of academic specialization and separation that has removed the question of economics from the more foundational context of ethics and interpersonal morality at the individual level.

The Missing Moral Context

The most important way to reinvent free market capitalism going forward centers around the part of the debate that all of the foregoing drops… the moral and philosophical context at the core of the question.

What is economic exchange? Economic exchange is not, as most modern schools of economics tend to imply in their methods, just the cold materialistic operation of some natural phenomenon to be evaluated empirically and predicted only on the basis of calculations and statistical observations on a large scale. It is, in reality, the aggregation of millions of choices made by individuals for individual reasons.

Unhindered economic exchange therefore is not just the best and most dynamic way to accomplish the distribution of resources and services in any given locality, but more importantly, it is the inevitable moral mandate arising from natural rights, or the concept that the individual is rightfully free in the use of his person and property, and that this individual has value as an end in his or her self. To presume anything else economically, is to presume the propriety of brutality and acceptability of aggression at the individual level.

Unfortunately, the early lawmakers of the American republic did not fully apply this philosophy of natural rights that led to the greatest amount of economic freedom in history, and the footholds and holdovers from the mercantilism of Europe which they adopted have been fully exploited by the enemies of human freedom.

Thus our starting point, and best tactical priority, is to restore this moral and philosophical context as the foundation of economic science, and advocate a free economy as an ethically superior position.

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