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Posts Tagged ‘Freedom’

What is Libertarianism?

In Arts & Letters, Economics, Humanities, liberal arts, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Philosophy, Western Philosophy on April 18, 2018 at 6:45 am

Definitions of libertarianism often convey a sense that this philosophy is total and complete, that its manifestation in the concrete world is immanently knowable. Vigorous debates about the fundamental tenets of libertarianism dispel any hope that the essence or principal attributes of libertarianism can be easily captured in a brief sentence or paragraph.

The central concern of libertarianism, however, is to maximize individual liberty and economic freedom to enable human flourishing. Liberty and freedom involve the ability of human agents, acting alone or in concert, voluntarily to pursue their wants and goals using their earned talents and natural skills, absent the forcible, coercive mechanisms of government and without infringing on the rights of others to so act.

Elsewhere I have said that “[e]xperimentation is compatible with—perhaps indispensable to—libertarianism to the extent that libertarianism is, as I believe, the search for the correct conditions for human flourishing—as well as the cautious description and reasoned implementation of principles emanating from that condition.”[1]

I used the phrase “to the extent that” to suggest that my conception of libertarianism is not definitive or absolute, that it is subject to scrutiny and debate. I emphasized “the correct conditions for human flourishing” because libertarians have propounded disparate and even contradictory theories about how best to achieve human flourishing.

The conditions that have succeeded to that end have proven themselves to be correct, or at least more correct than demonstratively unworkable alternatives.

The word “search” is meant to underscore the primacy of the intellect and knowledge: Human agents must be free to think and freely articulate the content of their thoughts before practices and institutions—the products of thought—may be tested, refined, verified, modified, adapted, or discarded according to their tangible success within physical (as opposed to purely mental or ideational) experience.

The principles that emerge from this process of applied thinking can be described as libertarian if they aspire to generate and actually generate individual liberty and economic freedom without increasing the forcible interference of government with consensually interacting human agents.

 

[1] Allen Mendenhall, Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism (Lexington Books, 2014), p. 14 (italics added).

Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Books, Economics, Emerson, Fiction, History, Humane Economy, Humanities, Imagination, Justice, Law-and-Literature, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, News and Current Events, News Release, Novels, Philosophy, Politics, Property, Rhetoric, Shakespeare, The Novel, Transnational Law, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on November 15, 2013 at 8:46 am

Allen 2

My forthcoming book, Literature and Liberty: Essays in Libertarian Literary Criticism, is now available for pre-order here at Amazon.com or here at Rowman & Littlefield’s website.  From the cover:

The economic theories of Karl Marx and his disciples continue to be anthologized in books of literary theory and criticism and taught in humanities classrooms to the exclusion of other, competing economic paradigms. Marxism is collectivist, predictable, monolithic, impersonal, linear, reductive — in short, wholly inadequate as an instrument for good in an era when we know better than to reduce the variety of human experience to simplistic formulae. A person’s creative and intellectual energies are never completely the products of culture or class. People are rational agents who choose between different courses of action based on their reason, knowledge, and experience. A person’s choices affect lives, circumstances, and communities. Even literary scholars who reject pure Marxism are still motivated by it, because nearly all economic literary theory derives from Marxism or advocates for vast economic interventionism as a solution to social problems.

Such interventionism, however, has a track-record of mass murder, war, taxation, colonization, pollution, imprisonment, espionage, and enslavement — things most scholars of imaginative literature deplore. Yet most scholars of imaginative literature remain interventionists. Literature and Liberty offers these scholars an alternative economic paradigm, one that over the course of human history has eliminated more generic bads than any other system. It argues that free market or libertarian literary theory is more humane than any variety of Marxism or interventionism. Just as Marxist historiography can be identified in the use of structuralism and materialist literary theory, so should free-market libertarianism be identifiable in all sorts of literary theory. Literature and Liberty disrupts the near monopolistic control of economic ideas in literary studies and offers a new mode of thinking for those who believe that arts and literature should play a role in discussions about law, politics, government, and economics. Drawing from authors as wide-ranging as Emerson, Shakespeare, E.M. Forster, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Henry Hazlitt, and Mark Twain, Literature and Liberty is a significant contribution to libertarianism and literary studies.

Thoughts on ‘The Road to Serfdom’: Chapter 2, “The Great Utopia”

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Book Reviews, Books, Britain, Economics, Historicism, History, Humane Economy, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Philosophy, Politics, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on September 13, 2013 at 7:45 am

Slade Mendenhall

Slade Mendenhall is an M.Sc. candidate in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, with specializations in conflict and Middle Eastern affairs. He holds degrees in Economics and Mass Media Arts from the University of Georgia and writes for The Objective Standard and themendenhall.com, where he is also editor.
This article is the third installment of a chapter-by-chapter analysis of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Analyses of Hayek’s introduction and Chapter I can be found here and here, respectively.

Hayek’s second chapter opens with several important reminders about the nature and history of socialism: that its rise was achieved not by the West having forgotten liberal ideas or the historical consequences of collectivism, but by an active campaign of persuasion against liberalism as an ideal; that it has roots in the French Revolution as an authoritarian answer to that movement’s more individualistic elements; and that only through the democratic influences of the revolutions of 1848 did socialism shed its authoritarian origins and assume a democratic veneer.

From there, it proves somewhat of a novelty to one accustomed to today’s concrete-bound, anti-conceptual political rhetoric. The chapter is, fundamentally, a brief lesson in political epistemology, dealing with the historical abuse of concepts that facilitated the popular adoption of socialist ideas.

Chief among the distortions Hayek notes is the socialist reconfiguration of the notion of liberty itself. The alleged “new freedom” introduced by socialists “was to bring ‘economic freedom’ without which the political freedom already gained was ‘not worth having’” (19). Hayek astutely describes this distortion of the concept of freedom:

“To the great apostles of political freedom the word had meant freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men, release from the ties which left the individual no choice but obedience to the orders of a supervisor to whom he was attached. The new freedom promised, however, was to be freedom from necessity, release from the compulsion of the circumstances which inevitably limit the range of choice of all of us, although for some very much more than for others. Before man could be truly free, the ‘despotism of physical want’ had to be broken, the ‘restraints of the economic system’ relaxed… The demand for the new freedom was thus only another name for the old demand for an equal distribution of wealth” (19).

Hayek recognizes the epistemological methods by which socialists attained power, consisting largely of equivocation and anti-conceptual thinking, lumping together disparate concretes and attaching to them a single label—“freedom”—in order to pass off an intellectual package-deal on the general public, persuading them to embrace a contradiction. Though he does not go into this kind of detailed description of the process, Hayek at least acknowledges that the methods by which such intellectual smuggling is carried out form too large a subject to be discussed in the context of the chapter, and does not claim to have thoroughly explained it as a philosophical process but only as a historical one.

He proceeds to assess more recent, twentieth century distortions of the concept of socialism itself and how it has become muddled and confused by “progressives” who view fascism and communism as fundamental opposites, failing to recognize that both are merely species of the same genus. The processes of evasion and distortion, fueled by an excessive focus on concrete particulars at the expense of fundamentals, are thus seen to wreak as much havoc in the thinking of those twentieth-century advocates of socialism in their understandings of themselves and relations to one another as they did in the minds of nineteenth-century liberals who were persuaded to adopt socialist ideas. That statists are as much the victims of their own illogic as those they seek to oppress soon becomes clear.

In what might be one of the greatest compliments one could offer to liberalism, Hayek then points out, both in his own words and quotes by socialists themselves, how history and socialists’ experiences have shown time and again that despite their alleged fundamental opposition to one another, fascists and communists are known by the other to be prime targets for recruiting, fueling and perpetuating the hatred between them as each views the other as a competitor for the same pool of minds, but both are well aware of the immunity of true liberals to the propaganda of either. Liberals are viewed as resistant to their persuasions and unsuitable for the culture of perpetual compromise that characterizes socialist politics.

Again, in the end, Hayek effectively ties the subject back to contemporary Britain and how these same ideas, once prevalent in Germany between the two wars, are alive and well across the channel. “[I]n this country,” he writes, “the majority of people still believe that socialism and freedom can be combined… So little is the problem yet seen, so easily do the most irreconcilable ideals still live together, that we can still hear such contradictions in terms as ‘individualist socialism’ seriously discussed” (23).

Perhaps the only flaw in this second chapter consists of Hayek’s uncritical acceptance of the term “democracy” as being in any way synonymous with freedom or liberalism—a common error (even more so in today’s world!), and not one that deprives the chapter more generally of valuable insights, but one that it could have benefited from correcting. Hayek writes admiringly of Alexis de Tocqueville’s work, “Nobody saw more clearly than de Tocqueville that democracy as an essentially individualist institution stood in an irreconcilable conflict with socialism” (18).

Democracy, however, is not an essentially individualist institution. It is, in fact, not essentially anything except inclusive of a political process that allows for the popular, institutional expression of political preference and ideas. Democracy allows people to vote. Whether that vote is limited by a founding document protecting individual rights or any other principle is not inherent to democracy itself, and to think it so leads to many of the befuddled responses of policymakers today when they observe the imposition of democratic processes having failed to ensure peace, justice, or any other virtue of great political societies.

Let it not be forgotten that the first democracy in human history, that from which the concept derived and upon which its essentials rest, was Ancient Greece, where the life of a man such as Socrates could be voted away on grounds no more substantial than his having propagated ideas unwelcomed by the majority.

Democracy is thus neutral with respect to individualism, only upholding it when the republican qualities of a constitution, bill of rights, and limitations on the majority will are imposed. This leaves the phenomenon of democratic socialism, which Hayek sees as an oxymoronic distortion, rather justified in formal logic, if not in any rational morality or political ethic.

Overall, Hayek’s second chapter, “The Great Utopia”, is a dramatic improvement from his first. It sets out with a direct purpose to illustrate the epistemological errors that have aided the rise of socialism, and, with skilled application of political concepts and supporting evidence, it succeeds in that task. Whether this upward trajectory continues into his next chapter, “Individualism and Collectivism”, as he addresses subjects at somewhat of a conceptual middle-range between those of his first and second chapters, we shall see in the next installment.

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Jeffrey Tucker

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Creativity, Economics, Humane Economy, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Philosophy, Writing on March 26, 2012 at 1:00 am

Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez Faire Books. He is the author, most recently, of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo (2010) and It’s a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes (2011). The former editorial vice president of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, he is an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research fellow with the Acton Institute, and a faculty member of Acton University.

Q: Jeff, this interview is exciting for me. It’s something of a reversal of the interview that we did together in January 2011. This time, I’m interviewing you. I’d like to start off by asking about your two recent books, Bourbon for Breakfast and It’s a Jetsons World. Tell the readers of this site a little about both books.

A: Both books cover the unconventional side of private life as governed by the market and human volition. I guess you could say that this is my beat. I’m interested in the myriad ways in which the government’s central plan — and there is such a thing — has distorted and changed our lives, and also interested in the ways we can get around this plan and still live fulfilling lives. I take it as a given that everything that government does is either useless or destructive or both. The government does a tremendous number of things, so this is a huge area. Bourbon is more focused on the rottenness of the state and its harm, while Jetsons is more the marvelous things that markets do for us. Neither subject gets the attention they deserve.

Q: These books are available in PDF format online. Explain why you’ve chosen to make your work freely and widely available.

A: Every writer wants to be read, so it only makes sense for all writers to post their material. Of course publishers tend to intervene here with promises of royalties in exchange for which you become their slave for the rest of your life plus 70 years (that’s when they dance on your grave). This is the essence of copyright. It is a bad deal for writers. Those who go along with it these days nearly always regret it later. If they actually earn royalties — and very few actually do — it is likely they would have earned more had the material not been withheld pending payment. The bestselling books of 2012 — the Hunger Games series — are posted by pirates everywhere, even against publisher wishes. But, you know, this is starting to change. Publishers are gradually seeing the point to posting material online. Sadly, they aren’t budging on the copyright issue, which is really pathetic. No libertarian should ever publish anything with any institution that is not willing to embrace a very liberal policy on reprints, and one that is likely enforceable such as Creative Commons – Attribution. Meanwhile, the government is using copyright, a phony form of property rights, to step up its despotic control over the digital age. The situation is extremely dangerous. One hundred years from now, they will be laughing at our times and poking fun at how the anachronistic state tried its best to thwart progress.

Q: You strike me as an optimist. Is that true?

A: Not as a matter of principle but there are certain rational reasons to be very hopeful about the future. The future is always uncertain except in this one sense: it will be different from today. The state is very bad at managing change. Freedom is very good at managing change. Freedom is a form of play, a relentless process of adaptation, trial and error, of testing and pushing out the boundaries. Freedom is really marvelous at implementing an infinite world of ideas, whereas the state pretty much has only one idea: push people around. This is why freedom always ends up outrunning the ability of the state to manage it. Freedom is smarter, and connects more closely with human ambitions and dreams, and this is especially true in a digital age. For this reason, I think we have reason to be full of confidence and hope.  

Q: After a long tenure at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, you recently became publisher and executive editor of Laissez Faire Books. A lot of people are anxious to see what you’re going to do with that enterprise. What can you tell them at this point?

A: Well, I’m glad to report that we are selling books and that’s fantastic. We also have some two dozen books in the process toward publication. I’m being pretty fussy with the books overall, commissioning excellent introductions and writing all sort of editorial prefaces and things. As we approach summer, you will see many more wonderful things happen, things that have never been done before, but I think I’ll let the details be a surprise.

Q: What is Laissez Faire Books? Many readers of this site are probably unfamiliar with it.

A: The company has this brilliant history that traces to 1972. Murray Rothbard was in many ways at the center of its founding but there were also many Randians involved. Between that point and the digital age, it was the main way that people received libertarian literature. Oddly, one thing I’ve noticed since coming to work here is that the “curator” role is still something that Laissez Faire can play. If we can guarantee a certain number of sales on a particular book, we can make the difference as to whether it is published or not. Much to my surprise, this seems to be happening already.

I’m extremely pleased that Agora Financial took over LFB in 2011. Agora is a for-profit company with offices all over the world, and the firm has a dynamic ethos that embraces commerce, change, and progress. The past is just data in a company like this, while all the energy action is in the future. As you might imagine, I like this environment. It is a natural home for me.

Thank you so much for taking the time, Jeff. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we conclude?

A: I have a strong sense these days that libertarianism, broadly considered, is undergoing huge changes in strategic outlook, and I’m happy about that. We are moving away from the “movement” mentality of the analog age and into a broader sense of the global universe of ideas. This means taking more risks, exploring more areas, and generally having more fun than ever. It’s a good time to love liberty.

Thank you so much.  This was really great, and I hope we can do it again.

Cantor on Greenblatt and Shakespeare

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Book Reviews, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, News and Current Events, Shakespeare on March 13, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Paul Cantor’s review of Stephen Greenblatt’s Shakespeare’s Freedom appears in this month’s issue of The American Conservative.  Greenblatt’s about-face means that my paper “Shakespeare’s Place in Law & Literature” will be dated upon publication, but that’s okay, because the trend of liberty is more important to me (and to society) than the timeliness of my research.

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