COMMONLY CONFLATED TERMS
By Darrell Becker
INTRODUCTION AND DEFINITIONS
This is an essay to help with the communication skills between self-described “lovers of liberty” (those individuals who know and understand that they own themselves and do not own anyone else, who understand the non-aggression principle, the homestead principle, the natural law of cause and effect, who aim for increased levels of ethics and morality in all areas of their lives) and self-described pragmatist defenders of the need for a monopoly of power known as the State or forms of incorporated modern governments.
First, the definition of conflation (from wikipedia).
Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, sharing some characteristics of one another, become confused until there seems to be only a single identity — the differences appear to become lost. In logic, the practice of treating two distinct concepts as if they were one does often produce error or misunderstanding, as a fusion of distinct subjects tends to obscure analysis of relationships which are emphasized by contrasts. However, if the distinctions between two concepts appears to be superficial, intentional conflation may be desirable for the sake of conciseness.
Continuing with the word “libertarian”. Many definitions, starting with www.dictionary.com
Libertarian: lib·er·tar·i·an [lib-er-tair-ee-uhn], noun.
1. a person who advocates liberty
, especially with regard to thought or conduct.
2. a person who maintains the doctrine of free will
(distinguished from necessitarian
4. maintaining the doctrine of free will.
Then you need to get the definitions of:
Lib·er·ty [lib-er-tee], noun, plural -ties.
1. freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control
2. freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.
3. freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.
4. freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint: The prisoner soon regained his liberty.
5. permission granted to a sailor, especially in the navy, to go a-shore.
Ne·ces·si·tar·i·an [nuh-ses-i-tair-ee-uhn] , noun.
Ne·ces·si·tar·i·an·ism [nuh-ses-i-tair-ee-uh-niz-uhm] , noun.
1. the doctrine that all events, including acts of the will, are determined by antecedent causes; determinism.
Other definitions of Libertarian:
“A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.” – author L. Neil Smith
“Libertarianism is a philosophy. The basic premise of libertarianism is that each individual should be free to do as he or she pleases so long as he or she does not harm others. In the libertarian view, societies and governments infringe on individual liberties whenever they tax wealth, create penalties for victimless crimes, or otherwise attempt to control or regulate individual conduct which harms or benefits no one except the individual who engages in it.” – definition written by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (!-D.B.), during the process of granting the Advocates for Self-Government status as a nonprofit educational organization
“Libertarianism is, as the name implies, the belief in liberty. Libertarians believe that each person owns his own life and property and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life – as long as he simply respects the same right of others to do the same.” — Sharon Harris, President, Advocates for Self-Government
Each of these definitions has many similarities, with beginning a priori statements originating within the Non-Aggression Principle, the homestead principle, self-ownership, natural law and voluntaryist paradigms.
An Example of Conflation of Definitions Likely Due to NVC Failure
(NVC = nonviolent communication, visit www.cnvc.org
for more information.)
This is a breakdown of the points expressed in the Youtube video
This is an example of what can happen when people who espouse the messages of liberty speak and write to a defender of the need for a coercive State (basically, anyone espousing similar concepts as with Bill Burns of the above production), and when both of them use the language of diagnosis, demand, deserving-oriented perspectives, and denial of responsibilities.
These are the main summarized points Bill apparently is asserting within his video (and these are summarized and are not printed verbatim from Bill’s video, and words are added for clarification).
Try to read Bill’s points without focusing upon the informal logical fallacies he uses (mostly the hasty generalization) and instead try to see the feelings that Bill is having and the needs he is trying to meet.
“Libertarians want to impose their system on me and everyone else.”
This is the clearest sign that Bill has been in discussion and debate with someone of a liberty-supportive position, likely to be someone who self-identified as libertarian. A sign of how poorly some particular interactions went is Bill’s insistence that libertarians want to impose “their system” (self ownership, universal liberty and self-responsibility) on him and everyone else. This is a sign that someone wanted to force Bill to give up what he believed in as necessary and adopt new concepts as being self-evident, and like many people who have been forced to do things, Bill resists. Good for him, in the short run. He is protecting his own sense of importance by resisting what he sees as coercion, even though Bill is interpreting verbal or written persuasion as coercion. It might seem (to you who is reading this) that it is too bad it shuts down some of Bill’s rationality and logic and activates some emotional reactivity. This is a diagnosis and should be noted and kept to one’s self, and It might be good to remember that if you (the reader) were speaking or writing to someone like Bill, he would likely be performing different but similar diagnoses directed at your own conclusions.
Bill is apparently uninterested in looking up definitions of libertarianism, or the contradiction of asserting libertarians want to impose anything would become self-evident. I don’t blame him for being uninterested in looking up these things, he has probably traded many harsh words with alleged supporters of liberty, and the topic may leave a bad taste in his mind. This is, to me, a self-protective tactic, preserving Bill’s sense of being in the right and preventing him from seeing his own cognitive dissonance, as well as likely preventing Bill from being knowledgeable and understanding of his true feelings and needs. He is mostly reacting to his feelings, then finding rationales to discuss for the purpose of intellectually supporting the conclusions that he is comfortable with.
“Libertarians want me to submit to free markets.”
Bill is apparently unaware of what free markets are, as he is already the beneficiary of many “free markets”, such as the method of his choosing who his wife or partner would be (freely associating with private individuals), rather than Bill happily accepting a State-decided wife for himself. I should hope Bill has the choice of auto mechanic service providers, instead of accepting the State’s monopoly-provided auto service station, with no other options being “legal”. I wonder if Bill ever appreciated having a garage sale or yard sale without getting a permit, selling to whoever stops buy, keeping all that he earns and giving away what he wishes, and negotiating deals on an individual basis.
It is likely that the “Free Trade Agreements” signed by various heads of state have been conflated to be the same as the above example of free trade in practice. The agreements and tactics called “free trade” by heads of state are more properly called monopolistic services provided coercively, subsidized by many taxes, regulated by monopolistic legal agencies, and enforced by aggressive, monopolistic and heavily funded agencies. Not so “free”, in actuality, and I can see why Bill doesn’t like it, after hearing many pundits and talking heads explain how the so-called “free market” has been causing various damages that “we” must all pay for.
“Libertarians want to take democratic systems and replace them with pure private enterprise.”
Bill is obviously comfortable with democratic systems. It is possible that it would be uncomfortable to look at democracy through the lens of a libertarian, showing the method of representative democracy as an immoral and corrupt puppet show, whereby coercive oligarchy-based wealthy minorities completely direct policy, regulation, subsidy, monopoly and enforcement tendencies. By contrast, “pure private enterprise” seems to be conflated by Bill as again meaning something other than the dictionary definition of the term, sourced to:
Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition:
Private enterprise, noun.
1a. Economic activity undertaken by private individuals or organizations under private ownership (Compare to public enterprise
2. Public enterprise, noun. Economic activity by governmental organizations.
It seems he is using “pure private enterprise” to mean something to do with the wealthy oligarchs, specifically the corporations that are virtual oligopolies, and other beneficiaries of government subsidy and monopoly.
Bill is probably comfortable with the idea of voting, and perhaps he experienced voting, either nationally, locally or even in a small group, as a positive experience. His experience may have been such that things happened to get decided upon in a satisfactory way (to him at least). In contrast, the idea of uncontrolled and “unregulated” people inventing, selling, buying and distributing goods and services does not seem to provide any sense of control and support for people’s needs, as far as Bill can tell. It might be a wasted effort to explain to him the theories of Austrian Economics to Bill when discussing democracy, as he will likely not be open to seeing the connections between the topics. But if you can find a way to interest him in exploring topics related to ethics and morality, it may be necessary to find what you and Bill (or anyone like him) have in common in terms of connecting needs, and to temporarily disregard the proposed methods for meeting those needs.
“Libertarians believe market forces will always deliver the optimum outcome.”
Bill seems to be conflating “market forces” with the present-day manipulated market that is controlled by many regulations, agencies, lobbies, oligarchies, and powerful interests that contrive to steer the direction of what is available, when it is available, how much it shall cost, who shall pay for it, etc. If he was looking at his own yard sale, he would see that a win-win position is quite possible, that selling could be civilized and unregulated, and that needs can be universally met, delivering the optimum outcome.
“Libertarians believe a free market ensures the most efficient use of resources and they believe that efficiency is the optimum outcome.”
Bill again seems to be conflating “free market” with the totalitarian, regulated, subsidized, oligopoly of the huge goods and service providers (multinational corporations) who are generally protected by monopolistic enforcement that promotes their virtual monopolies and oligopolies. Efficiency is not provided by the oligopoly, but do not attempt to explain this to Bill until he cools down a little. I am not exactly sure why he was focusing on efficiency; perhaps a libertarian was attempting to explain the way supply and demand on a small scale is very efficient, as long as everything is voluntary.
“Libertarians believe the process of the market automatically justifies its outcome.”
Bill seems to conflate the libertarian “idea” of a market (think of a flea market, a farmers market, a street with stores, etc.) with the markets of Wall Street and other subsidized, monopolized, regulated, licensed and enforced “markets”. In the flea market example, the process (freely buying and selling, chatting and glad-handing) automatically justifies its outcome (people buy and sell stuff voluntarily, producing many win-win situations).
“Libertarians believe if a service or product cannot be sustained by the market then it doesn’t deserve to exist. By the same token, libertarians believe that if someone can’t turn a profit by supplying something then it [what ever this unprofitable thing or service is] shouldn’t be supplied.” [Author’s clarification inserted.]
Bill seems to have the idea that many things that are provided either “free” or by the coercive actions of the State would be unavailable if “the market” was in control. Again, it seems that he assumes “the market” is the same market as the one being coerced by the oligopolies previously mentioned.
“Libertarians don’t believe in intrinsic value, and view it as a logical fallacy.”
It seems that Bill does not grasp that self-ownership, voluntary and peaceful interactions and most of the trappings of “liberty” would likely be considered by libertarians as being filled with massive intrinsic values. Perhaps Bill believes that effective charities and effective social support networks can only exist with coercion used to pay for these services, and that these services have only intrinsic value and lack all profit value. Libertarians who have studied the history of economics might be quick to mention that social support networks and charities have a long history of being economically viable, needed, desired and produced with pluralities of organizations, rather than State-controlled monopolies (which are alleged to be controlled with the checks and balances of democratic processes).
“Libertarians only believe in market value.”
It is true, libertarians have discovered the concept of “the market”, and with it they have discovered the value that comes from interacting with other individuals in the absence of tyrannical control methods (taxes, regulations, licenses, enforcements, etc.) that have been inflicted upon most individuals. These control methods are used against almost everyone for the ostensible reason of “protecting us all” and being “for the common good”. Because of the vision of liberty, libertarians may sometimes speak with folks such as Bill Burns with such passion about the value of the market that they will be missing the fact that they have lost their audience, both emotionally and as far as keeping a mutual understanding of the same definitions. Also, it is important to note when such enthusiasm is taken for pedantic zeal being used to convince someone, which can be easily taken as a form of coercion.
“Libertarians love their logic.”
If a particular libertarian is honest, and they have researched this subject of logic independently (including Aristotelian Logic, the informal logical fallacies, the works of Thomas Aquinas, and hopefully, the Trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric) then this is, therefore, not “their logic” but rather a dictionary definition of logic, as generally agreed upon for about 2500 years so far. If someone uses some other rationale and calls it logic, such as the use of any of the informal logical fallacies, this does not make it logic or logical. I cannot tell if the libertarians who talked with Bill understood logic from the classical perspective, but I am almost certain they did not study Non-Violent Communication (NVC) before speaking with him. If the self-professed libertarian had been studied in the use of NVC, Bill was exposed to an NVC failure, something we all are occasionally guilty of. (See www.triviumeducation.com and www.triviumbinder.com for more on informal fallacies, and www.cnvc.org for more on non-violent communication.)
“Libertarians love to bash what is called religion.”
This is unfortunately far too common an occurrence. Too many people who call themselves libertarians have openly bashed religion, and for many reasons. The feelings of pain and hurt, as well as the needs for autonomy, and the desire to remove restrictions that are arbitrary, have added to the painful emotional reactions that many libertarians have directed at the members and authorities of coercively-complicit collectives, namely churches and governments. This is a tragic way that some libertarians and others have attempted to meet the needs for communicating about the dangers of submitting to superstitions and authorities.
“Libertarians don’t believe faith is a personal freedom you are supposed to have.”
Actually, it is a rare person who (erroneously) calls themselves a libertarian that would not respect faith as a personal freedom you are supposed to have. It is possible Bill was conflating the faith in the need for a State or monopolistic government with the faith in a spiritual conviction. I can imagine Bill defending his right to have faith in the State, and a self-professed libertarian he is debating with is insisting that Bill’s support of the State is the initiation of aggression against all libertarians (and indeed, against everyone, besides the ruling class who direct the monopoly of coercion). Anger may have ensued, followed by un-requested diagnoses (“You’re wrong!”), demands (“You will agree to this definition of the initiation of coercion!”), denial of responsibilities (“I don’t care that you’re afraid to live without democracy or that you have such a strong need for safety and security!”) and deserve-oriented language (“The people deserve to be served by “their” government!”). These are the traditional “4 Ds” of life-alienating communication, and no matter who begins the use of them, continuing to use them is usually a guaranteed way of reducing effective communication.
“Libertarians think it is wrong to prefer faith to logic.”
I think most libertarians would prefer philosophy and logistics be discussed with logic, logical rules and some pre-agreed upon format, rather than requiring the belief that everything will just “work out” according to “faith” in some particular system, authority or religion.
When asking a libertarian if they like spending time with their faith, they might say “Sure…”as they would if you asked if they like to stay logical, saying: “…Uh, yes, I like to stay logical, who doesn’t? Do you think I would be better off if I emotionally reacted to things more often?”
Most important is the concept that people who advocate liberty would generally prefer that everyone use faith and logic together, as they see fit, preferably relying on each one as each situation requires. For example, a libertarian might prefer to have faith that their loved one is going to be okay on the drive home from work. They also might prefer to use logic to help in deciding where to build a house.
“Equality is not high on the list of desired attributes with libertarians.”
Libertarians usually have come to grasp the obvious reality that people are inherently not equal in attributes, possessions, and latent abilities (resources). The process of anyone or any group using coercive force to “make” people more equal in the above-named resources is met with frowns by most advocates of liberty, who would rightly see the coercive process as tyrannical, even if the ostensible reason is to “level the playing field” for the purposes of promoting equality of resources. The one kind of equality libertarians seem to generally desire is equal applications of local customs, laws and contracts, without favoritism, nepotism and cronyism. This includes the equality that would free everyone from being coercively “taxed”, because in true equality, if I am equal to you then I cannot tax you (and vice versa), and if everyone is equal in this way then everyone is generally free from coercive methods being imposed upon them. Only voluntary interaction would be generally tolerated and accepted as grounds for continuing any kind of relationship, whether it was personal, professional or in concert with voluntary collective organizations (businesses without coercion).
“Libertarians believe the market should never be interfered with [for the purpose of promoting equality].” [Author’s addition for clarification.]
Once again, Bill is talking about the market (likely referring to the global market of today, presently being constantly interfered with by the oligarchs and plutocrats who direct their lawyers to write favorable regulations for their profit) as if the present day interference is what is saving everyone from an even worse version of tyranny than the force, fraud and coercion being applied in all of the many monopolistic systems that compose “the market” that he refers to. Bill is right, libertarians do generally believe the market (as in the actually free market) should never be “interfered with”, if such interference resembles the present day interference of the monopolies of arbitration and enforcement known as “regulating agencies”.
“Libertarians believe they are right and those who do not ascribe to their beliefs are wrong.”
This is a sad example of people who probably are self-described as libertarian but lost their cool with Bill. They probably had a need for understanding and clarity of thought and speech, and they felt frustrated when it seemed like Bill would not meet their need for understanding or clarity. Bill probably interpreted it as a fervent libertarian belief that they (the libertarian) must be “right” and non-libertarian views must be “wrong”. There must have been many self-described libertarians who simply gave Bill the un-asked-for diagnosis “You are wrong!” Bill seems to take a view that human nature has sufficient flaws of ethical character (in addition to widespread ethical damage caused by improper nurture) and due to these flaws, he seems to take the stance that coercion by a more powerful authority is necessary to “reign in” these dangerous tendencies, and this reigning in process (and all the apparent flaws) is not to be criticized because in all “practicality” these systems of coercion are here, they aren’t going away, and “we” just need to apply them with a more ethical and caring hand. Bill may be looking through this intellectual lens of what he may call pragmatism or practicality. In order to introduce the concept of other intellectual lenses it is first necessary to identify the lenses that are being looked through presently, and to do so in a NVC manner would be an efficient way of promoting such discussion.
“Libertarians often claim they can prove the validity of their ideas through logic. By the same token, libertarians want to convince you that you do agree with their view of the world, and if you don’t, then you are being inconsistent with your own standards. Their logic relies on having a common starting point.” [!-D.B.]
This, unfortunately, is often more true than not. Many libertarians have found more solid footing (emotionally and intellectually speaking) in the subjects of ethics, morality, responsibility and freedom, and have seen logical rationales laid out to point the way for further ethical behavior. Being excited about this discovery, they want to “enlighten” folks like Bill. He resists, conflates various terms with other terms (free market according to Bill = corporate capitalism run amok, etc.) and generally fails to see inconsistencies and his own cognitive dissonance and potential hypocrisy. It should be remarked that someone displaying feelings such as Bill should never be shown their own hypocrisy or cognitive dissonance, unless it seems that such a person has expressed interest in looking at the subjects of their own personal ethics and morality, possessing their own need to clearly see the means and ends respectively. Apparently, someone made the tragic mistake of trying to forcibly show Bill his own cognitive dissonance, perhaps even diagnosing him as a hypocrite. This needs to be seen as a sad tragedy and a failure of communication, not as an “attempt to tell a Statist what’s what”. It is always important to avoid the “enemy imagery” (such as terms like Statist) used in the language of diagnosis, comparison and un-asked-for analysis.
It is true that logic relies on a common starting point. Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification, A = A, and this would have been the place to start with Bill, and the place to stay in the discussion until some consensus is reached. Diagnoses and demands are a language Bill appears familiar with, and he is ready to dish back what he receives in this regard.
“Libertarians have strict rules of right and wrong that don’t allow for necessary deviation.”
This is also sort of true, more so for the thinking, ethical libertarians who are trying to find non-violent ways of interacting that avoid coercion, hypocrisy, fraud and theft. It seems from this passage that Bill would like to insist that sometimes, strict rules of right and wrong must be bent to fit circumstances, such as benefiting those who are in need. Bill might have fear or concern that if strict and ethical rules were adhered to (as in a predominantly-libertarian world, or in stateless societies in the past) certain hypocrisies (such as tyrannical methods being used ostensibly for “the common good”) would be exposed as harmful, and he might fear that these needs (that were ostensibly met with tyrannical means) would not be fulfilled to his satisfaction.
“Libertarians believe coercion is wrong.”
This is essentially true, not only of libertarians but also of most people you might care to ask. It is even possible Bill prefers to not be coerced into doing things. I think it would be hard to find many people who, when asked, would claim they like to be coerced and to coerce others. Coerce truly means to initiate force, and I don’t think Bill conflates it with any other definition. It is likely that Bill emphasizes this issue for the purpose of pointing out what appears to be hypocrisy in libertarian philosophy, and this emphasizes his need to be right, rather than his comprehension of the philosophy of liberty.
“Libertarians believe it is wrong to use coercive force to secure justice.”
This is another problem of using abstract terms to illustrate a concept. “Wrong” in libertarian belief systems is often some practices that stink of tyrannical methods, “coercive force” is usually the initiation of violence (and the breaking of the Non-Aggression Principle, a.k.a. the NAP). “To secure” implies some degree of effecting an event or consequence. “Justice” is something libertarians are often excited about, being defined as a lack of tyranny, whereby individuals and their contracts are honored and respected, the NAP is respected, and self-ownership and self-defense go hand in hand.
Bill might be conflating using force for self-defense with the initiation of violence (coercive force), or he may have reasoned the need for punitive systems of restitution (monopolistically controlled) that would get permission to violently force people to do the “right” things and punish them if they do the “wrong” things. Bill has a need for justice, and even if he is unclear what the best form of justice should be, he probably is convinced that libertarian beliefs of justice would not ever meet his needs. He is likely too filled with difficult feelings on the matter of justice to discuss this need without resorting to emotional outbursts, if he were to think he was discussing the matter with a “libertarian” or someone who differed with him philosophically in a similar way.
“Libertarians believe it is wrong to enforce contracts by threat and force.”
It is true that most libertarians would feel it is wrong for people to be forced to sign onto or subscribe to a contract (as would many other people feel this coercion to be morally wrong). If a libertarian wanted to be involved in a contract that would be enforced with certain threats and the use of force, and it was a voluntary choice for the individual to sign onto this contract, no harm and no foul has occurred, as far as ethics is concerned. Most libertarians who have given this idea deeper thought would be likely to desire other methods of contract enforcement, as well as having remedies available to address foreseen grievances, in order to promote win-win situations without creating a winner and a loser. Some libertarians promote the use of independent third parties to arbitrate contracts, to avoid the monopolistic and punitive brand of justice dispensed by the State.
“Libertarians believe that using government to enforce the social contract is wrong.”
Libertarians who believe that an external government (that enforces anything at all) is just wrong are being consistent with the NAP, and those who are not consistent with the NAP and advocate for the existence of governments are not (as L. Neil Smith noted above) actually libertarians, regardless of what they may claim. The social contract is an interesting abstraction, but you cannot look it up to find it word-for-word, like the Constitution (of the US, the UK, etc.) or the Declaration of Independence, and get a standard document, signed by anyone, authored by someone(s). It is an abstract idea that seems to promote obedience to authorities in the name of altruism. The altruism, or beneficent behavior to those who are in need, is supported by libertarians in general, while the obedience to coercive authorities…not so much. Bill likes the social contract quite a bit, and I wish he had posted a full copy of this alleged document.
Here is my research pertaining to the social contract:
Social contract, noun.
1.The voluntary agreement among individuals by which, according to any of various theories, as of Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau, organized society is brought into being and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare or to regulate the relations among its members.
2.An agreement for mutual benefit between an individual or group and the government or community as a whole.
Also known as the social compact.
Origin: 1840–50, Dictionary.com Unabridged.
Based on the Random House Dictionary
“The libertarian definition of the initiation of force and retaliatory force is just semantics.”
Libertarians would often like to differentiate between starting a conflict (with the initiation of force) and defending one’s self (with retaliatory force). The difference between the two is striking to most people, but I think Bill would like to insist it is “just semantics” because of some of form of cognitive dissonance he experiences upon looking at the two concepts. Again, it is necessary not to bring such cognitive dissonance to Bill’s attention until the emotional signs of willingness to explore the subjects are present, or he would be likely to conflate such attention (to his cognitive dissonance) as a personal criticism (of Bill), similar to being given an un-requested diagnosis.
“Libertarians want to require people to accept their definitions of initiation of force, retaliation and property.”
It is true that libertarians (and many philosophers in general) would prefer that people they discuss these issues with all “get on the same page” in terms of agreeing upon identical definitions. It makes discussion much easier and usually leads to some form of consensus. Again, it would have been telling if Bill had defined these terms in his own words.
“Libertarians use their rationalizations of initiation, retaliation and property to defend racist and bigoted behavior.” (5:00 in to the video, for an example.)
This is a claim that many have made. Again, anyone using philosophical reasoning to rationalize the use of the hasty generalization fallacy (in the promotion of racism and bigotry) is not (by L. Neil Smith’s definition at least, as well as the IRS definition) a libertarian, despite what they may claim. Bill might be concerned that the only thing stopping people from succumbing to racist behavior or similar rationales is the coercive force of the State.
“Libertarians are appalled when coercion is used to uphold rights and laws they don’t believe in.”
This is mostly true, libertarians are usually appalled at the use of coercion in general, whether the ends are allegedly “just” or merely contrived for the benefit of the makers of the rights and laws and serving the interests of the ruling class. Also, Bill has it right that libertarians don’t “believe” in the legitimacy of many rights and laws.
“Libertarians see nothing wrong in using coercion to uphold what they believe in.”
Generally, libertarians cannot sanction using coercion to uphold anything and still keep the legitimate title of libertarian, whether the ends are something they believe in or not. Bill may have interpreted the enthusiastic desire that the libertarians (who he had talked to) had to feel understood (by Bill) in a clear and concise way as being a pushy way of talking, and thus he may have conflated such discussions and verbal debates that are meant to persuade with coercion.
“If you don’t agree with a libertarian on definitions of property, then tough shit.”
This begs the question, how does Bill define property, and how do dictionaries define it? I can almost feel the anger and conflict as some self-described libertarian “insisted” that he and Bill get on the same page as far as property’s definition.
“Libertarians will happily use coercion against you if there is a way they can make sure that you abide by their definitions.”
Again, Bill is likely conflating the use of enthusiastic persuasion and debate with coercion, unless he actually still thinks that “libertarians” would want to forcibly institute their ideals with some form of coercive type of “government”. It is true that it is likely that Bill’s needs for flexibility in accepting definitions and his need for calm discussion was not being met with some of his interactions with self-described libertarians.
“Libertarians hate the social contract.”
Libertarians seem to like what is ethical and moral, and usually they dislike what seems arbitrary and vague, especially in terms of delegating authority. The “social contract” is something that is vague at best. Here is some of the Wikipedia definition:
The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding duties to protect themselves and one another from violence and other kinds of harm.
Social contract theory played an important historical role in the emergence of the idea that political authority must be derived from the consent of the governed. The starting point for most social contract theories is a heuristic
examination of the human condition absent from any political order, usually termed the “state of nature”.
In this condition, individuals’ actions are bound only by their personal power and conscience. From this shared starting point, social contract theorists seek to demonstrate, in different ways, why a rational individual would voluntarily give up his or her natural freedom to obtain the benefits of political order.
Wikipedia goes on with criticisms of the social contract, including this one:
According to the will theory of contract, a contract is not presumed valid unless all parties agree to it voluntarily, either tacitly or explicitly, without coercion.
, a 19th century lawyer and staunch supporter of a right of contract between individuals, in his essay No Treason
, argues that a supposed social contract cannot be used to justify governmental actions such as taxation, because government will initiate force against anyone who does not wish to enter into such a contract. As a result, he maintains that such an agreement is not voluntary and therefore cannot be considered a legitimate contract at all.
“Libertarians will do everything they can to prove that the social contract is either invalid or doesn’t exist.” (See 7:05 to about 7:26 for an example.)
This is frequently true, and although true libertarians would want to grant Bill the right to form a social contract with whoever he wishes to, they just don’t want people (especially themselves as libertarians) to be born into such a contract, or to have it thrust upon them by virtue of moving from one geographic area to another. The need to prove invalidity or existence is an example of libertarians trying to meet a need for clarity to establish how reality works. The methods that some self-professed libertarians have of “proving” this seems to have gone against some of Bill’s feelings and needs.
“Libertarians believe redistribution of wealth is wrong.”
Generally true, but this begs the questions “redistributed in what way, by who, given to whom?” Again, accepting that inequality of property, resources and attributes is a given, moving wealth from people who have legitimately created it to people who merely benefit from the wealth is tyrannical to libertarians, and even if the wealth was created with coercion (as with “royalty” and most oligarchs) the ends do not justify the means (to a libertarian, at least) as in the equation of 2 Wrongs = X Wrongs. This equation is properly balanced by making X = 2 (to someone being honest about the answer). It is important for the person espousing liberty to understand a “wrong” as a violation of an individual’s liberty or property, but not to attempt to explain this definition to someone who is angry, afraid or upset until an empathetic connection is successfully made.
“Libertarians believe it is legitimately wrong to take from the rich and give to the poor.” [Who specifically takes from whom specifically, taken by what means, given in what way to whom specifically? – D.B.]
This is the same as Bill’s point 32, where the ends do not justify the means. Bill has a need for social justice and it is likely he feels insecure with this need being met by the philosophy of libertarianism in general, as far as he can understand the concepts.
“Libertarians don’t believe that the State has a moral obligation to ensure that its people don’t die of starvation or preventable illnesses, and to ensure that every person has food, clothing, and somewhere to live. Following this logic, libertarians believe that if you [or someone you abdicate responsibility or allegiance to] redistribute property [from the rich to the poor] to provide these needs for “the people” you are initiating coercive force and are morally in the wrong.” [Author’s additions in brackets for clarification.]
True libertarians cannot justify a coercive, monopolistic State’s existence, much less justify any actions by such a tyrannical organization. Bill likely feels that the needs of the poor and those who cannot meet their needs in general can only be met with the actions of the collective State, and likely he thinks that stateless societies of the past never effectively met the needs of the unfortunate.
“Libertarians believe funding to help provide food, clothing and shelter to all who need it should be voluntary, so that all people would give what they wanted to who they wanted, and give it when they want to.”
This is true, and this is why there are those libertarians who are self-described as “voluntaryists”. Bill again seems convinced this would never work in practice without coercion and a central monopolistic authority. This is an example of Bill expressing his need for order, security and stability. He does not necessarily see people as being generous and caring by nature, to the extent that people who are in need will have their needs adequately met without using coercive methods.
“Libertarians believe it is wrong if there is a situation where more people are in need of assistance than what the people in that region voluntarily want to give up, and [this is the cause that makes] the government use force to get more from the people.” [Author’s clarifications added.]
Bill is apparently assuming that this would be a very common situation, and this gives him the idea that there are legitimate uses for government to initiate the use of aggressive force to compel more generous and caring behavior from the people who refuse to give assistance to those who are in need. Libertarians do indeed believe this initiation of force (as well as the existence of “government” [the useful abstraction referring to a monopolistic source of authoritarian coercion]) is wrong, ethically, morally and practically.
“Libertarians believe you should be able to keep everything you earn.”
This is true, and it is part of the Non Aggression Principle and the Homestead Principle, being equal rights for all individuals to physically keep what they physically have, especially that which they have created with their own effort, labor and inventiveness.
“You cannot keep everything you earn. Your income was not acquired in isolation..If you transport goods across the country then you have made use of the road networks, the fire department will turn up if your store/factory have a fire, the police will turn up if a criminal wants to extort you, the courts will help you extract money from people who owe it to you. I think it’s reasonable to be made to pay for these things, libertarians think it is unreasonable [to be made to pay for these things].”
This is also true. Libertarians do not think it is fair that they must pay for monopolized services and cannot voluntarily either choose a different service provider or opt out entirely. And most libertarians certainly do not think it is ever reasonable to be “made to pay for things”, when instead they would like to just choose what they want and pay for it, or not pay and not have it. Thus, the injustice of monopolies becomes crystal clear when viewed through the lense of if it is voluntary. Just because there are monopolies to certain crucial services (roads, security, firemen) and there are no viable alternatives that are affordable to most people, this doesn’t make it necessary for people to be loyal and obedient to the coercive organizations that provide these services. Basically, just because there is tyranny in the form of coercion that provides certain goods and services, this in no way justifies the need for obedience and respect for that tyranny, as if roads, schools, military and other monopolized services are rationalized as an ethical bribe to pay for the loyalty of individuals who have little choice but to use these services.
“Libertarians believe that just because the State is not perfect and has all of these established problems we should all just give up on the idea that we can make the State work for us.”
This is also true. To libertarians, the State is not merely imperfect and full of problems, it is (to them and to all who leave apologetic language behind) a form of slavery whereby people enforce upon other people arbitrary, cruel and immoral initiation of aggressive force, and the ends to which this force is ostensibly used can never be good enough to rationalize the means by which the “services” are provided.
Bill has heard these and other arguments from libertarians, but for him, the communication methods used by him and the people espousing liberty were too filled with antagonism and aggression. It is likely that he has interpreted the act of verbal or written persuasion (that libertarians often use with great zeal) with the acts of initiating coercion (that the State in all its manifestations uses against whomever is deemed as non-compliant).
Bill has the needs for safety, security, order, and domestic harmony. He also has the needs for fairness, justice and some form of equality, though it seems that the ramifications of the forms of equality (equality of resources rather than equality of morality) he advocates are attempts by him to defend the idea of the necessity of maintaining coercive systems that are presently employed by monopolistic organizations. He has fear and concern that people are not actually generous, caring and supportive enough on their own without being coerced into “doing the right thing”. He has likely read books similar to Lord of the Flies, propounding the myth that most people’s nature is inherently selfish, destructive and greedy, and due to this evil nature there is the need for systems of coercion to “protect us all” from the bad tendencies inside of all individuals.
If a person who loved liberty (someone who promoted the NAP, self-ownership, and the homestead principle) was to ever talk or write of these subjects with Bill Burns again (or anyone similarly oriented), it would behoove them to find out what Bill is feeling and needing with careful questions, seeking to form connection with him by virtue of voicing what Bill feels and needs, such as the above paragraph of examples. Most people today in Western countries (like Bill, apparently) have been through roughly 15,000 hours of compulsory schooling, where it is common to be taught such lessons such as: human nature is evil, that governments are good, the State is necessary (or at least a necessary evil), checks and balances keep “us” safe from abuses of power, that authority can initiate coercion for people’s own good and that whether an action is voluntary or coercive doesn’t matter as much as the ends to which that particular action is (ostensibly) supposed to manifest.
Do not try to show Bill (or anyone emotionally disposed in a similar way) that these ends are not practically achieved, or that the methods that are used to (ostensibly) attain them (the means) are un-ethical and immoral. The ethics and morality issue must be discussed after some form of empathetic bridge is formed, in order to first show that Bill’s feelings and needs are understood, and that the listener to him cares about what he needs, because the person who loves liberty also has these needs (“needs” in this essay being NVC jargon referring to motivating values, desires and commitments to certain strategies). If Bill feels that the person he is discussing issues with has knowledge and understanding of his feelings and needs, or even if an attempt at perceiving these feelings and needs is made, then Bill may be able to emotionally have an interest in understanding the feelings and needs of a lover of liberty. It is highly likely that Bill also has these very same motivating factors, such as valuing and desiring autonomy, self-reliance, true equality (in which no one person or group can be more powerful than any other person or group) and safety and freedom from coercion. If you, the lover of liberty, want to discuss these subjects with someone like Bill, and you took the time to learn NVC and connect with your audience, you would likely find it far easier to gain agreement and see eye-to-eye with some or all of the major tenets of self-ownership and the NAP. This, in my opinion, would go much further to the spreading of the message of liberty and the objective measurement of coercive methods, helping to aid in the removal of the “slave-on-slave” violence known as tyranny.
I implore the reader, learn to care about your audience, learn to know them and understand their feelings and needs. Avoid using the language of un-asked-for diagnosis, demand, deserving and denial of responsibility (such as the responsibility to understand your audience’s feelings and needs). This will likely help in the successful transmitting of the concepts of self-ownership and the NAP, and will promote more ethical and non-violent interactions. It is my conclusion that it will be well worth the effort, and it will be far more effective than methods of persuasion that can easily be conflated with coercion.