As I mentioned back here, sometimes I call the UnParty the Energy Party (depending on the subject at hand), and once or twice I’ve referred to the Grownup Party. That kicked off a discussion that I think has a certain relevance to some of the philosophical friction that vexes us these days. Here’s the discussion:
Doug, I give you credit for being a consistent anarchist…but don’t you support parental "authority"?
Posted by: Randy E | Apr 30, 2008 9:17:05 AM
Not coercive authority… I should be able to influence my children
through my words and actions, not by threats or intimidation.
I want a government based on ethics, productivity, and fairness. We have a government based on lies, inefficiency, and
Posted by: Doug Ross | Apr 30, 2008 9:48:46 AM
Actually, whenever I have disputes with libertarians, I do so as a
parent. I’m in my 32nd year of being a parent. I have five kids and
three grandchildren, and my worldview is that of a parent. Whenever I
hear people standing up for their "right" to do something stupid — such as not wear motorcycle helmets on the public roads — I hear the voice of a child. By now, it’s sort of hard-wired into me.
Lots of people look at laws in terms of "what this means to me" in
terms of "what I get to do" or "what gets done to me." I tend to look
at society as a whole and think, Is this a good idea overall? or Does this make society safer, or healthier, or wealthier? or Is this the logical way for society to function?
I don’t think, Do I want to pay this tax? or Do I think I should have to buckle my seat belt?
To me, those are unacceptably self-centered questions. This makes for
profound disagreements, because the basic cognitive processes, the
entire perspective going in, is very, very different.
Posted by: Brad Warthen | Apr 30, 2008 9:52:30 AM
You may not understand this but my view on society is the same as
yours: Is this a good idea overall? Does this make society safer, or
healthier, or wealthier? Is this the logical way for society to
And then I examine the issue using my own personal experience as
reference. Take taxes for example… I look at the issue logically
based on the taxes I pay and conclude that a) the system is illogical
b) the use of tax dollars is inefficient and c) the tax burden is
I don’t want MY taxes to be lower, I want EVERYONE’s taxes to be
lower… because I believe our economy would be far better off for
EVERYONE if we had less government. The same logic applies to my views
on Social Security, healthcare, education, etc.
Your world view is what gives us the government we have today. One
where we citizens pay people to sit around making crucial decisions
like: when can we sell beer and wine on Sunday? what time does a store
need to open on Sunday? what tax breaks does a newspaper deserve that
other companies do not? should we give people age 785 and over a 1/2%
sales tax break? how much of the taxpayers’ money should we give to the
Okra Strut? and on and on it goes. Completely wasted effort… I want
to see that abolished for EVERYONE’s benefit, not my own.
Big government types are worse than selfish – they take what isn’t theirs.
Posted by: Doug Ross | Apr 30, 2008 10:52:03 AM
And I see those as unrelated questions, not in terms of some sort of
overriding conflict between "government" and… what — "ungovernment?"
But you’re right in that government in one sense or another is involved
in all those decisions. What I wonder about is what you see as the
Basically, we have this thing called a civilization. But even in the
most chaotic, anarchic situations, certain arrangements arise among
human beings that determine how they are going to live together (or NOT
live together). Such things seem unavoidable in a group of any sort of
social animals. With gorillas, you have a whole network of decisions
and arrangements that tend to be built around the overriding question
of, "Who gets to be the alpha male?"
Things get more complicated with humans because we are a verbalizing
race, and think in symbols and abstractions that can’t be communicated
without language. But everywhere that there are two or more humans
together, some sort of arrangement or agreement has to be arrived at in
terms of how to interact and arrange things, from the ownership of
property to acceptable behavior.
In the closest thing to a state of nature — a place where
government has utterly collapsed, such as in Somalia; or a place where
conventional government is not recognized as legitimate, such as Sicily
over the centuries — you have something closer to the "alpha male"
model found among other creatures. In Somalia, it’s warlords. In Sicily
(and sometimes among transplanted communities of Sicilians) you have a
system of bosses and underbosses who hold power through the most
elemental system of violence-backed "respect."
Now THAT is a system in which somebody is, as you say, taking what isn’t theirs.
Actually, through much of human history, the warlord model has held
sway, in such disparate settings as pre-communist China and Europe
during the middle ages. Europeans called it feudalism. Under such a
system, wealth that is coerced from weaker members of the society is
used in such capital projects as building fortresses for the warlords.
What you don’t see in a system such as that is a system of roads. For
such infrastructure as that, which might economically benefit the
society more broadly, there has to be a different governing system. For
well over 1,000 years, Europeans continued to use roads the Romans had
built because that was the last time there was a broad government with
an overarching concept of acting on behalf of something broader — in
that case, an empire in which the rule of law was only helpful if you
were a Roman.
You saw some city-states rise up in Italy, and bands of city states
along the Baltic and in other regions, in which councils and other
decision-making bodies created infrastructure and regulations that
facilitated commerce that created wealth for a somewhat larger group.
Anyway, to speed ahead… in this country we came up with
representative democracy as a means for a free people to work out
questions of how they would arrange themselves socially and make the
decisions that WILL BE MADE one way or another among any group of
humans. Once everyone gets a voice like that, all sorts of questions
will come up: Do we need a new road? OK, how will we pay for it? Some
people will not want to see alcohol sold at all, others will have an
opposite view. Perhaps for a time, the community will strike a
compromise: OK, we’ll allow alcohol to be sold in our community, but
not on Sunday, because there is a critical mass in the community that
finds such activities on a Sunday beyond the pale, and those who don’t
feel that way go along to get what they want on the other six days.
Of course, laws governing alcohol get far more complicated than
that, with debates over where to draw the lines in terms of operating a
car on the PUBLIC roads after drinking, whether minors can drink or
even hang out in drinking establishments, and so forth. And all of
these are legitimate areas for regulation as long as we, acting through
this system of representative democracy, decide they ARE legitimate
areas for such.
Government, and politics, are in our system the proper place for deciding where all those lines are.
In our constitutional system, we have in writing certain guarantees
to prevent a government answering to a majority doesn’t trample certain
fundamental rights (life, liberty, and such) of any individuals,
including those in political minorities. This does not, of course, mean
that individuals can blow off the more general will. You can’t commit
murder just because it’s in keeping with your personal value system.
Nor can you take your neighbor’s car without his permission, or poison
his cat, or engage in insider trading, or sell beer in a community that
has legitimately (acting through the proper processes) decided to make
This is a great system; it beats the hell out of doing things
according to the whim of the local warlord. And everyone —
libertarians, authoritarians, Christians, Wiccans, what have you — get
to make their case in the public square.
Some libertarians, unfortunately, seem to regard the political and
governmental decisions that THEY DISAGREE WITH — a tax they don’t want
to pay, for instance — as being illegitimate. But they aren’t.
Each and every one of us accepts losing political arguments, and
submitting to the resulting regulations or laws or lack thereof — as
the price of living in this (I would argue) highly enlightened system
of making social decisions. We accept it rather than go live in a place
where only brute force counts.
That doesn’t mean we don’t make our case for the next election, and so forth.
Is anything I’m saying here making sense to you?
Posted by: Brad Warthen | Apr 30, 2008 11:51:33 AM
Also, Brad, your view of government is what gets us things like rebate checks to stimulate the economy and gas tax holidays.
McCain claims both of those are great ideas designed to help
everybody out when, in reality, he supports them for purely selfish
reasons – to dupe voters so he can get elected President. He hasn’t got
the guts to tell the truth. His own personal ambition means more to him
than the truth. Guess he’d make a good libertarian, huh?
Posted by: Doug Ross | Apr 30, 2008 11:56:27 AM
You can’t commit murder just because it’s in keeping with your
personal value system. Nor can you take your neighbor’s car without his
permission, or poison his cat, or engage in insider trading, or sell
beer in a community that has legitimately (acting through the proper
processes) decided to make that illegal.
Murder or killing the neighbor’s cat are issues not in dispute by
anyone, libertarians or otherwise. Those are acts that clearly affect
other people and clearly must involve intervention by the government.
Doug nor anyone else has suggested the legalization of murder. Clearly
that is the mother of all non-sequetors.
But selling or buying beer on Sunday is completely different. That
is a decision which rightly belongs in a class of activities that can
and should best be handled by individuals without interference from the
government because it has no affect on others. That is true regardless
of who has their say in the public square. If I want to buy beer on
Sunday that is a decision that should be made on the basis of my own
conscience, religious views and other factors that only I can evaluate.
It’s no one else’s business if I buy beer on Sunday. Same with video
poker, pot smoking, what I do with my own body – including who I sleep
with. It’s no one’s damn business, period.
Let’s try another example that perhaps Brad can understand. What if
some religious extremist came to power and, with the help of Congress,
decided that only their religion could be exercised. The majority of
the people agree. The folks from the banned religions had their say in
the public square but were overruled. Brad could no longer attend the
Catholic Church he’s been a member of for decades.
Or, let’s say that all movies that depict the political process in
an unflattering light must now be banned. The Manchurian Candidate can
not be shown any longer as a result.
Or, perhaps hitting close to home, what if the only newspaper
allowed is the one run by the government. Even though The State has run
editorials oppossing this the law passes anyway. The day after the law
passes the government troops occupy The State paper’s operation and
begin publishing their own spin on the world.
According to Brad’s world view all of these events are a legitimate intrusion into the way people conduct their lives.
Posted by: bud | Apr 30, 2008 12:51:57 PM
Right, Bud. I don’t want all government abolished, just some of it.
I don’t want to abolish all taxes, just some of them. I don’t want to
repeal all laws, just those that intrude on personal rights.
The whole drug issue is a perfect example. Nobody should ever go to
jail for using drugs unless they end up doing some harm to another
person. We have a society filled with people popping anti-depressants
and sleeping pills, abusing alcohol, etc. and yet we have law
enforcement people spending time and resources making sure adults don’t
smoke a joint. This is a case where the moral minority in power feels a
need to enforce its will upon people.
Posted by: Doug Ross | Apr 30, 2008 1:27:26 PM
Actually, bud, what you just said is completely inconsistent with what I wrote. So this is a non-argument.
A lot of people (primarily libertarians) point to Prohibition as
evidence that such things "don’t work." Nonsense. Prohibition went away
for the same reason it came in– the prevailing political will of the
time, acting with sufficient force to change the constitution (which is
what would be necessary for bud’s farcical scenario to work, and good
luck that that one, by the way).
In other words, "Prohibition doesn’t work" only makes sense when you say, "Prohibition doesn’t work if we don’t want it."
Doug is using the reasoning of the child — someone OUT THERE is
imposing something on my in contradiction of my sovereign will. With
the child, it’s the parent; with Doug, it’s this alleged "minority in
I don’t look at the world that way, because I am not alienated from
the American political system. Therefore I can say WE decide something,
whether it was my idea or not. I don’t see the decision-making
apparatus as being something OUT THERE.
Posted by: Brad Warthen | Apr 30, 2008 1:43:56 PM
Anyway, I decided to create the separate post to call more attention to the exchange.