I am debating the issue of, as K.M. frames it, “Is a monopoly on the use of force the logical outcome of applying the ethics of egoism to the functioning of a society?” Plainly speaking, is the existence of the State justified? It started over my response to a comment by Pravin here. I was responding to K.M.’s question last night, but stopped myself. I thought this would be the right time to finish reading Leoni’s “Freedom and the Law,” something I started in Dec-Jan. Instead of adding unrelated, tangential stuff to the forthcoming response, I thought I could quote some interesting bits in some posts of mine.
I had started my response with these paragraphs-
What is an “unfree” market? Let me ask the question the other way round – what is a “free” market? It is a market in which the State does not interfere (the only “interference” would be of the enforcement of contracts kind). Political/ economic freedom is always defined in terms of the State, not in terms of non-State actors. The latter don’t lay any claim to morality when they engage in fraud, theft, murder, confinement etc. It is the State which does that. So, an “unfree” market would be one with State interference.
Sometimes, I do use the terms “market” and “free market” differently. That’s because a “market” can be anything. Markets other than the free market, gray market and black market exist. Such other markets can work beyond even “proper” laws. There can be a market in stolen goods, in women, in children – anything. But when I am talking about politics, and specifically laws, I am surely referring to the free market. Even assuming a “market” where the State is a participant, or controller, why would I claim that a market controlled by the State is better than the State? It makes no sense.
The above won’t make much sense unless you follow the debate. I quote this because of something Leoni says. Part of it should be a warning to those who believe in any kind of paternalism. From the chapter “‘Freedom’ and ‘Constraint'”-
“Freedom,” by the way, is a word with favorable connotations. Perhaps it may be useful to add that the word “freedom” sounds good because people use it to point to their positive attitude toward what they call “being free.” As Maurice Cranston has observed in his essay on Freedom (London, 1953) quoted above, people never use expressions such as “I am free” to mean that they are without something they consider to be good for them. None says, at least in speaking of day-to-day affairs, “I am free from money” or “I am free from good health.” Other words are used to express the attitude of people toward the absence of good things: they say that they lack something; and this applies, so far as I know, to all the European languages at present as well as in the past. In other words, to be “free” from something means “to be without something that is not good for us,” while, on the other hand, to lack something means to be without something that is good.
Of course, freedom has little meaning when it is complemented only by the expression “from something,” and we expect people to tell us also what it is that they are free to do. But the presence of a negative implication in the word “freedom” and in certain related words like “free” seems unquestionable. This negative implication is also present in derivative words connected with the term “liberty,” which is simply the Latin counterpart of “freedom” and not a word with a different meaning. For instance, “liberal” is a word that designates both in Europe and in America a negative attitude toward “constraint,” regardless of the nature of the “constraint” itself, which in its turn is conceived of very differently by American and by European “liberals.”
Thus, “freedom” and “constraint” in ordinary language are antithetical terms. Of course, one can like “constraint” or some kind of “constraint,” like the Russian army officers of whom Tolstoy said that they liked military life because it turned out to be a sort of “commanded idleness.” Many more people in the world like “constraint” than we probably imagine. Aristotle made a penetrating remark when he said at the beginning of his treatise on politics that people are divided into two broad categories, those who were born to rule and those who were born to obey rulers. But even if one likes “constraint,” it would be an abuse of words to say that “constraint” is freedom. Nevertheless, the idea that “constraint” is something very closely connected with freedom is at least as old as the history of political theories in the Western world.
I think that the main reason for this is that no one can be said to be “free from” other people if the latter are “free” to constrain him in some way. In other words, everyone is “free” if he can constrain in some way other people to refrain from constraining him in some respect. In this sense, “freedom” and “constraint” are inevitably linked, and this is probably too often forgotten when people speak of “freedom.” But “freedom” itself in ordinary language is never constraint, and the constraint that is linked inevitably with freedom is only a negative constraint; that is, a constraint imposed solely in order to make other people renounce constraining in their turn. All this is not merely a play on words. It is a very abridged description of the meaning of words in the ordinary language of political societies whenever individuals have any power whatever to be respected or, as one might say, whenever they have any power of a negative kind entitling them to be called “free.”
In this sense, we can say that the “free market” also inevitably implies the idea of a “constraint” in that all the members of a market society have the power to exercise restraint against people like robbers or thieves. There is no such thing as a “free market” with some constraining power superadded. A free market is rooted in a situation in which those engaged in market transactions have some power to constrain the enemies of a free market. This point probably is not emphasized sufficiently by those authors who, in focusing their attention on the “free market,” end by treating it as the very antithesis of governmental constraint.
Thus, for instance, Professor Mises, an author whom I admire greatly for his adamant defense of the “free market” on the basis of lucid and compelling reasoning and a superb mastery of all the issues involved, says that “liberty and freedom are terms employed for the description of the social conditions of the individual members of a market society in which the power of the indispensable hegemonic bond, the state, is curbed lest the operation of the market be endangered.” We notice here that he has qualified as “indispensable” the hegemonic bond of the state, but he means by liberty, as he also says, “restraint imposed upon the exercise of the police power” without adding exactly, as I would consider it reasonable to add from the point of view of a free-trader, that liberty means also restraint imposed on the exercise of the power of anyone else to interfere with the free market. As soon as we admit this meaning of liberty, the hegemonic bond of the state is not only something to be curbed, but also, and I would say first of all, something we make use of to curb other people’s actions.
Note, in the last two paragraphs, the difference between Leoni’s and Mises’ views of the “free market.” I believe that Mises implicitly states what Leoni is explicit about. It is a “given” that normal people have the right to “constrain” people like thieves, robbers and fraudsters, people whom Leoni later refers to as those indulging in “‘misproductive’ work—i.e., work that is useful for the worker, but not for those for whom, or against whom, he works.” I am with Mises here. The free market must be treated as the very “antithesis of governmental constraint.”
There are lots of people who do not like the conclusions of natural rights-based ethics and politics. They try to “disprove” it. Like Mr. LaFollette. He writes–
The problem with libertarianism can be seen once we recognize the limitations that negative rights (libertarian constraints) themselves place on individual liberty. Suppose, for example, that I am the biggest and strongest guy on the block. My size is a natural asset, a physical trait I inherited and then developed. But can I use my strength and size any way I please? No! At least not morally. Though I am physically capable of pummeling the peasants, pillaging property, and ravishing women, I am not morally justified in doing so. My freedom is restricted without my consent. I didn’t make a contract with the property owners or the women; I didn’t promise not to rap, rob, or rape. Just the same, morally I cannot perform these actions and others can justifiably prohibit me from performing them.
Consequently, everyone’s life is not, given the presence of negative general rights and negative general duties, free from the interference of others. The “mere” presence of others imposes duties on each of us, it limits everyone’s freedom. In fact, these restrictions are frequently extensive. For example, in the previously described case I could have all of the goods I wanted; I could take what I wanted, when I wanted. To say that such actions are morally or legally impermissible significantly limits my freedom, and my “happiness,” without my consent. Of course I am not saying these restrictions are bad. Obviously they aren’t. But it does show that the libertarian fails to achieve his major objective, namely, to insure that an individual’s freedom cannot be limited without his consent. The libertarian’s own moral constraints limit each person’s freedom without consent.
This is even more vividly seen when we look at an actual historical occurrence. In the nineteenth century American slaveholders were finally legally coerced into doing what they were already morally required to do: free their slaves. In many cases this led to the slave owners’ financial and social ruin: they lost their farms, their money, and their power. Of course they didn’t agree to their personal ruin; they didn’t agree to this restriction on their freedom. Morally they didn’t have to consent; it was a remedy long overdue. Even the libertarian would agree. The slave holders’ freedom was justifiably restricted by the presence of other people; the fact that there were other persons limited their acceptable alter natives. But that is exactly what the libertarian denies. Freedom, he claims, cannot be justifiably restricted without consent. In short, the difficulty in this: the libertarian talks as if there can be no legitimate non-consensual limitations on freedom, yet his very theory involves just such limitations. Not only does this appear to be blatantly inconsistent, but even if he could avoid this inconsistency, there appears to be no principled way in which he can justify only his theory’s non-consensual limitations on freedom.
We have uncovered a very telling incoherence. We have taken the main libertarian weapon against welfare statism and turned it on itself. The once so-sharp sword is seen to have two sides. Instead of menacing the enemy, the sword only frustrates its wielder. As everyone knows, two edged swords cut both ways. The libertarian is unable to support his conception of the minimal state. At least some redistribution of tax monies is justified.
In other words, under “negative liberty,” I don’t have the moral right to restrict others’ physical freedom (freedom from interference – harm) without their consent. Therefore “negative liberty” restricts my physical freedom (freedom to interfere – harm). Therefore “negative liberty” is disproved. This is what Leoni talks about in the above chapter. People fail to understand the relationship between “freedom” and “constraint.” The words freedom and constraint are not mutually exclusive. “Freedom” is defined in terms of “constraint.” The freedom to restrict someone else’s freedom is a contradiction in terms. Its like dividing both sides of a mathematical equation by zero. One ends up with gibberish.
Leoni writes about such kind of confusion-
[T]he very fact that constraint is in some way inevitably linked with “freedom” in all political societies gave rise to or at least favored the idea that “increasing freedom” could be somehow compatible in those societies with “increasing constraint.” This idea was, in its turn, connected with a confusion about the meaning of the terms “constraint” and “freedom” which is chiefly due, not to propaganda, but to the uncertainties that can arise about the meaning of these words in ordinary usage.
Professor Mises says that “freedom” is a human concept. We must add that it is human in so far as some preference on the part of men is always implied when we use that term in ordinary language. But this does not mean that a man can be said to be “free” only from the power of other men. A man also can be said to be “free” from a disease, from fear, from want, as these phrases are employed in ordinary language. This has encouraged some people to consider “freedom from other men’s constraint” on a par with, say, “freedom from want,” without observing that the latter kind of “freedom” may have nothing to do with the former. An explorer may be starving in the desert where he wanted to go alone without being constrained by anybody else. Now, he is not “free from hunger,” but he is, as he was before, completely “free from coercion or constraint” on the part of other people.
You do not “constrain” someone if you merely refrain from doing on his behalf something you have not agreed to do.
Also, note the parasitic nature of the argument – the freedom to kill, pillage etc. When we build a political philosophy on top of ethics, we are not indulging in bootstrapping. Politics isn’t divorced from ethics. Crusoe, alone on his island, can try to survive on the basis of such an ethic, but he can’t succeed. And its this feature that is carried forward in politics when Friday enters the picture. All this reminds me of a poignant passage from The Fountainhead–
Once, in Wynand’s office, [Alvah Scarret] ventured to say:
“Gail, why don’t you negotiate? Why don’t you meet with them at least?”
“But, Gail, there might be a bit of truth on their side, too. They’re newspapermen. You know what they say, the freedom of the press . . .”
Then he saw the fit of fury he had expected for days and had thought safely sidetracked—the blue irises vanishing in a white smear, the blind, luminous eyeballs in a face that was all cavities, the trembling hands. But in a moment, he saw what he had never witnessed before: he saw Wynand break the fit, without sound, without relief. He saw the sweat of the effort on the hollow temples, and the fists on the edge of the desk.
“Alvah . . . if I had not sat on the stairs of the Gazette for a week . . . where would be the press for them to be free on?”
What follows is David King’s thoughts on freedom. “There is no such thing as freedom,” he says. Read it. Carefully.
There are three aspects to the idea of freedom: Physical, Psychological and Social.
In physical terms, freedom–or the lack of it–refers to the constraints imposed by the laws of nature. For example: you are not free to flap your arms and fly through the sky. You are not free to breathe water, like a fish. This is not the sort of freedom I am going to talk about.
In psychological terms freedom refers to the constraints you may impose upon yourself because of your state of mind. For example: you may not be free to get a broken tooth fixed, simply because you dread going to a dentist. You may not be free to learn how to ski, simply because of your lack of self-confidence. This too, is not the sort of freedom I will deal with in this essay.
It is freedom in the context of interacting with other people that is my concern. I will try to make a precise statement of just what that kind of freedom is.
Consider these pairs of terms:
Light – Darkness
Sound – Silence
Heat – Cold
Slavery – Freedom
Let us examine the first of these pairs, light – darkness. Light is defined as electromagnetic radiation in a certain range of wavelengths. As such, we can easily understand and deal with the characteristics of light. We can measure stronger or weaker lights in terms of candlepower or lumens. We can identify different wavelengths of light and call them colors. We can produce light by means of light bulbs and torches. Light is a real existing thing. What then is darkness? Darkness is not a real existing thing. It is merely a term of convenience which we apply to a situation from which light is absent. You will observe that there are no units of measurement for darkness. There are not greater or lesser darknesses (what is greater or lesser in this situation is the amount of light present) nor are there different characteristics of darkness–there is only one kind of darkness and that is the complete absence of light. So long as there is any light at all present we cannot truthfully say that we have darkness but rather that we have a greater or lesser degree of illumination.
Now consider the second pair, sound – silence. Sound is defined as a certain sort of motion of the air. Sound comes in various degrees, namely louder and softer. It comes also in various types, namely of a higher or lower pitch. As with light, you can see (or rather, hear) that sound is a real existing thing. Silence, however, is not. It is merely a term of convenience which we apply to a situation from which sound is absent. And as with darkness, there is only one degree of silence, the complete absence of sound. So long as there is any sound present at all we cannot speak of silence but rather of more or less noise.
Now on to the third pair, heat – cold. Heat is a manifestation of the molecular energy in an object. We can make a measurement of heat by means of a thermometer and we can see (or feel) that heat comes in various degrees of temperature, and thereby we know that this energy content is a real existing thing. So what is cold? Cold is the absence of heat. Cold is not a real thing. You might now be tempted to say: “Humbug! I know cold is real. My refrigerator makes my milk cold. I know this because I drink the cold milk.” Well, your refrigerator does not put cold into the milk. What it does is to take heat out of the milk. The refrigerator is a “heat pump” which pumps the heat from the inside of the box to the outside. (You can feel the heat coming off of the radiator on the back of the refrigerator.) You will note that we have thermometers for measuring heat, but there is no device for measuring cold. You will note that heat is measured in degrees (fahrenheit or centigrade), but there is no unit of measurement which indicates coldness. Strictly speaking, there is only one degree of cold, and that is absolute zero, the point at which all the heat has been removed from an object. So you can see that it is not cold that is a real existing thing, but rather heat.
Now consider the fourth pair of terms, slavery – freedom. Keeping in mind the previous three distinctions I made, let us see what, in this context, is the real existing thing and what is merely a term used to indicate an absence. Consider that we can take a man and by the application of physical force we can compel him to submit to our will. We can also compel him to submit by threatening him with force. We can bind a man in chains; we can lock him in a cage; we can threaten to deprive him of his property, his liberty, or even his life. And thus we can force him to submit to our will. Surely you recognize this as the imposition of slavery. And you can see that slavery is a real existing state of affairs. There are degrees of slavery: some men are completely enslaved, such as negroes in the pre-civil-war South. Other men are more or less enslaved according to the amount of force or threat of force to which they are subjected. So, if slavery is a real existing thing, what then is freedom? Is it not a real thing? After all, men have been willing to fight for it and to die for it all through history. Do they fight and even die for a nothing? For a notion that does not exist in reality? Is it not true that a man will go out and fight against tyranny, and when he has destroyed the tyrant does he not smile and say, “Now I have freedom!”? Doesn’t he have something that he did not have before? Namely freedom? Well, let us see what he does have and what he does not have. Before, when he was living under the tyranny, there was imposed upon him a force or a threat of force, to which he was compelled to submit. Then, when he fought, his objective was to destroy the tyrant. When he fought he did not take some thing away from the tyrant; rather, he destroyed the thing that the tyrant had used against him. The thing destroyed was the tyrant’s ability to compel. And then, after his success, when he said, “Now I have freedom!” did he possess any real thing as a result of his fight? Obviously not. No real existing thing has come into his possession which he did not previously possess. What has changed is that he is now living in a different social situation. Whereas before there was force now there is not. And this situation is what he calls freedom. Freedom is the absence of slavery. Freedom is not a real existing thing, it is rather the term we apply to a situation from which compulsion is absent.
I want now to make the most critically important point of my essay. I have maintained that darkness, silence, cold and freedom are not real existing things. What I have said is true. But what I have said, if not properly understood, can be fatally misleading. Consider one more example of the same nature as those I have illustrated: You can pluck a rock out of the ground, leaving a hole, and you can say that it is the rock that is the real thing and that the hole is merely the absence of the rock, and therefore not real. That is the frame of reference I have used throughout this essay, and it is correct, as far as it goes. But it is certainly not complete. Just as you might stumble over the rock and break your leg, so you might fall into the hole and break your leg. Your relationship to the hole, you see, is a rather important situation. Even though we may consider the hole as being merely the absence of the rock, it certainly does have relevance to your life. And although I have said that darkness, silence, cold and freedom are merely absences, I do not mean to deny their relevance to life. The absence of light which is a blind man’s darkness is crucially important. The absence of sound which is a deaf man’s silence is very relevant. The absence of heat which is a dead man’s cold is undeniably significant. And the absence of slavery which means the freedom of Man is the basis of all human progress.