Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
The specter of the heartless libertarian arises when it is suggested that society could perhaps be better organized without a coercive government at its core. The proponents of this shocking scheme are dismissed as being either blatantly naïve or else accused of being calculating, soulless monsters who don’t want to be bothered with the less fortunate members of society who may need help—it’s all about the me, me, and the me.
This heartless libertarian is best conceived of as the creature who, upon discovering a man stuck in a deep hole on the side of the road, walks on and ignores his unfortunate fellow man because he is under no legal obligation to help.
"It may be the right thing to do, but you can't legislate morality," he pontificates, "because to do so would make me this man's slave, forcing me to perform labor for him against my will."
Can you imagine a society full of such heartless jerks? What about the needy? Who will feed and educate the children of the poor? No, these libertarian ideas can only lead to a callously selfish, miserable society.
Legislating morality is the ticket for making people at least pantomime moral actions, and this gets the necessary job done. Because let’s face it—if someone needs help, does it really matter if he receives it through voluntary or involuntary measures?
Well, it most certainly does matter. Murray Rothbard differentiated quite rightly, I believe, between ethics—which delineate rights—and morals (see last three paragraphs here
). Ethics relates to social behavior that is subject to the law, and is intimately tied to human rights and property rights. Morality relates to accepted social behavior and does not necessarily require that the law need be involved.
Society is a collection of individuals who are cooperating with each other in order to take advantage of the division of labor and its resultant benefits. We cooperate for selfish reasons, in that we are able to realize an enormously, stupendously higher standard of living by participating in a society as compared to existing in isolation, but also because we naturally like to get along and help each other out.
I know that many of you will object to this rather warm and cuddly, subjective-sounding “people are basically good” assertion, but the only way society begins is through cooperation: Cooperative creatures beget cooperative society. Naturally aggressive, destructive creatures cannot do this.
Many attempt to circumvent this logic by imagining that groups of smarter-than-your-average-bear individuals somehow "rounded up" savage, uncivilized human beings in the wild and broke them to the benevolent and beneficial yoke of civilization. These wise government supervisors to whom we owe the creation of society out of chaos remain on call to this day with their rolled-up newspapers at the ready for when some of the still-semi-feral citizens inevitably stray and wet the carpet.
Now, cooperation is just one half of the human interaction equation and is not more important than the individuality of each and every human being that comprises a society. We want to cooperate because we are naturally social animals but also because we want to benefit from the arrangement. Competition and cooperation: Yin and yang: Coopetition.
But if someone does not wish to cooperate, then what is to be done? What if he will not help the less fortunate? What if he insists on consuming unapproved substances? What is to be done with this square peg? Throw him in jail? Fine him?
No. The law has no place here as long as the individual is not interfering with another's rights.
But he is harming society by not cooperating! When society is harmed, we are all harmed! He is indeed interfering with the rights of everyone!
Here is where we must be crystal clear. If member X of the society can cite exactly how member Y's "non-cooperative" activities have infringed upon his individual human rights, only then should the law be brought to bear. Society has no rights and cannot be harmed. Society is every bit as safe from harm as is Santa Claus.
But then horrible, amoral (although not rights-infringing) behavior will run amok! If these offensive behaviors are not punished, society will deteriorate to the point where miscegenation and alcohol consumption and working on the Sabbath will eventually bring about the end of civilization!
Two approaches come to the fore here as possible ways to resolve such typical social controversies. Society can use government positive law to codify such moral offenses and to dole out punishment to transgressors of these laws, or society can deal with its “moral outcasts” in a more efficient, nonviolent manner via social ostracism
And while the former is the method generally adapted, the latter is perhaps more efficient and infinitely more ethical. Ostracism is a very powerful mechanism for tempering social behavior, the built-in “checks and balances” system in any society.
If society is based on cooperation by "good" people, then if I do not want to cooperate, or if I want to act in a "bad" manner, even if only morally and not ethically, then no one will want anything to do with me and I will lose my benefits. That's all there is to it.
If I leave the poor guy from the second paragraph of this paper stranded in the hole, what will he think of me? Who will he tell? Does he know someone in my circle of acquaintances? Is he a friend of my boss? And so on.
If I wish to participate in a society made up of rights-respecting, cooperating individuals because I want to reap the benefits of such an arrangement, then if I decide to treat other members in a non-respectful, non-cooperative manner, it is my right to do so—but then I should not be surprised to see that I will not be treated with respect or receive the cooperation of others and I will see the membership benefits decrease. It’s my call.
If good people make up a good society, then they expect everyone to act in a cooperative and in a somewhat relatively-moral manner. But where is the line? Well, wherever society draws it. If one acts in a “bad” manner, society will simply withdraw the membership benefits. Here we have defined a truly voluntary social contract with no aggression involved. How heartless is that?
But what if society draws lines in bad places? What if, as an example, unwed mothers are ostracized and can’t find work to support their children?
Look, I am not claiming that human society will ever be perfect, but a voluntary society will be much more flexible and provide opportunities for people to resolve such differences of moral opinion far better than the society with a fixed set of legislated and enforced moral rules.
A voluntary society will actually be a collection of smaller, interconnecting and overlapping communities, and people will be better able to move around and choose the living environment that best suits them.
Within such a dynamic structure, society will be free to evolve in various directions and will not remain static and stagnant under one set of enforced moral rules. What will be discovered, I believe, is that the freest communities within the society will produce more and have higher standards of living, and this will attract people who will value these benefits more than they disvalue any particular behaviors that they may not agree with.
The result will be that over time, society will evolve toward more and more personal freedom, which is the direction opposite to which we currently find ourselves moving. Man, that’s heartless.
I mentioned before that governments insinuate themselves into good society and corrupt it, and now it is time to examine this assertion more closely. The current general consensus is that government is good and essential, and also that it is acceptable to use force to make everyone conform to a universal “moral code.”
To believe that using force to make peaceful people behave in some preferred manner is to be corrupted, and this corruption springs from government education and positive legislation.
Want to see the power of ostracism first hand and witness the inversion of ethics and morality due to government’s poisoning of the well? Try this:
Go forth and live your life making it known to all that you believe politics is unethical violence and voluntary transactions are the only just ways for people to interact. Proclaim those two very simple, irrefutable truths that taxation is theft and war is murder. Merely suggest that the troops abroad are acting in an unethical manner because they are killing human beings on command. Infer that just perhaps, if a person voluntarily supports an organization that murders, then he is somehow, just maybe, a tiny bit complicit in those murders. See how uncomfortable it is to be at such philosophical odds with coworkers, friends, and family.
The government will not, as a rule, need to send agents out after you for speaking out against its policies (not at the moment, at least). The government utilizes the better weapon of social ostracism as its main enforcement arm for controlling its citizens. If the government had to use direct force to coerce people into behaving like good little compliant citizens, the jig would be up.
But they really don’t have to exert too much overt vertical pressure, as they have indoctrinated the masses so as to apply constant horizontal pressure to one another to stay in line. As social animals, we are very susceptible to this peer pressure.
Corrupt the minds, and then let them police themselves. This requires much less work for the government to control its citizens, and it hides the violence behind the consent given to the government, and creates a mass of relatively happy people who think they are free. The random few who are dissatisfied with this virtual paradise on Earth are quickly jumped on by their fellow citizens and either brought back into line or ostracized.
Now just imagine this horizontal pressure being used to uphold a just society. Yes, I believe it would work quite well. Perhaps the current generations of adults are mostly lost causes, but each will sequentially be replaced with a new generation, and if we can begin to teach our children about freedom and raise them in loving, caring, and respecting environments, only then may the paradigm finally shift.
Heartless libertarians? This is a term forged by the heartless people of a corrupt society. These misguided individuals believe themselves to be good and believe that the people with true hearts are bad. Up is down and black is white.
Trying to paint a picture of a free, uncorrupted society to a corrupted person is to describe a society full of heartlessness and corruption. People will be free to interact with others as they please? No one will forcibly regulate these interactions? No one will be forced to help anyone? Horrors!
They will then explain to you the obvious and proper way to organize society:
I don’t like the fact that some people [do x], and so I will force everyone to pay for someone with a gun to prohibit them from [doing x].
Prohibition is not just a reference to a Constitutional amendment, it is the very definition of government, and the government advocate is truly the heartless one, not the libertarian.
It is not heartless to advocate for individual rights and freedoms;
it is not heartless to assume the best of innate, cooperative human nature;
it is not heartless to raise your children to respect the individuality and sovereignty of all human beings and to understand their own innate freedom; and
it is not heartless to allow each equal-rights-endowed human being to freely pursue his or her own goals as they see fit as long as they do not interfere with the innate human rights of others.
Heartless is locking up people for victimless crimes, such as having certain plants in their possession.
Heartless is not allowing people to have property they can call their own.
Heartless is not allowing people to travel freely upon the face of the Earth.
Heartless is training children to be lifelong subservient dependents.
Heartless is forcing people to work and pay for other people's goodies.
Heartless is ruthlessly enforcing the positive law with agents who are allowed to use force with relative impunity and immunity.
Heartless is arbitrarily killing people in distant lands.
I know you can see the difference: So what does your heart tell you?
"Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live." ~Oscar Wilde