Liberty: Rooted in Rights


Column by Jim Davies.

Exclusive to STR

Everyone wants to be free, to make his own decisions without interference. That's a no-brainer; if there are any exceptions beyond those unhappily born without the ability to manage for themselves, they are very few. I never met anyone who said “Rule me, please!”

Libertarians, however, add one crucial and distinguishing feature to that: We want everybody to rule themselves; we want everybody to be free of interference. Nobody else does. Everybody else either votes, or perceives nothing wrong with voting, yet voting in its nature endorses a system of interference with freedom.

So we believe in a thoroughgoing liberty, as a matter of philosophy, universally applicable. Everyone else wants liberty for themselves, but casually limits the liberty of others. We don't. That's the difference.

That's not just a philosophy plucked out of thin air, though; it's one developed rationally, from a certain fixed axiom – that every human has the right of self ownership. Those who deny that are denying reality, they are irrational. They are subordinating intellectual integrity to prejudice or myth.

The consequences are of course huge, and include the conclusion that all governments violate that basic human right, and that's quite a big pill for some folk to swallow. Naturally, government people are eager, so as to preserve their jobs and prestige, to spread a belief that we peons do not, in fact, have any such inherent or natural right. So they have manipulated Americans into submitting to a twelve-year indoctrination course which, among other myths, propagates the one that any rights we have are only those that government graciously provides. They employ “useful idiots” who help spread that nonsense that nobody has any other kind of rights.

In so doing, they greatly expand the range of those ersatz rights. While removing the one that matters (self-ownership, with all those derived from it), they add all manner of others: the right to an education, the right to a decent standard of living, the right to a job, the right to medical care, the right to be sheltered, fed, clothed, and so on. None of those exist in reality, for all of them are “rights” which can be provided only at the expense of someone else; hence, none is an universal right, but all are rather transfers from producers to parasites.

The alleged “right to govern” is interesting in itself. If every person has the right to rule himself, it follows directly and immediately that nobody has any right to govern anyone else. So, suppression of an understanding of the self-ownership right is a vital priority for government people. Better that peons be told nobody has any rights at all, than that we reason our way through to that conclusion!

Before asking Murray Rothbard to help us find the origin of rights, let me divert a moment to note that since all are (by right!) free to say anything, people are indeed free to spread the lie that nobody has any rights. For that matter, anyone is free to spread the lie that the earth is flat; but nobody has the right (or at least, the ability) to discover its edge. Anyone can spread the lie that gravity works upwards; but nobody has the right to jump unaided off a tall building and fly. So the right to free speech does have a practical limit; opinion is fine, but its limit is reality. Things are what they are, no matter what anybody says; A is A. Apples are not oranges. This is, in fancier language, the natural or metaphysical Law of Identity; and the undeniable truth of it was recognized by Aristotle, if not by someone earlier.

And so to Murray, Mister Libertarian himself. As STReaders will know, I don't see him as infallible; in my opinion, he was wrong about punishment, and he was wrong about how to bring about a free society, and maybe some other minor issues; but he was dead right about the other major ones, and he was not wrong about rights.

So clear was his thinking, in fact, that he expertly threaded his way through the assertion that if humans have rights, so do other animals. It's a treat to read his reasoning here, in Mises Daily; perhaps a quote will be useful. He wrote:

“For the assertion of human rights is not properly a simple emotive one; individuals possess rights not because we "feel" that they should, but because of a rational inquiry into the nature of man and the universe. In short, man has rights because they are natural rights. They are grounded in the nature of man: the individual man's capacity for conscious choice, the necessity for him to use his mind and energy to adopt goals and values, to find out about the world, to pursue his ends in order to survive and prosper, his capacity and need to communicate and interact with other human beings and to participate in the division of labor. In short, man is a rational and social animal. No other animals or beings possess this ability to reason, to make conscious choices, to transform their environment in order to prosper, or to collaborate consciously in society and the division of labor.”

We might think of some animals that are getting close, just as there are some humans who, unfortunately, fail to come anywhere close to the potential this description says we have; but fundamentally, Murray Rothbard is correct. We have rights because of our nature, as reasoning and choosing animals.

Those attributes also equip us as ethical animals, because morality is impossible without choice. When choice is absent or denied, there is no “right” and “wrong;” and rights, justice and morality are interdependent. If the right of self-ownership does not exist, it cannot be wrong for government to deny it! And if it's not wrong to deny that right, there can be no justice either, and any form of justice is a mockery. That is why government, which acts as though we had no inherent rights, can never administer justice – only the pretense of justice.

Take a simple example: Able has a bicycle and a gun. At his yard gate is the kind of warning notice sometimes seen among backwoodsmen who are long on ferocity but short on ethics: “Keep Out. You Take My Stuff, You Die!” But along comes Baker, takes his bicycle, flips him the finger and starts to ride away. Able then picks up his gun and shoots Baker dead.

If no rights to life (or, therefore, property) exist, that's that. End of story. Able had no right to retain his bike, and Baker had no right to preserve his life. It was just a matter of who was the stronger; might made right.

That's the principle on which government works, too. Power, from a gun barrel. Any who assert the absence of rights make themselves government spokesmen, paid or otherwise.

But if rights do exist, the story does not end there. Able has taken from Baker far more than Baker took from Able; there is an injustice. Able was immoral. Baker was cycling away, not posing Able any immediate threat; Baker did owe him the bike, plus compensation for having to do without it and to cause Baker to make him whole again, but he owed nothing else. A justice industry would set out to bring about that restitution – not a penny more, nor a penny less. But if neither has any rights, all that is impossible; it would have no rational basis to exist.

Real justice is, therefore, the restoration of lost or damaged rights. If there were no rights, there could be no justice. And if no justice, then no peace.

The concept of rights – the real ones, derived from the right of self-ownership - runs all through Rothbard's writings, with hundreds of references, for he regarded it as fundamental to the libertarian philosophy. For example, after two pages of close reasoning that examines any possible alternative to the self-ownership premise, at the foot of page 29 of For a New Liberty, he wrote, “The Libertarian therefore rejects these alternatives and concludes by adopting as his primary axiom the universal right of self-ownership, a right held by everyone by virtue of being a human being.” Notice, that doesn't say or mean that the right is some kind of add-on or afterthought bestowed by a creator, rather that it's something integral to the nature of humans, a vital attribute of humanity.

As far as I know, this basic understanding has never been refuted, and is bedrock libertarianism as laid down by the scholar who is very widely regarded as the founder of the modern libertarian movement; the book is sold and admired on the strength of its subtitle, “The Libertarian Manifesto.” On that basis, I must say that yes, of course, anyone is free to deny that rights exist; but he is not free to do so while also pretending to be a libertarian. That would be to fly a false flag, to be a liar, a deceiver, a hypocrite. Freedom is, as above, limited by reality. A is A; the natural Law of Identity remains in force.

It may be that some are so adamant in opposing the idea of rights that they would therefore no longer claim to be libertarians; fair enough! At least that's honest, and abandons the hypocrisy. In that case, though, I'll end by returning to my opener; libertarians alone desire freedom for everyone, not just for themselves. To reject libertarianism is therefore to assert either that some élite (chosen how?) alone shall be free, or that nobody can be free (very likely).

That's the kind of world in which we now live, and in my understanding, that's the kind of world whose very roots participants here desire to strike.

Your rating: None Average: 10 (1 vote)
Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


Log from Blammo's picture

It seems so simple. Liberty + -arian = libertarian. Who else but someone that holds liberty as their highest ideal could truly call themselves a libertarian?

There is just one tiny problem. If people are truly free, they might decide that "libertarian" means something else to them, and use it in a different sense from the previous iterations in the etymology, completely without fraudulent intent. After all, "liberal" no longer means quite the same thing it once did. Would you stop this, by instituting a language authority, by placing just one little restriction on everyone's liberty? Or would you allow libertarianism as a worldview to be attacked by subtle shifts in the popular definitions of its terms and jargon?

As it happens, I don't believe that "libertarian" has so narrow a definition. Whether or not I use the word to describe myself depends on what I think it means to my audience. Among people not likely to know the subtle shades of meaning in unfamiliar terms like "minarchist", "anarcho-capitalist", "anarcho-socialist", "Georgist", "non-aggression principle", "Austrian (economist)", or any of the other words the people we associate ourselves with tend to use, I call myself a "libertarian", unless someone is likely to be a politically orthodox square, when I am more likely to say "independent".

I do this despite my belief that "natural" rights do not exist. I don't believe cooperative civilization is stable without mutual recognition of a set of common principles for behavior, which could be described as a form of "rights", but I am not so wise as to believe I know which of those are absolutely necessary, or the best order in which to prioritize them.

Those rights do inevitably rest upon a common foundation: might makes right. But they also benefit from the aphorism that many hands make light work. The defense of rights is a common burden that cannot be delegated, only reciprocally shared. I agree that property exists, my body is inherently my property, and the things I do with it can create additional property according to some simple rules. Jim Davies and a host of others also agree, usually up to the point where we may disagree on the rules for acquiring other property, and in this sense we are all partially compatible propertarians.

Going that far, we can probably agree to not kill each other most of the time, and to help each other defend our respective properties--inasmuch as we can both agree what qualifies--against people who don't uphold it as a right, or those who give other rights higher priority.

But who has time to negotiate a mutual defense treaty with every person he knows? I don't. I need to do work that actually puts food on the table most of the day. This is where branding becomes important. If you can publish your bill of rights, and put a brand name on it, why then someone can say "I am a Davies Version 3 (Strict) libertarian" and I can say "I've heard of that guy; you and I probably won't have any trouble, but I'm more of a Blammonoiac type of guy."

By pigeonholing ourselves, we create shortcuts to negotiations regarding our interpersonal relationships.

But then the other guy would have to ask me for my Blammonoia URL, because I don't expect to be all that well known. At least I wouldn't have to spell it out from scratch and in detail each time. If I had a very common or popular worldview, I could probably leech off of someone who was both better known and a better writer than I am.

But I am not so famous or eloquent that I could possibly become the authoritative source for what it means to be "libertarian." At best, there would always be that parenthetical "(as Log from Blammo defined it)" attached. Henry George and Karl Marx made their own brands--quite a lot of people know what it means to be "Georgist" or "Marxist"--but that wasn't necessarily their intent.

The ultimate point I want to make here is that attempting to rely upon the common use of a word is likely to be a point of failure in the future. You can't be certain that someone else will hear a word and understand it in just the way you want them to. You can only put out your definition and hope that you swing enough weight to make it stick. It's the only libertarian way to define "libertarian."

A Daviesist, though, would make a fine ideological ally, don't you think?

Jim Davies's picture

Thank you, Log, for suggesting I'm smart enough to invent or found a new faction; but it's not so. In "Liberty: Rooted in Rights" I tried only to present plain-vanilla Libertarianism, the only one there is; built upon the irrefutable premise that each human being has the right to own and operate his or her own life.

As I also showed, that's the way Rothbard presented it, and he is recognized by friend and foe alike as the Century's prime expositor of the Libertarian understanding of reality.

I hope that having applied your mind to it you too will embrace that understanding; but until you do, please call yourself by some other name. That one is taken.

ReverendDraco's picture

Like Rothbard, you got the basic premise correct - even though you missed on a few details.

Able has the right to protect his property (and was considerate enough to warn any potential thief of the attendant consequences). It isn't his fault that Baker failed to take heed.

Do I think that killing Baker was a bit much, just for stealing a bicycle?
Yes, yes I do.
But Baker could have "opted-out" of the penalty by not stealing from Able. Baker ignored the open warning, and paid the full price that he was warned - in advance - would be charged. Baker chose poorly - the bike was worth more to him than his life.

Now, had there been a sign in Able's yard reading, "Keep Out. You Take My Stuff, I Call the Police," it would be a different animal entirely. Had he killed Baker in this case, Able would be at fault, for presenting misleading information as to the penalty for theft.

Just thought I'd point that out.

Keep up the good work.

Jim Davies's picture

Thanks, ReverendDraco, the premise is indeed correct: every person has the right to own and operate his or her own life. From that (via labor, exchange, or gift) comes the right to property. So Able had the right to his bike, and Baker had the right to his life.
And Able's defense to the free-market court would be "But I warned him!"?
Not my idea of justice. And even in the Old Testament, the punishment for an eye is still only an eye. In any case justice, as my article tried to point out, consists not in punishment but in restoring lost or damaged rights. If anyone denies that there are inherent rights, there is no possibility of justice.

Thunderbolt's picture

Superb reasoning, Jim. It is what you do better than anyone I know. I agree with you completely.
I took Paul Bonneau's recent essay about not having any rights to be facetious, not serious. However, I thought he made some seriously excellent points. He may well have meant to provoke a response. My interpretation may have been in error, of course, but he seemed to resent that government always thinks of rights as being privileges, which are subject to being rescinded at any time, for any reason. Senator Feinstein thought up another such limitation on free speech this last week. Namely, that government should and must define who is a real journalist, subject to persecution and/or prosecution for disagreeing with official news releases or analyses. Her plan rephrases Nazi and Stalinist policies, not to forget those of Lincoln.
Paul rephrased various rights to simple sentences that could stand independently from those of government documents, all of which have indeed been shredded by Bush and Obama, et. al. I confess that I enjoyed his revisions. It is easier to know when you are serious, since you always say what you mean and mean what you say, with passion and conviction, after careful analysis and research.

Paul's picture

Oh yes, I was serious. I don't believe in rights, as anything other than a meme that has lost its utility for the peons, and gained in utility for the ruling class. Yes, life actually is possible even if you don't believe in rights, just as life is possible even if you don't believe in government. I am perfectly happy to discuss this with anyone who respectfully disagrees with me; see the initial comment after my last article, for example. I don't claim to have all the answers.

As to the rest of it, this was just Davies' attempt to take a whack at my article, complete with his usual innuendoes, ad hominems and libels. I'm always gratified when my debating opponent resorts to such devices. I'm also amused that someone who not only is on the dole but also encourages others to join him there (perhaps to assuage his own conscience - misery loves company), would point at others as paid government employees, and would presume to act as a gatekeeper of libertarianism. "He who takes the king's coin becomes the king's man."

We had agreed about a year ago, with the editor observing, not to comment on each other's writing after the last blow-up we had; but then Davies took the legalistic dodge (why am I surprised?) of commenting on someone else's comments on my articles, which was really just commenting on my writing. And now his entire article here is clearly a retort to my previous article. So I guess the agreement, such as it was, is now gone. A man is as good as his word...

Normally I don't even bother to look at his stuff. Silly me, to make an exception here.

Too bad Davies does not live nearby. I'd like to see him repeat his Keyboard Kommando comments to my face, but (no surprise) that would never happen in any case, because he admitted in a private message that he's not up to it.

Jim Davies's picture

Unwilling to sit still while Paul Bonneau pours sewage like that over my head, last Tuesday I wrote Rob, our Editor, to ask that he be expelled from STR. So far Rob has not done that, so I am myself now departing this web site.
A quick backgrounder: relations between Paul and me had become so bad by the end of 2012 we agreed that STR does not have room for both of us, and he suggested, at the end of his comment 7982, that we each make a case to Rob for the eviction of the other, and accept his choice.

I agreed immediately. Rob did not, however; instead he proposed that we both continue on STR but promise not to refer to the other in what we write. We each agreed to that compromise, on 2/27/2013.
From that day to this, Paul's name has not appeared in anything I've written here, and the converse was true of Paul - until the above venomous, personal attack appeared on April 1st last week, so shattering his promise into small pieces and providing an open-and-shut case for being fired.
Possibly you feel the wrong guy is leaving. If so, you could write Rob to say so.

For those interested, I've posted some farewell remarks here.


Glock27's picture

Wow! Sorry I missed this one, not that I care for soap opera. Still, Paul , I believe, has a point here people!

Thunderbolt's picture

Message to Jim and Rob and Paul:

It was I who mentioned Paul, not Jim, who was very careful to make broad statements, rather than name any individual in his article. It is absurd for Jim to leave this space because I pushed two armed combatants into a room together. He has written hundreds of thoughtful articles exclusively for STR. No person comes closer to being the backbone of the site than Jim.

It will be a massive loss for all of us were Jim to leave. I implore Jim to stay and for Rob to insist. That Jim and Paul are enemies has no relevance to this issue. It is the internet, not Dodge City. There is no reason for a shootout, literally or figuratively. Jim and Paul should resume ignoring each other, as they initially agreed. We are all here because we can think for ourselves and decide where reason leads. STR is one of the best libertarian sites ever created. The loss of Jim would be absolutely unnecessary and absolutely unacceptable.

Jim Davies's picture

Relax, T-bolt; the fault was altogether Paul Bonneau's, not yours at all. All you did was usefully to draw out the fact that his recently expressed and utterly reprobate opinion that humans have no rights was meant deadly seriously, that he was not being facetious. Rest easy, friend.
I will not return to STR until and unless Bonneau gets the boot. So that's up to Rob. Any who want to advise him can use the link in my Comment 10336.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

I would like to echo Thunderbolt's sentiment.  Both Jim and Paul have made tremendous contributions to this site and libertarianism in general.  There must be a better, more constructive way to resolve this.

Brian Mast's picture

I, for one, would like for both Jim and Paul to continue writing here. I enjoy reading both of their articles and comments even though I disagree with each of them from time to time. I have read all of the linked articles and this is what I have seen in summary: Paul's first article was in direct response to one that Jim wrote. Jim's article back then was advising people to grab all of the government funds that they can in the hopes of depriving the government of funds to do more evil. Paul's first article pointed out some of the moral problems with doing that, among other things.
Both of the authors failed to see the elephant that was in the room. That elephant was deficit spending! If I have the power to create money out of thin air, then you are not going to make me run out of money by accepting the dribble of money that I have given you permission to take, and it is incorrect to treat the recipients of that dribble of money as if they are directly taking the money out of the taxpayers pocket. A portion of that dribble also comes from digits being typed into the Federal Reserves' ledger. Since we are presently forced to accept FRNs for nearly all of our transactions, the government really doesn't need to tax our income anyway. They could use sales tax, increase the inflation rate, and do any number of other things instead. The income tax is there to force us to jump through hoops like circus animals every year, and to create strife amongst us like what we are now seeing between Jim and Paul. Debates of this sort are forever circular due to the fact that the numbers are so mobile and liquid.
Both Jim and Paul avoided each other for about a year. Paul posted an article about rights on March 26th to which Jim posted an article with a different point of view 5 days later, to which Paul appeared to have taken as an attack on his article, and Paul responded. Jim, you may not have had any intention of baiting Paul to respond the way he did, but it certainly looks like that is what happened. Let's end the pecker contest. You both have only one.
At Lew Rockwell's web-site not long ago, Gary North wrote a poorly researched article about bit coin , which lead to a counterpoint article here, and more here . Ben Stone, the bad Quaker , also did a pod-cast about it. Gary North continues to write prolifically ,so it is my hope that both Jim and Paul will likewise continue writing here.

Less Antman's picture

I believe that STR is a better site with both writers. I support Rob's decision not to decide which, as Canadian philosopher Neal Peart stated in his essay on "Free Will" (spoken word version available with narration by Geddy Lee), is still a choice, and a good one.

If I thought one of these writers was making a useful contribution to STR and the other was not, it would be an easy choice, but in my experience different people are persuaded by different arguments and it is in the best interest of liberty and STR for it to welcome writers who argue that natural rights is the foundation of liberty and others who argue that natural rights is a pile of horse manure.

All I care about is increasing the number of people who wish to move toward a society based on mutual respect.

Jim Davies's picture

Alex, zygodactyl and Less, thanks for your comments but you are all wishing for something that is not available. As I said in my reply to Thunderbolt's comment, "I will not return to STR until and unless Bonneau gets the boot." That decision is mine, and it is final.
Although the trigger was Paul's vindictive post of April 1st above, which shattered the promise he had given on 2/27/2013 in response to Rob's comprimise idea, my reasons for making it go back years; but may I remind you that on that point I am in harmony with Paul Bonneau. It was he, not myself, who wrote in Comment 7892 in December 2012 to invite me to make a case to Rob for his eviction; and in a PM to me dated 12/23/2012 he said "there is no way we can both continue here."
I fully agree. Rob has now to choose which of us he wants. If you have an opinion on that choice - the only one available - I expect he'd be glad to hear it. But my decision is made.

mhstahl's picture

Why on Earth would either of you expect Rob to jump in the middle of such a squabble? I have seen nothing that would require action on his part, and frankly I'm glad to see that he has not taken the bait....sticks and stones, after all.
Character assassination (of which your hands are decidedly not clean) serves no purpose in advancing understanding, but the fact remains that the issue in question is an interesting one. I think it is unfortunate that a productive conversation about such core issues seems impossible with you. Any variation from the plum-line philosophy that you have laid out as the "one true way" is not only unacceptable, but dangerous and even inhuman to your mind. I would hope you re-read some of your writing and see how inflammatory it becomes in the face of even the most innocuous criticism.
I'm sorry for you that "freedom" in your mind requires such rigidity of thought. Case in point, the above article: you really didn't defend "rights", instead you made several appeals to authority, and denigrated any differing opinion as "irrational" by equating concrete physical "reality" with conceptual reality-the product of human minds. "Rights" are concepts, nothing more, and as such it is hardly irrational to challenge the basis of such concepts. The very idea that differing opinion ought to be banished rather than debated is, to me, inexplicable. A disagreement is not an attack.
At any rate, while I disagree profoundly with the very essence of your belief system, I do enjoy your writing and see no reason for you to cease publishing here simply because you have a few critics. Of course, if you wish to write elsewhere, or post your articles on a site you control, I wish you well. But, I would encourage Rob to take no action on this issue.
Good luck,

Jim Davies's picture

Mike, I've found already that one of the benefits of not having to wonder where the next STRticle is going to come from is that I can give more time and attention to your comments. I still haven't got far into this one, but your very first sentence has yielded valuable information.
First, you refer to Paul v Jim as a "squabble." That word usually refers to a minor spat, a clash of personality, a storm in a teacup, yes?  Then Mike, it also reveals that you have very little idea about what's going on. Had you written something like "a fundamental disagreement about the nature of humanity, government and freedom" your keyboarding fingers would have been more weary but you'd have been a heap closer to the facts.
Second (well, first actually), you express surprise that I would "expect" Rob, our Editor, to "jump in to the middle" of this conflict. It's your surprise that surprises me.
See, Rob owns STR. It's his site, his property. So why would he not wish to jump in and resolve a conflict between two of his most prolific writers? To take care of one's property is rather basic, and certainly normal behavior. It's mud season here in New Hampshire, and shortly I shall scrub the car and give her a waxing. Perhaps you'll do the same. We take care of things we own, that's normal. If it were a rental car, I'd probably not bother. So the question is, why would anyone not expect Rob to take care of his property in this way? - the ABnormal response would be for him to ignore it.
Here is what I suspect. I suspect you have already succumbed to the poison Paul Bonneau wrote on March 26th, when he denied that he (or anyone else) has rights. An important member of the infinite set of rights that Paul said nobody has, is the right to property. Thus, I suspect that already in your mind, Rob doesn't actually hold any property rights in STR - because nobody has rights. And that, I'm guessing, is why you phrased your question the way you did.
Property requires owners; air and ocean have no owners because they aren't property, and vice versa. (Hence pollution, incidentally.) Marx tried to solve that logical problem by proposing that all property is properly owned in common, and so embraced Communism. Same word-root, same meaning. Thus, by asserting that we have no rights, which must include property rights, Paul is literally declaring himself a Communist.
So Rob, by continuing to allow him to be published on Strike the Root, is promoting Communism. The irony here is quite rich. He owns the site, yet is using it (inadvertently, no doubt) to advance the view that nobody owns any sites or any other property. Statists everywhere must be chortling with glee. Possibly you begin to see why I said, back in 2012, that Paul is an agent of government, here to spread disinformation. I cannot prove that he is being paid for his work; but if he is not, government is getting one helluva valuable freebie.
Rob's choice has two components. First, I think he was wondering "can I keep both Paul and Jim?" - that's what he set out to do in February 2013. I have answered that bit for him: I've quit, so the answer is no, he cannot. That's off the table. So to the second: "Which of them do I prefer?" - for right now he has Paul the Communist but not me, yet he can reverse that if he wishes, by firing Paul and asking me nicely. Whether he will do so, I have no idea. STR is not my property. It's his.

mhstahl's picture

Oh my goodness, Jim!
First of all, I've followed your spat with Paul Bonneau since the beginning-and it is just that, a spat. You and he, and you and I for that matter(though for somewhat different reasons), have a fundamental difference of opinion on philosophy. Sadly, rather than debate the merits of opposing views, you have both engaged in petty name calling. Since you are apparently proud of what ought to be an embarrassment, I'll point out that you started the ad hominem attacks and ceaseless innuendo.
The idea that Paul is a government agent-and now also a communist-is patently absurd...frankly I laughed when I first read it two years ago. I wish Paul would have laughed as well. No doubt there are government agents viewing, or even commenting, here, but I very much doubt that they take the time to become as familiar with the various aspects of philosophy that Paul clearly has. And, bluntly, even if he writes from Fort Meade it does nothing to challenge the views he expresses. Views that you have yet to address. Denigration of a challenger does not prove your position. It weakens it, since it shows you have no intellectual response to the challenge.
That said, I have rarely seen much in the way of moderation on this site-which is something I approve of, frankly, which is why I don't expect any here. In the past several years I can think of only one or two people who have been banned from the site, and in those cases it was due to true trolling. Neither you or Paul are trolls, you have both contributed to the site multiple times.
There have been, to my knowledge, no actual physical threats that would require action, and in all honesty the name calling has been rather mild in my opinion. I have most certainly been called worse many times...sometimes in person. Controversy is good for a website, it draws viewers. If it was my website, I certainly would not get involved in such pettiness, if for no other reason than I'd have no idea where to stop in my censorship. In any event, Rob's decision seems rather apparent, so why the theatrics? If you are unsatisfied, just go!
Clearly you now view this site as a nest of communism, with its owner actively promoting communism. If so, why even try to stick around? Why would you make such silly accusations? It is beneath you. Since you now have more time, I hope you'll consider the following, and respond rationally:
Mudslinging aside, I think your real problem is that you are caught in a catch-22. You are a militant atheist( by that I mean that you are strident in your's not a cut), yet your belief system requires that there be an overarching, universal morality that simply must-in order to be universal-contain an element that is greater than the simple product of human minds. "Rights" to you cannot simply be concepts developed by humans in order to organize a society. They cannot simply be, what they are according to history, products of Judeo-Christian Western Civilization; concepts that were developed by theologians in keeping with religious dogma and designed to secure authority for the same. They cannot be arbitrary and open to debate, they must have been "discovered" and as such "universal."
That view is in direct contradiction to your atheism. That is why you can never address challenges to your viewpoint with anything other than logical fallacies-such as appeals to authority-and ad hominem. You don't have any other answer! You can't have. The inconsistency is at the core of your philosophy, it is why you believe everyone must come to agree, through "re-education", with what is your secular religion.
I've challenged you on this point many times over the years, well before Paul started writing about "rights" I believe, and have never gotten a satisfactory defense of your position. I honestly cannot think of one that allows both atheism and universal morality. As close as I've been able to come is a utilitarian argument that it would be better if everyone believed the same. That argument fails, however, since morality transcends utilitarian arguments; you claim to know a universal "right and wrong," not a universal "better." "Better" is of course, always a matter of debate, it is not the absolute that you claim. Which means that such a utilitarian argument itself undermines your viewpoint.
Do you have an answer for this? Anything other than because Aristotle said so, or that I'm a communist?
I have nothing against you, Jim. I think you are totally sincere, and I think that your writing has merit, but I also think your philosophy has a glaring inconsistency. That is not a bad thing, it presents the opportunity for intellectual growth. It is why philosophers debate. You can either address the inconsistency and better understand your own philosophy in the process, you can modify your views to to make them consistent, or you can ignore the challenge and continue to lash out at challengers as though they were attackers. I hope you take the high road. Even if you don't, I hope you, at least privately, take the time to evaluate your position and come to terms with the inconsistency.
In any event, Good Luck!

Jim Davies's picture

An ingenious theory, Mike, but since the answer to your question is presented in detail in the article under which you are commenting, I'll not waste time repeating myself - even though I have more of it available now, readers of this exchange may not.
Thank you for your repeated wishes of good luck.