Different Libertarianisms

To the uninitiated all scotch tastes the same: like a mixture of coal, moss, and wood-shavings. However, the more experienced palate starts to notice subtle distinctions between vintages. The kind of wood used in the storage barrels, the weather in the area where the liquor is made, and its age all contribute to its flavor. Some scotches have overtones of heather and honey, some are smoky, some are earthy. Laphroaig makes a malt that tastes like bacon. With enough experience, a person can become a connoisseur and discover that he likes certain varieties of scotch, but not others.

Libertarianism is like scotch. When a new person is first exposed to the movement, he might think that everybody agrees on a set of principles and generally gets along. However, it is not long before he hears the word "Kochtopus" or gets laughed at for sporting a "What Would Ayn Rand Do?" armband. Our new activist begins to suspect the existence of the dark undercurrents and rivalries that color our people like a Jackson Pollock painting.

I have been around libertarians for almost a decade, and petty factional disputes are old news to me. If the mangled body of Ed Crane ever washes up in the Potomac River, I can give the police a short list of suspects. However, recently I began to notice something far more important and interesting: there are sharp philosophical differences and many incompatible ideas in the traditional libertarian cannon.

Libertarianism is like a piece of legacy software that has been patched over and over but never rewritten - a sprawling, contradictory, and sometimes surprising mess. This unsettles me. Becoming a libertarian in my formative years, it has since become part of my self-identity. But what does it mean when I call myself a “libertarian”? I am still not sure. And thus began my current odyssey in libertarian hair-splitting and navel gazing.

But this hair-splitting is important. One half of the hair is a completely different color from the other. Subtle differences in ideas can lead to large differences in how we think human society should be organized. And it is hard for me to see how people with vastly different visions of the ideal world can form part of the same movement.

My previous post on structural libertarianism versus policy libertarianism is the first part of this odyssey. I mentioned my preference for the structural vintage of libertarianism over the policy variety as the one with (barely) more practical potential. However, before anyone else jumps on the structuralist bandwagon, I should give fair warning about its faults.

The main problem with structural libertarianism is that we are heading away from the libertarian mainstream, and maybe away from libertarianism altogether. Consider the doctrine of universal rights. It states that every individual has the right to a certain degree of autonomy, at all places and at all times. It is hard to find a more central doctrine of libertarianism.

But now consider another popular libertarian idea – federalism. Federalism states that small, local communities should be able to set their own laws and policies. Advocates of federalism argue that this will create better-managed governments that more closely reflect the will of the people living under them.

But if we are to adopt federalism, then we must temper our support for universal rights. The tension between the two ideas is clear: under federalism, the laws of an area will only be as libertarian as the people living there. The libertarian's dream of a free-loving pothead utopia might be realized in Massachusetts, but I'm pretty sure that holding hands with a member of the same sex in Utah would carry a jail sentence if the federal government didn't prohibit it.

Most structural libertarian ideas involve some degree of political decentralization and suffer from the same drawback: they will create conservative theocracies. It's a profitable market niche - there are tens of millions of conservative Christians in the United States alone. If Utah were allowed to outlaw premarital sex, its property value would shoot up due to demand from evangelical fathers with pretty daughters.

So if you have something against theocracies, and most libertarians do, then maybe structural libertarianism isn't right for you. Maybe you should send your resume to the Ron Paul 2012 campaign after all.

Federalism and other structural libertarian ideas are not sold on the fact that they support universal rights, because they don't. Rather, they claim to produce governments with incentives to create better policies, or at least policies that people like. Instead of governments with incentive to produce as many wars and pork projects as possible, we might be able to create governments that try to produce the most appealing places for its customers, its residents, to live. On average, I think that rights will be better protected under most decentralized schemes, such as market anarchism. This is especially true for unpopular commercial rights like freedom of contract. But there will be theocracies, and probably racist states. And I wouldn't be surprised if there were states that only admit people with over a 1500 score on the SAT.

So as we begin to decentralize, we allow the creation of very non-libertarian states. However, we do increase variety. And we probably increase choice. We might have few tolerant libertarian paradises that let you make your own life decisions. But you will be able to choose which decisions are made for you.

There's something libertarian-sounding about a world that increases choice, even if it doesn't guarantee freedom everywhere for everybody. Some libertarians will find that distasteful. Some won't. But it's a controversy that we should probably hash out instead of ignoring.

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traditional libertarian

traditional libertarian cannon
I doubt LeFevre would have favored said cannon.

The "Kochtupus" dispute strikes me as pretty silly. Some people just like to start fights because an "us vs. them" mentality is ingrained in their bones.

I have a post making the same point about discarding universal rights for decentralism here. That's part of the axis of Jacob Levy's Liberalism's Divide, which disappeared from its original site but I have preserved it here.

But enough of intra-libertarian factions. How about post-libertarianism.

Post-libertarianism sounds

Post-libertarianism sounds like something I would be interested in. Could you link to specific writings by that author that I should check out?

My next post is going to be on how libertarianism is authoritarian and against the nature of man, so I might be moving in a similar direction.

I think decentralization

I think decentralization would lead to a generally more libertarian era as well. Abortion would still be an issue though (I'm still undecided)so the more decentralized the better in that case. The competition and penalties for restrictions would work as long as free exit was preserved imo. That's where the federal government could come in--no Berlin Walls for adult women who want to have sex outside of marriage. And there's always the problem of enforceability of statism ie pot is illegal and, well pretty much readily available. I don't know if the increased revenue via a Utah property tax would be able to fund an effective premarital sex police... I also don't know if those evangelical fathers would put their money where their beliefs are via higher taxes. That's one thing that's been annoying me lately...if the left thinks universal health care is part and parcel of a civilized society why don't they just move to Massachusetts? Or try it California with their ridiculously large Democratic majorities. I mean if they love and envy Sweden so much Mass is 70% of its population and California is almost 4 times bigger. I mean if little, cold, and generally unappealing New Hampshire became a "free state" as some libertarians are trying to accomplish I'd invest in some high quality winter wear and move.

> The libertarian's dream of

> The libertarian's dream of a free-loving pothead utopia might be realized in Massachusetts, but I'm pretty sure that holding hands with a member of the same sex in Utah would carry a jail sentence if the federal government didn't prohibit it.

As long as adults could leave Utah with their portable assets, what's the beef? As long as there were states where abortions were legal . . . .

As long as adults could

As long as adults could leave Utah with their portable assets, what's the beef? As long as there were states where abortions were legal . . . .

Not all structural proposals carry a mechanism to enforce these rights. The ones that do general keep a minimalist central government to enforce them. We all know what happened to our first minimalist central government.

I'm quite infatuated with neocameralism and its for-profit states. Neocameralism relies on the fact that nobody would want to live in a state without the right of free exit. This would not guarantee that every state would preserve the right of free exit, but the ones that do would likely attract a much greater degree of business.

Fundamentalism versus consequentialism

The state's enforced monopoly is illegitimate. Libertarianism forces me to accept anarchism, or as libertarians like to call it when they support it, anarcho-capitalism (which is radical political decentralization), whether or not I think it would turn out to be a disaster. Similarly, libertarianism forces me to accept open borders, whether or not I think that Mexicans streaming across would vote to extend Mexican socialism northward. The "force" is logical, not physical.

Policy libertarianism (what actions should or should not be legal) applied consistently forces me to accept structural libertarianism, because the enforced monopoly of the state is sustained by actions (committed by the state) which should not be legal.

But if we are to adopt federalism, then we must temper our support for universal rights. The tension between the two ideas is clear: under federalism, the laws of an area will only be as libertarian as the people living there.

And similarly one might argue that if we are to advocate open borders, then we must temper our support for the universal rights, since the laws of the southern states will only be as libertarian as the Mexicans streaming in. So the objection to federalism is similar to the objection to open borders.

In this far from entirely free world, an increase of freedom in any dimension might have bad consequences for freedom in other dimensions. Open borders and socialism might increase. Release citizens living in Nebraska from the political decisions of voters living in Massachusetts (which is the sort of thing that federalism amounts to), and in consequence they are subjected even more strongly to the political decisions of voters living in Nebraska.

Nevertheless, it is clear that voters in Massachusetts in fact have no right to make decisions for citizens living in Nebraska. So, considered in isolation as a purely moral matter, without regard for consequences, it is right that they should be freed from the Massachusetts voter.

It is also, in the meantime, true that voters in Nebraska have no right to make decisions for citizens in Nebraska. And this remains in place and potentially gets worse under federalism. But I am forced, as a libertarian, at least as the sort of libertarian that I am, to consider whether individual actions are right and wrong, which is why I consider open borders to be morally right despite the possibility that the political situation may worsen. I am not one to compromise for the sake the bigger picture, so you might call me a libertarian fundamentalist as opposed to a consequentialist. There are a few reasons for this.

One of the reasons is itself consequentialist. I think that if you focus on the rightness of individual acts then you are on average making progress in the direction of right. I do not have very much confidence a person's ability to predict the eventual consequence of actions - and so I oppose consequentialism in part because I believe that consequentialism will have bad consequences, because people are overconfident in their ability to predict the future, and therefore are liable to sacrifice real moral goodness now in exchange for a mirage of goodness down the road, and so will in the end make things worse.

Another of the reasons is conceptual. It might be that by murdering MLK you might, in the long run, increase freedom, by inspiring a healthy backlash. Nevertheless, it remains murder, and wrong. It does not stop being murder merely because the net consequence is good. This is simply not how murder is delineated. And so when people talk about the consequences of an action as justification, they simply are not talking about the morality of the action. They have changed the subject. The act may be justified in some sense of "justification", for example, it might be in truly in the self-interest of some person to murder MLK. But this is distinct, and should therefore be kept distinct in our minds, from moral justification. And, yes, I realize that I am essentially saying that consequentialists are confused. Thus, while murdering MLK might increase freedom and therefore move us in the direction of libertarian utopia, nevertheless the act itself is not libertarian. The murder of MLK is anti-libertarian, whatever the consequences. (I am assuming that MLK was not aggressing against anyone.) And, similarly, closed borders is anti-libertarian, whatever the consequences.

Another reason is that we live in the here and now. Who would you rather live next to:

a) A person who deep down believes in respecting his neighbors' rights

b) A person who deep down believes in doing to his neighbors whatever he thinks will maximize liberty in the long run. If that means creeping up to his neighbors while they're mowing the lawn, or sleeping in bed, and slitting their throats, then so be it.

I don't know about you, but I would much rather live next to the first person. I could never get a good night's sleep while living next to the second person. Nor do I want to be the guy that you should never turn your back on - I don't want to be a consequentialist or a utilitarian.

utilitarianism & consequentialism

Pardon my ignorance, but I was hoping you could perhaps explain to me the distinction between utilitarianism and consequentialism?

Beats me

My best understanding is that utilitarianism envisions a global utility function which is a kind of sum of individual utilities. The utilitarian believes that the good is whatever maximizes global utility. The concern, therefore, is for the collective good - in the economic sense of good. It is anyone's guess what acts will maximize global utility. I have observed that utilitarians are alarmingly cavalier about individual rights, and appear to take perverse pleasure in imagining scenarios in which the murder of an innocent will improve global utility.

Meanwhile, consequentialism derives the goodness of an action from the desirability of its consequences. But that description does not supply us with a basis on which to judge desirability. Consequentialists nevertheless appear to gravitate to a utilitarian basis for such a judgment. Meanwhile, for their part, utilitarians take into account consequences. So there is a heavy overlap.

I think consequentialists

I think consequentialists tend to accept the idea of rules that should be followed regardless of the local utilitarian analysis.

For example : a man checks into a hotel, he can be be killed and harvested for organs to save 10 people. Utilitarian says, go for it, consequentialist says : let's generally decide not to do this, so that we don't end up in a society where people don't sleep in hotels. The utilitarian bases his decision on some happiness recipe, the consequentialist drafts moral rules which have utilitarian benefits superior to short-sighted utilitarian decisions.

Act versus rule

I have seen this distinction labeled as act utilitarianism versus rule utilitarianism.

Yes

That's the only way I've seen it labelled, actually, and I strenuously object to throwing in "consequentialism" where a clearer term already exists.

I'm not a consequentialist, and even when I was I didn't know what I intended by the term, but my current understanding is that consequentialism concentrates on effects of moral actions. This leaves open the criterion of how to judge effects, just as deontology leaves open the criterion of which rights should be respected. Utility is the parameter most often used -- hence, utilitarianism is a subset of consequentialism. On the other hand, we could judge based on the amount of dead monkeys that resulted from actions, and dead monkeyism would be a subset of consequentialism as well.

That's my basic understanding, but perhaps the self-described consequentialists here can correct or clarify.

This seems to be the general definition the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives here.

Constant, 1) You say that

Constant,

1) You say that the state's enforced monopoly is "illegitimate". By that, I am assuming that you mean that it is morally wrong. However, what if a civil, polite, and pleasant society is impossible in the absence of such a state? By your philosophy, you imply that civil, polite, and pleasant society is morally wrong. In that case, I begin to question the worth of this ephemeral entity "morality" that compels me to submit to such drastic privations in its cause.

Furthermore, what if any society is impossible in the absence of a monopoly state? What if the economic incentives of society force geographic law monopolies to arise? (see the essay "anarcho-capitalism dissolves into city-states" by Paul Birch) In that case, your morality that is against monopolies of law makes as much sense as a morality that condemns gravity.

For these reasons, libertarian moralism lost its luster for me about six months ago. I just can't see how morality matters when compared with such values as achieving a nice world for actual people to live in. One value has very concrete consequences for human welfare, and the other gives a few Atlas Shrugged fans a warm fuzzy feeling. I know which one I pick.

2)You state that your libertarian fundamentalism compels you to accept open borders, even if it means a large population of non-libertarians moving into your neighborhood. However, later you justify your libertarian fundamentalism by saying that you want to live in a world with libertarian fundamentalists. You even say that you could never get a good night's sleep living next to a libertarian consequentialist.

Do you see the tension here? You accept the unlimited immigration of people to your neighborhood that would want to kill you for, say, having sex outside of marriage and will vote to make that the law because you wouldn't want to live next to a libertarian consequentialist who would kill one person to save the human race.

You accept living around very scary people in the very real world because of a thought experiment you did in some imaginary world. Furthermore, that thought experiment achieved its result because you decided that in your imaginary world you did not want to live around scary people. This all sounds very perverse.

In conclusions, I have gotten tired of any philosophy that compels me to live in a shitty world because of moral considerations. The alternatives are so much more attractive. I leave you with the Beatles' great ode to political pragmatism:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know it's gonna be all right

Libertarianism

I just can't see how morality matters when compared with such values as achieving a nice world for actual people to live in.

Morality is the indirect product of people doing their best to - locally - get along, avoid trouble, enjoy life. Morality is a balance achieved in a society made up of individuals each attempting to carve out a nice environment for themselves to live in.

This is in much the same way as a market economy is the indirect product of people doing their best to - locally - carve out a nice environment for themselves to live in.

The market works and morality works.

Your position, properly understood, is as sane and sensible as the following position:

I just can't see how language matters when compared with such values as achieving communication between people.

In light of the fact that language is the mechanism that humanity spontaneously produces in order to achieve communication, we discard language at our peril. And we discard the market at our peril. And we discard morality at our peril.

But the very problem is an illusion. We are not - either individually or collectively - in a position to "discard language". You might refuse to speak language, or I might refuse to speak language, but the rest of us will continue speaking language. And if you suppress language by means of violence - as the state suppresses the market (and morality) by means of violence - then the market will nevertheless persist in some form (such as a black market), and so will morality. So it's really a bogus question. But even if you imagine yourself some sort of god who can somehow get humanity to discard morality, you would be deeply mistaken to do so if your goal was to achieve a nice world for actual people to live in.

You even say that you could never get a good night's sleep living next to a libertarian consequentialist.

Let me be more precise: I could never get a good night's sleep living next to a person who personally practices libertarian consequentialism. But nobody really does (except by means of the state - by means of the state, people are able to put into effect their delusional plans - the plans are doomed ultimately to failure but in the meantime a heavy price will be paid by their victims). This is one of the major marks that I see against consequentialism.

In conclusions, I have gotten tired of any philosophy that compels me to live in a shitty world because of moral considerations.

Commies thought the same thing. They ended up murdering a hundred million people in their failed attempts to go against morality because they were under the delusion that they had a better plan. And then in the end, after the hundred million murders, they failed. Morality will gradually reclaim the societies ruined by communism much as plants and wildlife will gradually reclaim an abandoned city.

Constant, It was my belief

Constant,

You say:

Commies thought the same thing. They ended up murdering a hundred million people in their failed attempts to go against morality because they were under the delusion that they had a better plan.

It was my belief that communism was a sort of hyper-ideological moralistic philosophy, utterly uninterested with pragmatic and empirical observations. Communism was not so miserable because it was too pragmatic. You don't abolish private property because of pragmatic concerns, usually. And it was the parallels that I saw between ideological communism and ideological libertarianism that gave me misgivings about the latter.

Am I mistaken?

And indeed, your libertarian morality causes you to accept policy that will probably make your world less pleasant in the short-run. There are people in this world that definitely act out their philosophy of Sharia law, to the point that they are willing to stone their own daughters to death. This is obviously a people with a deep sense of morality, if they are willing to do such awful things to their family members. You feel it would be immoral to prohibit them from immigrating to your neighborhood. Why is this?

It seems like morality leads us down the path of folly, and not pragmatism.

And even if you think that the world's most intolerant and hostile religious fundamentalists would magically act nice when they move to your neighborhood, I can conceive of scenarios where following libertarian morality would lead to misery for large numbers of people. In fact, history gives us examples. A pragmatist or a consequentialist would have no problems in violating libertarian dogma in such cases. Would you have us follow libertarian rules, even to our doom?

Communism

It was my belief that communism was a sort of hyper-ideological moralistic philosophy, utterly uninterested with pragmatic and empirical observations.

In contrast, actual morality is as practical as money and guns. It is as empirically proven as language and markets. Communists espoused communist ideology, which is not the same thing as actual morality. But it is mistaken to say that communists were uninterested with the real impact. What they were was very, very mistaken. They were highly interested in the practical consequences of communism. They thought it was going to work out really well. The problem isn't that they were not interested in how it was going to work out. The problem is that they were deluded by bad economic theory (Marxism).

Communism was not so miserable because it was too pragmatic.

Karl Marx was an economist. The problem isn't that they didn't care about economic performance. The problem is that they got the economics wrong. They were fooled by Marx's false theories. And they fooled many others - for example Samuelson, who thought that the Soviet Union was doing extremely well economically. Much better than it was actually doing.

Indeed, it was the parallels that I saw between ideological communism and ideological libertarianism that gave me misgivings about the latter.

My education was largely at the feet of the likes of Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, and Milton Friedman. Economists. And I continue to receive intellectual sustenance largely from economists. What libertarian figure is not well aware of the relevant economics? Ayn Rand, perhaps? But she made a lot of good economic points. Her novel, Atlas Shrugged, was (among other things) a - quite correct - long argument that the Marxist notion that the capitalists were dispensable parasites on the proletariat was a delusion.

Libertarians are not economically deluded, unlike the Marxists. That is a major difference.

Am I mistaken?

Communism was a complex phenomenon. But yes, I would say that you are very much mistaken about the nature of communism. The communists were a combination of wrong and evil. They harmed others through a combination of error and malice. They inevitably turned on each other. Libertarians are aware of non-erroneous economics and advocate proven morality. For example, libertarians advocate the respect of private property, and the respect of private property is proven to be beneficial to an economy. Extremely so. It would be hard to overstate just how beneficial respect for property - a key element of libertarian morality - is to an economy. And likewise for the other key elements of libertarian morality. The Marxists were wrong and evil. The libertarians are right and good. I can understand that someone who does not believe in truth and morality will find a kind of symmetry between communists and libertarians. But there really is such a thing as good and evil, and there really is such a thing as economic reality, and once you have a grasp of these, the seeming symmetry between communists and libertarians disappears.

And indeed, your libertarian morality causes you to accept policy that will probably make your world more shitty in the short-run. There are people in this world that definitely act out their philosophy of Sharia law, to the point that they are willing to stone their own daughters to death. You feel it would be immoral to prohibit them from immigrating to your neighborhood. Why is this?

I've already explained. I gave three reasons, as I recall. You are, I will note, trying to come up with a worst case scenario. It is worth pointing out that the worst case scenario is not the probable or typical scenario.

I will give you further reasons - practical reasons based on my own self-interest. First of all, who says I can't keep Mohammed (Mohammed is what I will name this character you invented) out by means consistent with libertarianism? I might join a gated community that keeps Mohammed out.

Second of all, for the sake of argument (so that you are not immediately defeated) let us rule out libertarian means of keeping Mohammed out, which leaves anti-libertarian means - that is, aggressive means. I am an individual person, and am simply unable to keep Mohammed out by aggressive means, because I would almost certainly find myself in deep shit. In order to keep Mohammed out by means of aggression, there must be a government that can do it. But a government carries great costs to me. I am taxed quite a bit by the government. Am I willing to sacrifice such a large chunk of my income in order to prevent the remote possibility that Mohammed might move next door to me? You offered the two options as though there were no costs involved with either of the two options, but one of the two options carries a necessarily much heavier cost than the other. In a nutshell, a gang big and scary enough to successfully keep Mohammed out by aggressive means is also big and scary enough to a lot of nasty things to me (like take a large chunk of my income).

For the sake of argument (so that you are not immediately defeated) let us assume the existence of a government in both alternatives. There is still a heavy price to pay to keep Mohammed away. Remember the alternatives that you are talking about: open borders, or closed borders. If government maintains a closed border to the extent that Mohammed is kept out of the country, then the government necessarily maintains quite a severe closed border. It would be absurd to imagine that government does nothing except keep Mohammed away while allowing through everyone else. Realistically, a government with a closed-border policy keeps quite a lot of people out. That is potentially - and I think that is really - extremely harmful to me. There is a severe economic cost to the interruption of commerce that a closed border represents. The trickle of economic interaction with foreigners is beneficial. Chinese products are an example of this. My dollar goes a lot further than it would have gone were we not trading with China.

Constant, Forgive me for

Constant,

Forgive me for being a bit slow, I will make sure I go back and read your previous explanations more carefully. I thought you missed my point before, which is why I repeated it in more stark terms. Regardless, your most recent response seems more convincing and meaty, and it will give me a lot to think about.

You seem to think that what actions are right, according to libertarian morality, and what actions work best are identical, or nearly so. Is this a correct statement?

I am mostly libertarian. It is just the edge cases that libertarian policy causes great misery that I am not willing to go along. I will follow libertarians to the gates of hell, but not any further.

I do question the idea that libertarian policy is always best, especially in the complex real world.

Consider the example of Singapore. Communism was sweeping southeast Asia at the time that they became independent in 1965; you know what happened to Vietnam. Singapore used very aggressive, unlibertarian policies to suppress the the communists. They arrested anyone suspected of belonging to a communist organization and outlawed the communist press in their fledgling democracy. Furthermore, the government took a middle ground in the welfare debate to rob the radical left wing of popular support. They introduced a forced savings program with enough government subsidies to appease most left-wingers.

If Singapore had followed a laissez-fare, classical liberal policy, they almost certainly would have succumbed to the tide of communism. It would have become a miserable country, even if it avoided being doused in American napalm. Instead, it has become a thriving, capitalist society with high respect for property rights, one of the least corrupt governments in the world, and GDP per capita higher than the United States.

It is very hard for me to believe that violating the rights of members of the 1965 communist movement was the wrong thing to do, given the likely outcomes. It is very hard for me to say "To hell with the consequences! Do the right thing!".

Or maybe, you have some logic to say that their rights weren't really violated and doing the practical thing was also the right thing in Singapore's case. Such verbal gymnastics usually produce unconvincing results.

I will now go back and reread what you wrote before, to make sure I am not missing anything. I am just not confident that I have clearly stated where I stand at the moment, so I wanted to try another way to express it and get it out there.

Singapore

You seem to think that what actions are right, according to libertarian morality, and what actions work best are identical, or nearly so. Is this a correct statement?

Yes: nearly so. More specifically, I think that people, even people very friendly to liberty, tend strongly and systematically to overestimate the places where doing the right thing leads to disaster. We have an instinctive desire to control the situation which leads us, again and again, into a bias in favor of the government controlling more things than it really should. We are deeply uncomfortable with letting things go. I think this is a misapplication of an drive appropriate to personal-level endeavors (such as driving a car - it would be disaster for the driver to let go) to society-level phenomena. I think that the habit of letting so-called practicality trump doing the right thing results, on balance, in things getting worse. Which is not to say that it never, on any occasion, makes things better. But can you predict what occasion? I don't think we have any way of knowing, and therefore any policy of exceptions to letting go will necessarily result in the government taking control of many things that it really should not. And even if some superior people have a way of knowing, the idea that we can trust that a government program of selective control will reliably be headed by such superior people is a pipedream.

Or maybe, you have some logic to say that their rights weren't really violated and doing the practical thing was also the right thing in Singapore's case. Such verbal gymnastics usually produce unconvincing results.

I know almost nothing about Singapore, so I can't answer. However, I tend to distrust accounts that claim knowledge of the workings of history. It's hard not to notice that statements like:

If Singapore had followed a laissez-fare, classical liberal policy, they almost certainly would have succumbed to the tide of communism.

are so much easier to state with confidence once the events in question and the possibility of direct disproof are safely in the past, than to state with confidence as predictions about the months ahead. Humanity's capacity to predict future history beyond even the next week is frankly embarrassing. If there is anything that I have learned about history as it is lived, is that it continually surprises.

I think that our supposed knowledge about the workings of history is largely an illusion.

People will, of course, predict correctly in the sense that a stopped watch is right twice a day. At any moment there is a crowd of optimists and a crowd of pessimists, and if things look worse than they did, the pessimists feel "vindicated". But really it was just due to luck, not insight, that they happened to be right today.

(However, I do have a good degree of confidence in basic economic theory - I think that this is one area where people genuinely managed to figure at least some key things out which they didn't realize before.)

I wish I could answer the case of Singapore more specifically but I know too little.

...what if a civil, polite,

...what if a civil, polite, and pleasant society is impossible in the absence of such a state? By your philosophy, you imply that civil, polite, and pleasant society is morally wrong.

This seems an odd way of putting it: he's not saying the pleasant society is morally wrong, only the steps some might take to get there: in short, for Constant, the ends don't seem to justify the means.

In that case, I begin to question the worth of this ephemeral entity "morality" that compels me to submit to such drastic privations in its cause.

That's fine: we can all come up with extreme hypotheticals where we begin to question the worth of our moral hunches.

In response though: 1. simply raising the hypothetical does nothing to tell us how likely such a situation is to come about -- it simply tells us how universal our principles are, and 2. to say you question the ephemeral entity "morality" is really only substituting another morality over top of it.

To wit: Constant believes that people enjoy the suite of libertarian rights (I presume, though nothing turns on this) and those rights are not to be violated. That is his moral system. Whereas your moral system is, presumably, something like: people enjoy the suite of libertarian rights and those rights are not to be violated except when such violation would keep you from having to undergo "drastic privations." That's your moral system.

To be sure, your moral system may be superior to Constant's, but it is nonetheless a moral system, and thus another "ephemeral entity." This is a tangent on my part, but it doesn't hurt to clarify.

Furthermore, what if any society is impossible in the absence of a monopoly state? What if the economic incentives of society force geographic law monopolies to arise? (see the essay "anarcho-capitalism dissolves into city-states" by Paul Birch) In that case, your morality that is against monopolies of law makes as much sense as a morality that condemns gravity.

I don't think I'm the only one who finds something off in the analogy between physical laws and economic laws; the former are a much harder thing than the latter, and thus if a society is impossible in the absence of a monopoly state, it is impossible in a different sense than perpetual motion is impossible (or four-sided triangles).

But there's a deeper difference: it seems to me perfectly sensible to strive for an endstate even if you know you can't get there when it comes to moral matters. A world without theft or murder may be impossible, but nonetheless, I believe we should strive for that. I am not a perfect man, but I should try to be, even knowing I can't make it.

I suppose this is a shade of the first point: the difference between gravity and economy is that economic laws are the results of choices we make. An anarchic society may be unlikely, but there is a possible path of choices that would lead us there and sustain it -- we argue over the plausibility -- but a world without gravity, to the contrary, does not seem to be possible at all.

In conclusions, I have gotten tired of any philosophy that compels me to live in a shitty world because of moral considerations.

But of course this only means you've adopted a sort of non-shitty consequentialism that aims to minimize shittiness. Fine, but such a system will make moral considerations: such things can't be avoided -- one makes choices, and choices affect people, and the question of how to weigh those effects is the question of morality. Such is life.

immigration and libertarian fundamenatalism

If I understand you correctly your "libertarian fundamentalism" equates to a structure of anarcho-capitalism built upon the non-aggression principle (NAP)as its moral foundation. If so, there is no state and all property is privately owned. In such an environment there are no "open borders". Rather, within the territory wherein anarcho-capitalism has been actualized there are only boundaries to privately held parcels of real property. As such prperty is privately held the owner of each parcel may decide who is and who is not allowed on the owner's property. Hence, the fear of a wave of anti-libertarian immigrants swarming over a "libertarian fundamentalist" territory and polluting it with statist beliefs which will undermine libertarianism is unwarranted.

This fundamental dilemma

This fundamental dilemma arises from libertarianism's stance as a small minority position. As P.J. O'Rourke put it, 'democracy is the belief that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard'. Change people's opinions, and you'll change the results we get, irregardless of the precise tactics you choose when it comes to addressing the results.

Since the topic is force, a military analogy might be appropriate here. God is on the side of the bigger battalions. Yes, clever tactics and strategy allow you to do more with less, but even Lee and Hannibal lost eventually, despite being brilliant tacticians.

Not new

Policy positions have been entangled with constitutional questions at least since "Bread, Peace, Land, and All power to the Soviets".

But in fact no political structure is particularly likely to produce any given radical policy result. So it's just as reasonable to talk about changing both than changing one.

If I was absolute ruler of the world, all I would have to decide would be policies. As it stands, any practical proposals any of us make are conditional on getting sufficient agreement to practically implement them. That is true whether we acquiesce in the current political structure, or whether we seek to change it.

the main schism

seems to be between the deontological and teleological views. The deontological libertarianism revolves around natural rights, the teleological around the best outcome for all parties.

Federalism vs. Universal Rights in the US

As I understand the US Constitution, the feds have supreme power – but only with respect to the finite number of powers ("enumerated powers") listed in the Constitution. The states exercise "plenary power" – except to the extent preempted by the feds.

What does preemption entail? Traditionally it entailed areas in which the feds were actively regulating something. True, the Bill of Rights limited the feds ability to regulate certain things ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion....") , but that merely applied to the feds; it didn't limit STATES from doing those things. Recall that many states that ratified the Constitution had state-sponsored religions; the 1st Amendment's limitations on the feds simply did not apply to the states. Whether or not you regarded freedom of religion as a Universal Right, it was trumped by federalism – no preemption.

Federalism permitted the “laboratory of democracy” to flourish, enabling states to adopt starkly different policies regarding ... oh, let me think ... that’s right: slavery!

And that proved to be too much for the Universal Rights people to endure. So following the Civil War the US adopted a measure of Universal Right-iness by adopting the 14th Amendment: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States...." In other words, limits that the feds imposed on themselves they were also imposing on states. The 14th Amendment also required equal protection of the laws, and due process to determine whether or not these provisions were being implemented. But the 14th Amendment's role as the source of freedoms is probably less important than its role as a conduit by which freedoms arising from other sources are applied to the states.

Others have noted that Roe v. Wade was a Universal Right-ish holding, introjecting the feds into the role of defending individual autonomy against not only federal regulation, but state regulation too. This has also been a recurring dynamic of much of the “deregulation movement” that began in the 1970s. Thus, the Telecom Act of ‘96 was arguably designed to permit individuals to break free from the monopoly regulation at the state level that was utterly dominated by the Baby Bells, and enable anyone to enter into the local telecom business. There have been subsequent cases to determine whether a state can by law prohibit cities and counties – creations of the state, after all – from entering into the telecommunications business. That is, is autonomy enhanced by freeing states to act as they please? Or by defending the autonomy of local units of government against the dictates of states? Or by freeing states to defend the autonomy of private citizens against taxpayer-subsidized competition by local government entities?

The extent to which the Privileges and Immunities clause actually constrains states remains a topic of debate, especially within the Federalist Society. Clarence Thomas, for example, argues that the original intent of the framers of the 14th Amendment had nothing to do with the establishment of religion, and therefore states should be free to maintain state-sponsored religions. With respect to that issue, and that justice, federalism continues to trump Universal Rights.