Freedom, Exit and Question-begging

Jonathan has a nice post up laying out the current debate about charter cities. He cites Arnold Kling's discussion of freedom as exit, calling it "elegant and powerful." I agree with Jonathan that this is a really good defense of exit.

But I also think Will has a good point in his response, namely, that defining freedom as the absence of monopoly may be question-begging. After all, if I live in a world of Hobbesian thugs, it's hard to make the case that I have any meaningful freedom, even if such a world is free from monopoly. It's not, however, question-begging in the way that Will thinks it is.

This, as with many other intra-libertarian debates, really boils back down to the whole rationalist-pluralist distinction. Arnold and Jonathan fall pretty solidly in the pluralist camp. And if you're a pluralist then the freedom = no monopolies construction does sound about right.

But if you're a rationalist, then such a construction is in fact going to look illiberal. Or, at the very least, it's going to look like something that doesn't guarantee liberalism. For those three people here who haven't already read Levy's piece, here's his definition of rationalism:

On the other we see a rationalist liberalism, committed to intellectual progress, universalism, and equality before a unified law, opposed to arbitrary and irrational distinctions and inequalities, and determined to disrupt local tyrannies in religious and ethnic groups, the family, the plantation, feudal institutions, and the provincial countryside.

I think that this is probably what Will has in mind when he calls charter cities illiberal. They fail to do anything like the liberalism that a rationalist champions. Oh, they might do so. But they are hardly a guarantee. But, more importantly, charter cities (and seasteading and exit in general) remove the very possibility of achieving any sort of universal rationalist liberalism. At the end of the day, Exit effectively puts its stamp of approval on "local tyrannies in religious and ethnic groups, the family, the plantation, feudal institutions and the provincial countryside" telling those who don't like it (i.e., any potential reformers) just to leave.

My own sympathies are with Will, though I think that I'm probably less committed to a pure rationalism than he. Exit (arguably) provides more opportunities for experimentation, something that the utilitarian in me approves of. After all, how else are we to discover what really works and what doesn't? But those same utilitarian impulses make me worry about the children we doom to grow up in religious fundamentalist societies where the little girls are taught that they should obey the boys and given little education in anything other than, say, cooking and making babies. And I worry, too, about the little boys who grow up learning that the Jews killed Jesus and that God sanctioned slavery right there in the Old Testament (it comes right after the part about killing the gays).

In liberal democracies, people are welcome to have such views. But they are not welcome to isolate themselves away with others who hold such views. Or, more to the point, they aren't allowed to raise their children in in such isolate enclaves. They must, instead, put those views into the mix of other different competing views. Their ideas must win out in the marketplace of ideas before they can become established law.

Deliberative democracy forces local illiberalism out into the open, where it must compete with (and ultimately lose out to) liberalism. Exit essentially provides protected spaces for illiberalism to continue.

Yes, I know that the argument is that eventually, when liberal experiments succeed and illiberal experiments don't, people will switch. But that assumes that people are capable of recognizing failure and have the basic education and knowledge to switch successfully. Unfortunately, exit doesn't guarantee that those preconditions will obtain.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I think this quibbling is unnecessary. My own view is that something like liberal democracy is going to turn out to be the best way we have to organize a society. Patri's seasteads are all going to turn into smaller liberal democracies with open immigration policies. At the same time, current liberal democracies are going to get more liberal and, eventually, go with open immigration policies. IOW, I expect both approaches will reach the same endpoint. The only debate, really, is over which one will get there first. I see no harm in trying both.

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China/ hong kong

Wouldn't you agree that the experience of Hong Kong moved China in a more liberal direction?

Absolutely

Yeah, I think there's a good case to be made there. As I said, I'm not opposed to pluralist experiments. My point was rather that, insofar as someone might have rationalist intuitions, then freedom = no monopolies isn't going to sound very liberal.

I think that, at the end of the day, you and I probably want the same thing. We'd like it to be the case that everyone is free to choose from among all sorts of differently-arranged but all fundamentally free societies. That is, we'd both like to see first- and second-level libertarian societies everywhere. I think that Will would probably get behind that, too. The dispute revolves around the best way of getting there. Will thinks it's by establishing a bunch of first-level libertarian states and then opening immigration. You (I think) favor establishing second-level libertarianism and then waiting for everyone to abandon the crummy non-libertarian first-level experiments.

I'm not sure that we really have enough evidence to draw any long-range conclusions about which approach is likely to get us there first. There are too few instances of genuine experiments with pluralism. You can point to Hong Kong and Singapore. I can point to Dubai's free zones (with the caveat that that experiment is still really early). We basically have a handful of anecdotes but very little data.

I'm happy to experiment. I just don't think we should dismiss out-of-hand Will's worry that pluralism could take a nation that's a 6 out of 10 on Patri's liberty scale and turn it into a bunch of smaller ones where the total works out to a lower aggregate number.

Trillian, The two sides here

Trillian,

The two sides here may be talking past each other somewhat with regards to the term "liberalism." My impression is that the pluralists are using it to mean, basically, the mainline libertarian ideal of freedom from force and fraud, whereas the rationalist's definition of "liberalism" has greater scope for government action than the pluralists would accept and would deny the term "liberal" to a society that was libertarian in the Rothbardian or Randian "non-aggression" sense but had very rigid, oppressive, or bigoted social practices. Would you consider that a fair assessment?

Yes

I think that sounds about right. I expect that there would be some quibbling about the "force" part of the construction. A rationalist says that there's no force involved if you can just leave. A pluralist would argue that there exists such a thing as societal pressure and that that can be as coercive as state pressure. J.S. Mill, I think, gets this right, when he talks about punishment in ch. 5 of Utilitarianism:

We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow-creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience.

Mill's point, I think, is that law is just one way we can coerce people into doing what's right. Public pressure is another. Just as law entails coercion, so too does public opinion. Rationalists are, I think, more worried about this more subtle form of coercion than are pluralists. In fact, I've seen a number of people at DR argue that societal coercion isn't really coercion at all. That, to me, is a strange view. But it's also evidence that, yes, in a lot of cases rationalists and pluralists are talking past one another.

Isolated Enclaves

But they are not welcome to isolate themselves away with others who hold such views. Or, more to the point, they aren't allowed to raise their children in in such isolate enclaves.

Why aren't they allowed to raise their children in isolated enclaves?

Too strong

I suppose it's more accurate to say that they are allowed to try, but that in our current society it's very difficult to achieve in practice. And no matter how much you try, there are still certain requirements that you must fulfill. You can't, for example, refuse to educate your children. And you may well be required to provide medical treatments, regardless of your beliefs. IOW, under our liberal democracy, there are limitations as to how far you can deliberately preclude your children from being prepared for life outside your enclave. That wouldn't hold under a pluralist arrangement.

depends on the state

There are limits, yes, but...look at the Branch Davidians in Waco. I don't think the limits are that bad. In states that allow home-schooling, you can raise your kids in an enclave.

In my pluralist world, we frown on seasteads that cut off outside contact, and we try to visit every seastead once a year, and if anyone over the age of 14 says "get me the fuck out of year", we do so. By force, if necessary. I dunno if it will work, or if everyone else will agree to it, but that's my plan.

For so long you presented

For so long you presented the one unblemished strain in libertarian thought. But if you're going to be having humanitarian intervention, I'm not signing on. I'm sure there are people right now in North Korea who'd like to leave. Do you think we should go to war with them or Cuba? Should we have done so with East Germany?

Here is what my criterion for a tolerable seastead to be left in peace is: not aggressing against other seasteads. There would be no Bakuninist invisible government or Rothbardian ideologically motivated morality police.

Do you think we should go to war with them or Cuba?

No *we* should obviously do no such thing if you don't want to. But I have no objections to private individuals and voluntary organizations making war on slave states like North Korea and Cuba or on slave plantations on seasteads. Patri seemed obviously too be suggesting voluntary efforts in that vein; you seem to be conflating this with a state sponsored war. He was not suggesting that you be compelled to to be a party to his efforts.

What stops deeply

What stops deeply ideological "voluntary organizations " from running around and trying to topple anarchist states that don't share their opinions.

For example a marxist army toppling small anarcho-capitalist enclaves. Or hardcore natural rightists attacking anarcho-communists.

War of all against all?

Costs

"What stops deeply ideological "voluntary organizations " from running around and trying to topple anarchist states that don't share their opinions."

Are you suggesting some rule will?

Costs will stop it, if anything. Self interest. The same thing that kept China from annexing Taiwan this week.

Any community that wants to endure must arrange things so that it's more expensive to fuck with them than it's worth. That's a necessary but not a sufficient condition for long term survival, and ultimately there is no sufficient condition - nothing will guarantee your survival if enough motivated parties set their sights on you.

(I'm assumming by anarchist state you mean an ancap community of some sort.)

"For example a marxist army toppling small anarcho-capitalist enclaves. Or hardcore natural rightists attacking anarcho-communists.

War of all against all?"

What stops a given country from gobbling up all the others? Costs.

War of all Against All

Are you suggesting some rule will?

Rules enforced by coercive organizations make it much less likely and much more difficult.

Costs will stop it, if anything. Self interest. The same thing that kept China from annexing Taiwan this week.

Two problems here. Ideologues will not just vanish in a thousand nation scenario and they will not care about profit and loss. Second, you are conceding that is the risk to reward ratio is high enough then they will invade.

What kept China annexing Taiwan was the might of the U.S. military. If they didn't have that massive military backing they would have crushed them. You are conceding the point again that bigger mini-states will topple smaller ones freely. Just look at Tibet.

Any community that wants to endure must arrange things so that it's more expensive to fuck with them than it's worth. That's a necessary but not a sufficient condition for long term survival

And that is why the barriers to entry will never be low enough for there to be viable alternatives. Only the rich and powerful can set up sustainable nations in an anarchistic world and they will shape the rules to their will. Thank you for such a powerful argument against anarcho-capitalism.

(I'm assumming by anarchist state you mean an ancap community of some sort.)

If you abolish the government you will have ancap corporate states, small traditional nation-states, syndicate federations, communes, etc. An anarchist state could be any of those and they will all vie for limited resources which will lead to conflict.

What stops a given country from gobbling up all the others? Costs.

Concentrated power and democracy.

Only nations big enough to concentrate power can fend off other nation-states. Micronations today only exist because they are vassal/client states to larger powers. If we broke up every nation on earth to micronation status there would be massive war until large scale tradition nations re-emerged because they would be the only ones capable of defending themselves from outside threats.

If a war becomes unpopular then it wanes. One cannot start a war without convincing (through licit or illicit means) that the enemy is deserving of being fought.

Who is "we"?

Patri was the one who used "we", so I did as well. I wasn't assuming that it would be me in the blue-helmet rather than him.

/Offtopic This guy goes

/Offtopic

This guy goes penile: TGGP

I swear to god I see you everywhere. Moldnerd, Szabo etc.

;)

What does it mean to say

What does it mean to say someone "goes penile"?

Good question

Good question. Maybe something along the line of "going bonkers" but since my user name is not "bonkers," I went with "penile." Also notice my TGGP reference (This Guy Goes Penile) which hasn't an ounce of wit, and which solely exists for my self amusement. Either way, I'm not entirely serious. My initial observation still has a hint of truth: you seem to "get into the mix" at many varied places.

A somewhat pointless and obvious comment I'm sure, but I said it anyway. Don't look at it as a bad thing.

The acronym went right over

The acronym went right over my head. And I've used an acronym joke that would be very offensive to those that didn't get it (and I was a lot more subtle). Doh!

Which head? (Okay, if we are

Which head?

(Okay, if we are resorting to penis jokes, we need to get Scheule back in here. I summon you, Scheule!)

John Brown's Seastead

"Here is what my criterion for a tolerable seastead to be left in peace is: not aggressing against other seasteads. "

So if Seastead John C. Calhoun is a slave plantation that does not agress against other seasteads, but Seastead Captain John Brown liberates such slaves by force, you hold Seastead Calhoun to be tolerable and Seastead Brown not?

Why is your antipathy for aggression confined to the seastead level?

Rescuing 14 year olds from seasteads

"In my pluralist world, we frown on seasteads that cut off outside contact, and we try to visit every seastead once a year,..."

And if you are not welcome?

"...and if anyone over the age of 14 says "get me the fuck out of year", we do so. By force, if necessary."

At what cost? At any cost? I don't think so.

It seems to me that the cost of keeping prisoners on a seastead is probably far less than the cost of liberating such prisoners. Individual exit may often become prohibitively expensive in seasteads.

I'm completely in the

I'm completely in the pluralist camp. I'm alright with parents doing whatever they want with their kids, up to and including killing them (hell, maybe they can eat them afterward as well).

I argued with Will a while back regarding the fundamentalist Mormon compound & false consciousness. All children are "doomed" to be exposed and taught some things rather than others. You just happen to think our way of doing things is better than others. I bet those same Mormons would be horrified at the crap we force-feed public school kids. Your argument starts off with the assumption that their beliefs/folkways are simply bad while ours are good and it is awful to be deprived of our good ways and subjected to their bad ones. If you apply the same standards to yourself as you do to them and try to imagine the shoe being on the other foot (and as a libertarian you should always be aware that your views are a minority and hated by many) you'd be without any objection to them forcing their way on you.

Deliberative democracy forces local illiberalism out into the open, where it must compete with (and ultimately lose out to) liberalism.
Is it impossible for illiberalism to win out against competing liberal ideologies? The Nazis were only able to come to power because of democratization. Funny enough, Will Wilkinson had a great demolition of "Delibration Day", which exhibited the same liberal hopes you seem to here.

I had previously been doubtful that China had gotten more socially liberal, but James Fallows says so.

That's not pluralism, that's

That's not pluralism, that's nihilistic subjectivsm.

Pluralism is the belief in multiple moral perspectives. It does not say ALL moral choices are equally valid which is what you are advocating.

Pluralism

I believe Patri was referring primarily to economic and legal pluralism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism

As it happens, I am an

As it happens, I am an emotivist (not a nihilist, the something they believe in quite strongly is nothing!) and do not believe that normative statements have any truth value. Positive statements may be true or false and can be falsified through evidence. I think that pluralism through seasteading will assist in the production of positivist knowledge. Normative beliefs, on the other hand, basically reduce to taste/attitudes and like philosophy never advance in knowledge but merely heap commentaries on commentaries. I don't mind if others don't share my own preferences as long as they don't bother me. Although radical pluralism may be more amenable to ethical subjectivists (if you think all humanity must bow to the One True God it will have less appeal), I think it provides a framework for moral objectivists to live out their own morality independent from those who don't share it.

Some poeple disagree with you, TGGP,...

...so therefore it logically follows that everything you write is nothing but your own unfounded assumptions.

That's equivalent to the argument you just made anyway.

The fact that various opinions exist in no way implies that none of them are right or wrong.

Is this really about rationalism vs pluralism?

I'm not so sure. I think even a rationalist can prefer Exit to Voice if he believes that competition can bring about "What Works" and "What is True and Good" faster.

(I think you might be trying to say this in one of the above comments.)

Freedom = Absence of monopoly?

"But I also think Will has a good point in his response, namely, that defining freedom as the absence of monopoly may be question-begging."

The absence of coercive monopoly is a necessary but not sufficient condition for freedom. On may reasonably speculate about the absence of coercive monopoly on the national level since we observe the absence of coercive monopoly at the world level, but we cannot reasonably expect coercion itself to go away. And freedom will always be compromised by coercion.

So what are the *sufficient* conditions of freedom? There really are none in practice. All the wealth that Bill Gates has acquired will not deliver him freedom *if* the rest of the world conspires to coerce him. But in the absence of large coercive monopolies wealth is likely to be able to secure significant freedom.

Exit has delivered a lot more freedom than any rationalist project.

Illiberal applications of seasteading?

Wouldn't Patris seasteads encourage precisely the kind of illiberal enclaves that C. J. abhors? How then can C. J. be tolerant of seasteading?

I don't suggest that this is all that seasteads will encourage, but isn't it one very likely consequence?

So what stops a sect of some sort from exiting a more liberal society via a seastead and then denying exit to individuals? Wouldn't it be easier to impose totalitarianism on a seastead than in, for instance, rural areas of Nevada?

I do not offer this as a argument against seasteads, which I would like to encourage if they are viable. But I am curious as to whether Patri and other seasteading enthusiasts have given much thought to the likely illiberal applications of seasteading. Is Patri going to feel good about enabling totalitarian communities?

I think this points to a fundamental problem with seasteading I had previously failed to notice. On the American frontier individual exit was always an option. But seasteading is not about individual exit, it is necessarily a collective project which potentially leaves the individual far more at the mercy of the group than in other circumstances. Seasteading may provide more freedom for small groups, but this can lead to far less freedom for individuals.