LIBERTARIANISM AND THE NON-INITIATION OF FORCE
> I have just discovered your websites and want to say thank you -- and I > want you to know I am saying it with tears in eyes. You have fulfilled > the highest promise of the Worldwide Web. > As a libertarian who was looking for the quote I believe was Jefferson's > about government as force, I am not wild about a few of your ideas I've > happened upon -- but I promise to read them and think about them. > Thank you > Thank you > Thank you Thank you for your very kind words of appreciation. I know your feeling, because I too have often read the words of Thomas Jefferson with tears in my eyes. What a truly great man! What magnificant expressions of human freedom! If there is a quote you are seeking, I may be able to help you find it, if you will provide me with as much information about it as you can. I am often called upon to do that. If there are some ideas that I appear to foster that you feel are not quite right, I would be glad to discuss them with you on a completely rational, non-inflamatory basis. I have a website of hundreds of questions that have already been asked that you might find interesting. It is located at: [this website] I do not consider myself a libertarian, and I do not believe that Jefferson was really a libertarian. Almost, but not quite. The famous quote attributed to him, "That government is best which governs least," was NOT written by him. Jefferson, I believe, was more of a populist. If he had made such a statement, I believe it would have been something like "That government is best which secures the rights of the people and does their will." That existential restriction, and not some theoretical or ideological restriction on the size of government, is what I see at the heart of Jefferson's political philosophy. But I gladly entertain challenges to my understanding of Jefferson. In fact, I cherish them, because that is the best way to "purify" one's own thinking.
> What a delight to receive such a thoughtful and considerate reply from you. > > As a new age non-initiator, I read your Rand-Jefferson non-initiation essay > with interest this morning. It's quite refreshing to be refuted by someone > who has given so much thoughtful consideration to the matters I hold most > dear. I was particularly struck by your thought that the only way to > maintain the purity of the founders' vision is either by force or by > keeping the vision of liberty alive in the hearts of the people. Helps me > to remember that the goal of my own small efforts is to help keep that > vision alive. A goal you have done so very much to further. Thanks. I wrote that essay some time ago, and I had forgotten that I made that point. But it is a central one, I believe. ANY political system or belief must be in the hearts of the people, or it must be forced on them by a ruling authority. And if the latter, it is no longer a free society, no matter what or how idealistic the belief. Thus, a political movement that seeks drastic change within the parameters of a free society MUST be more of an educational movement than an office-seeking movement, IMO. > I will check out your geocities site to see what other insights might await > me. I, myself am a follower of the Mary Ruwart school of non-initiation > as expressed in her book, "Healing our World." And if you've dealt with > other of her fans, there's probably nothing new I could share with you. > But if perchance you haven't, then I might indeed be able to throw a new > wrinkle or two your way. I must plead ignorance. Truth is, I don't think I have even heard of Mary Ruwart. > I also like Neil Smith's call for us to be BOREs > -- Bill of Rights Enforcers. Now THAT might not be too far from your > position. Him I have heard of, but I am not familiar with his ideas re: "Bill of Rights Enforcers." > AND I very much appreciate the unusually civil and respectful tone of your > site. Equal to my passion for liberty is my belief that showing respect to > each other's views is the OTHER force that has the power to change the > world. (The founder of my obscure metaphysical church said, "Wouldn't it > be wonderful if there were a group of people who were FOR something and > against nothing.") Thanks again. It is sometimes difficult to maintain a civil tone when you suspect that your "opponent" is being disingenuous. I am often suspicious of Objectivists in that respect, but any lack of intellectual honesty on their part may be unconscious, and a respectful but piercing analysis is still best. > Oh, the quote I couldn't find. It's muc- quoted in libertarian circles.. > the esence is that government is merely force, and I thought it had the > word fire or gun in it. But perhaps I am confusing it with Thomas Paine > or Shakespeare or something
. I wanted it for an online debate with my > church pals. While looking, I ran across this, which reinforces my point about education above: "Instead of that liberty which takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered by mere force or accident, it becomes with an unprepared people a tyranny still of the many, the few, or the one." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1815. ME 14:245 In other words, Liberty itself cannot be forced upon a people. But a quote that is more in line with your point is: "Force [is] the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801. ME 3:321 But the context of the above suggests a force that is exerted upon the people as a whole, not the kind of force that a government must exercise in carrying out the will of a people's majority. The larger context of the quote is, "Absolute acquiescence in the decision of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism..." It is an interesting question: What magical threshhold is crossed when 51% of the people support something? Is not the oppression of 49% just as surely oppression as that of 90%? The answer is: it is not a matter of oppression, but of decision-making power. When 51% (or more) are deciding, the power of deciding does indeed rest in the people. And if there is an oppression of 49%, well that 49% can increase its numbers by education or other legitimate influences to 51%. But when 10% oppress 90%, the decision making power does not rest in the people as a whole. Decision is then not subject to the movement of popular opinion, but rather is subject to the tyranny of a minority unmoved by the people. Obviously, this is not a perfect system (there aren't any). But vesting decision-making power in the people (through their majority) produces far less tyranny and oppression than any other system. Many would put decision-making power in the hands of some kind of intellectually devised system. But anything that takes decision-making away from the majority is just another form of tyranny. > Thanks again -- my tears were not for the words of Jefferson, although they > do make me cry, but for the loving effort you have put into making his > thought accessible to the world. Oh. Well, I suppose it was quite a bit of effort. But my focus was always on Jefferson's thought, and all I could think of was how important it is that these really great ideas should be made available to the world. For me, it was a great privilege to work on it, and also a great responsibility! If you think about it, it is kinda overwhelming.
> I haven't abandoned our chat, I've just been caught up in enjoyably > jousting with the folks on my e-mail list -- we're calling it > "Politics & Spirituality" over there. > > And I'm delighted to be able to tell you about the thought of Mary Ruwart > and libertarian science fiction writer L. Neil Smith -- partly because > since our conversation I've come to realize I swear by them both without > being able to pin down where they intersect. And I'm enough of a lover of > reason to be bothered by that. > > I think of Ruwart as kind of the white hat to Rand's black hat. Like me, > Ruwart's non-initiation of force comes with a new age flavor to it. We > believe that what goes around comes around, so if you use coercion to > prevent someone else from choosing something foolish or selfish, that > person will resent it and eventually turn his resentment toward limiting > your choices. I.e., in the long run, force never works. I pretty much also believe that what goes around comes around, though I usually think of it in personal terms. If a person deals with another unjustly, he establishes a social context which eventually comes back and rolls over him. That sort of thing. "Live by the sword, and you'll die by the sword." I'm not sure it would work as a guide on a nationwide basis. The example you give could be turned around: If you choose to do something foolish that society tries to prevent you from doing (getting addicted to smoking as a young teenager), it may eventually be your undoing (lung cancer). In another sense, I believe that a cohesive society must often function as a whole, and make decisions as a whole that require all members to conform to the decision for the good of the whole, whether individuals like it or not. This means a society must have the power to compel some recalcitrant members. Non-initiation of force represents a kind of untopian ideal, but I honestly don't think it would ever really work. In fact, I don't think we will ever get around to trying it. PROVING it wouldn't work might be difficult., however. > But Mary has finally gone the extra mile to write a book expounding her > vision of a peaceful and prosperous society based in choice called "Healing > our World." I love it because I believe in focusing on what I want rather > than on what I don't want. I may be wrong (It's been a while since I read > it) but I don't believe she evens gets into the FORM of government that > would best support the vision. And that is probably the problem. As soon as you speak of a form of government, you are talking about something to which everyone belongs. And when everyone belongs, you will have differences of opinion, which in turn will mean some will need to be compelled to comply with the will of the whole, as expressed by that much-maligned Majority Rule. I suspect the topic is one that is unproductive to discuss in general terms, and that it would be necessary to consider specific examples. Sometimes I wonder, when you really get down to cases and to final outcomes, if the results would not be the same. In other words, all libertarians believe in using force to keep some individuals from violating the rights of other individuals. And most laws and regulations can be put in those terms. In any case, I feel quite sure Jefferson would not embrace such an idea. > Smith on the other hand, gave me an easy way to integrate my libertarianism > with my admiration for democracy. He called for us to be BOREs -- Bill of > Rights Enforcers. He said libertarians could have 95% of what's important > to us simply by calling for STRICT enforcement of the Bill of Rights. > E.g., Second amendment (his favorite cause), interpreting the fifth > amendment so strictly as to call for "just compensation" when property > value is taken by regulation, and 9th and 10th amendments to pretty much > invalidate most of the legislation passed since the New Deal. > > it's a very comfy place for a libertarian to be. Makes me feel practically > mainstream. But I haven't yet thought about how the remaining "5%" may or > may not square with Mary's vision. > > Does the BORE approach strike a chord with you? I guess I am truly a Jeffersonian. He believed in "limited government," by which he meant government limited by the Constitution. So, I would agree in a sense with a strict enforcement of constitutional provisions. But I have a feeling about libertarianism that is difficult to articulate. It's as if it is a political philosophy that is not quite consonant with the Founders' vision. It has its own vision, which is similar in many respects, but the dynamics are quite different. To Jefferson, the central dynamic is the will of the people, whereas I get the impression that libertarians don't like that, because it all too often imposes itself on the individual, and the central dynamic of libertarianism seems to be the individual, even the independent individual. I remember making a comparison to some libertarian friends between a statement by the libertarian party and the Declaration of Independence. The latter mentions "the people" about a dozen or so times and "individual" not once, whereas the former mentions "individual" about a dozen or so times and "the people" not once. It is that kind of dynamic that libertarians and Objectivists seem to have in common. Not that I like the idea of a nation of sheep, but that is always one of the dangers into which a nation of people might fall, whereas libertarians always seem to be assuredly outsiders to all that. It's as if libertarianism has that "fringe" mentality -- us against the big "them." These things are always difficult to discuss, because it frequently comes down to a thing where "either you are or you aren't," either your sentiments are in that direction, or they are not. But I like to discuss it -- especially trying to determine where Jefferson might come down on specific points.
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