Monday, January 25, 2016

Toward the Voluntary Society: An Introduction

The flag of anarcho-capitalism doesn't have to be the only standard in a voluntary society, but it would certainly be one.

All too often, political philosophy is an exercise in utopianism, the construction of imaginary, idealized societies. On their face, these visions are impossible to realize given disparate human motivations, actions, and desires. The processes proposed are also frequently illogical, invoking non sequitur after non sequitur in their explication.

Marxism is perhaps the most famous example. On his projected path to a stateless, classless communist society, Karl Marx predicted that, despite their own rising standards of living, the working classes in prosperous capitalist economies would revolt against the owning and ruling classes. Thereafter, socialist dictatorships would be established to control every aspect of cultural and economic development in order to eventually eliminate all human inequality. Then, somehow, this totalitarian state would simply surrender all of its power, giving way to a completely free society, where each individual person would produce according to his ability and consume according to his need. Though all attempts at its practical application have failed at every step, Marxist ideology is still immensely popular for obvious reasons.

The reasons why Marxism would never work should be equally obvious, but I’m not writing today to critique Marx. Rather, I want to introduce another political philosophy and explicate it without magical thinking or utopian idealism. The voluntary society I will describe may be no more achievable than Marx’s communist paradise, but I think it can be approached much more closely through the application of ideologically consistent libertarian philosophies and realistic political processes.

All of this presupposes that human freedom is a desirable outcome. I can understand and accept that not everyone shares this goal. Indeed, slave states have flourished throughout human history and have created widely revered cultural landmarks. For those who see such states as the superior way to live, nothing that I can say or do will ever change their minds. Instead, I want to chart a possible course for those who do value human freedom but struggle to understand why the current paradigm also appears to be failing to deliver it.

I will follow with a series of essays discussing various aspects of the voluntary society and how they might realistically be achieved. None of these will demand the adoption of any one model of social or economic organization. In fact, I will argue that all organizational models are permissible within a voluntary society so long as they adhere to just two fundamental moral principles.

On that moral foundation, we can move toward the voluntary society in a logical fashion. This will also account and allow for human differences that other political philosophies have simply and improbably hoped to erase. The choices demanded won’t be easy by any means, and some of the ancillary outcomes that will be implied may be disconcerting where they can’t be mitigated, but this is the only path toward lasting freedom—one that won’t vanish in the mirage of utopian fantasy.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Of Wolves and Men

A wolf pack on the move.

The photograph above has been circulating on social media in recent weeks. It purports to show a wolf pack, wherein the old, sick, and weak set the pace for the group from the front, the young and strong make up the center, and the dominant male watches over everything from the rear. Some of my “liberal” friends have commented favorably on this social structure. One even remarked that it’s “how we should act …”

While the picture is beautiful and illustrates how different social groups can survive, I find it deeply ironic that compassionate “liberals” would recommend it as a model for human society. Let’s look at the wolf pack more closely to see why.

The old, sick, and weak are placed in the vanguard of the pack. This may let them set the pace, but it also puts them at the greatest risk for attack by hostile wolves or other predators. Should an attack come, then the stronger members of the pack have the option to flee safely or to counterattack the distracted enemy.

When the pack makes a kill, the wolves usually feed by rank. The dominant pair eat their fill, followed by the lower ranks. The old, sick, and weak get whatever scraps are left when the stronger wolves are done. As a result, they may grow weaker still.

Rivals for dominance within the pack are often expelled or killed. Outcasts face great difficulty surviving on their own—much greater difficulty than a single, able-bodied human would face. If these lone wolves manage to survive but can’t eventually start their own packs, the may turn to poaching and other desperate pursuits, making them the criminals of the wolf world.

Wolf packs are also highly territorial. When they meet, there is usually hostility. In other words, the primary relationship between different wolf populations is warfare. These conflicts are one of the main causes of death among wolves, accounting for over half of all fatalities in some cases.

And when the old, sick, and weak wolves can no longer walk, they will ultimately be abandoned by the pack to die in isolation and suffering. In lean times, they may even be killed and eaten by their own pack mates.

When our old, sick, and weak can no longer move, we will carry them—sometimes to a fault. Human groups can be just as competitive as rival wolf packs, but we thrive through cooperative competition (at least within free markets). We try to shelter our outcasts and to protect our defenseless. Despite our self-ascribed penchant for violence, the trend for advancing human civilizations has been the pursuit of peaceful relations between nations.

Our principal failure, at least in the enlightened portion of human society, is not a lack of compassion. It is misplaced and misdirected compassion. We have allowed the hand extended in help to be used to pull all of us down. We have failed to properly understand social problems, and we have repeatedly failed to learn the lessons of history.

Ironically, wolf society is exactly the harsh, dog-eat-dog paradigm that so many “liberals” falsely accuse “conservatives” and libertarians of desiring. Those of us on the political right (nominally or otherwise) who advocate for individual freedom, personal responsibility, and equality of opportunity do so because of our compassion for others and because of our desire to reduce human suffering. We want to see the weak grow stronger, the disadvantaged become prosperous, and the downtrodden regain dignity. Through no ill intent of its ideological proponents, the left would expand poverty, helplessness, and subjugation as a cause and consequence of its pursuit and application of political power.

And when the leftists finally succeed, human society may indeed begin to resemble the brutal reality of the wolf pack once again.