of mine with George Jonas all started with a column
of his in Canadaís National Post of January 19, 2013 entitled
"Donít call me a libertarian." But, this editorialist
didnít mention in it any reason at all why he rejected this philosophy
of free enterprise. So on January 20, 2013 I wrote a blog
than passing curious: George Jonas and libertarianism"
in which I called upon him to tell enquiring minds just why he
wished to disassociate himself from this view of political economy.
Next up in the batterís box was Mr. Jonas again, who wrote
on January 28, 2013, "George
Jonas on libertarianism: Drawing out the true believers."
Again, slipperyness must be his middle name, this author declined
to mention any specific flaws he saw in the freedom philosophy
(despite the fact that, in my own view, his past columns, when
relevant, virtually always supported free markets and private
property rights, basic elements of libertarianism.) I replied
to that second piece of his on February 8, 2013 with my
You're Going To Attack Libertarianism, try having a clue;
The Curious Case of the Non-Libertarian, George Jonas."
to this was "George Jonas: An old-school liberal lost in
the present," which appeared in the National Post
of February 13, 2013. I did not reply to this, for two reasons.
First, again, for a change, he said nothing substantive (I tells
you, if I had a regular column in the prestigious National
Post I would not waste it with hand waving like that; heck,
I am fortunate enough to be a regular contributor to the far less
prestigious LewRockwell.com, and I assure you, gentle reader,
that I try my utmost to fill its pages with matters of substance).
And second he did end on this note: "Iíve run out of space,
but in my next column I will list the reasons I think libertarianism
is too much of a good thing." So, I figured, Iíd wait until
Mr. Jonas fulfilled this promise of his to reply further. He did
indeed make good on this with his column of February 16, 2013,
entitled "George Jonas on libertarianism: The state has its
place." Well, at least he did write a follow up column to
the one that appeared on February 13, 2013. I place quote marks
around the word "debate" in the title of this present
essay because, in spite of his promise, although he did do a bit
better than his previous writings on this subject, he still didnít
really list any serious objections to libertarianism, nor any
reasons for them.
I am now
about to reply to this last contribution of Jonasí to our "debate."
But before I do, let me mention the libertarian classifications
as I see them, in an attempt to clear out the underbrush, clarify
matters, should this journalist wish to, finally, get his views,
if he really has any, out on the table.
The way I
see matters, libertarianism is based upon the Non Aggression Principle
(NAP). This states, simply, that it is illicit for anyone, at
any time, ever, to initiate (or even threaten) violence or invasion,
against anyone else or his legitimately held property. (The latter
is based for virgin territory on homesteading, and for everything
else on licit title transfers, voluntary ones such as barter,
purchase, rental, hiring, gifts, gambling, etc.) So who are the
ballplayers in this field?
the libertarian anarchists, or anarcho-capitalists, as they are
the only ones to adhere to a philosophy strictly respecting the
NAP. The name in my mind most associated with this perspective
is Murray N. Rothbard. He was the most rigorous exponent of this
view, in addition to being my friend and mentor. I certainly count
myself in this category. In this view, all "legitimate"
(see below) government functions, without exception, should be
privatized. Since there is no unanimous support for the state
(its taxes are not equivalent to club dues), it is an illicit
organization. Its leaders are no better than gangsters. But with
far better public relations.
limited government libertarianism, or support for very minimal
government, or minarchism. I list this next since they are second
in their respect for, and adherence to, the NAP. The most famous
people associated with this view are Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Ludwig
von Mises and Robert Nozick. Most if not all of them pay lip service
to the NAP, but none of them carry through on this fully, and
without exceptions, in my view. Here, the typical position is
that government should have one and only one function: to protect
the persons and legitimately held property against all incursions
(note the similarity to the previous perspective). To this single
end, there are only three legitimate institutions that the state
may inaugurate: police to keep local bad guys off of us, armies
to ensure that foreigners do not invade us (not to be the policemen-imperialists
of the world), and courts to distinguish the criminals from the
victims, to force the former to compensate the latter, and to
ensure that valid (NAP compatible) contracts are enforced.
this hierarchy are what I call the classical liberals (does Jonas
count himself in this category?). To the police, courts and armies
adherents of this view would add a few more functions: taking
care of so-called public goods such as contagious diseases, asteroid
strikes, maybe highways (eminent domain laws, "expropriation"
in Canada, would be justified to deal with the hold out problem)
and a few others. Many in this group at least in the U.S. are
constitutionalists, and would thus support government Post Offices,
mints, etc. The people in my mind most associated with this view
are Richard Epstein and Thomas Sowell. The latterís economic and
social views clearly place him as a classical liberal. But he
is such a war-monger that I cannot count him as a libertarian,
and since I am including classical liberals under this rubric,
I must exclude him from that category.
what I characterize as weak market supporters (does Jonas count
himself in this category?). The names in my mind most representative
of this perspective are Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek (the
Canadian version of this would be the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute,
my employer from 1979-1991). When they are good (in their adherence
to the NAP) these two Economics Nobel Prize winners are very,
very good. Some of the best defenses of the free market system
come from the pens of Hayek and Friedman. When they are bad, they
are horrid; they support numerous additions to the state functions
over and above those accepted by the classical liberals. I characterize
the first three of these groups as libertarians, but not the fourth.
These scholars accept so many additional functions for government
that at their worst they merge into, ugh, centrists.
introduction, I am now ready to try to pigeon-hole Jonas, to react
to his most recent contribution to this "debate" of
ours. (Why do I pick on him, when there are so many others? He
started this, by criticizing libertarianism. And hey, the others
are on my list too; they will just have to wait their turn).
After a brief
recapitulation of our "debate," Jonas starts off with
this claim: "Ö I prefer my own backwater. Itís even farther
out of the mainstream than Professor Blockís, but the fauna skating
along the brackish surface seems more congenial." I havenít
a clue as to what the latter phrase means, nor does he inform
us (if any of my students wrote like this, they would feel my
editorial wrath). As to the former, I peg Jonas as a classical
liberal, or a weak market supporter. How either of those qualifies
as "farther out of the mainstream" than my anarcho-capitalist
Rothbardian viewpoint is completely beyond me.
He next states:
"Both libertarians and old-fashioned Ďclassicalí liberals
cast a cold eye at the state, except the liberalís glance doesnít
result in outright rejection. The libertarianís might." This
is true for the free market capitalist, but not for the minarchist,
also a libertarian in good standing, in my view.
invokes my previous statement that "economic freedom and
private property rights (are) basic tenets of libertarianism."
He criticizes it on the ground that "economic freedom and
private property rights seem to be basic tenets even of Chinese
Communism by now." I do not deny that China has made great
strides since the days of Mao in the direction of civilization.
Stupendous ones. And, yes, in some ways, the amount of "economic
freedom and private property rights" in the Middle Kingdom
rivals that enjoyed in North America and Western Europe. Thus
to call their system "Chinese Communism," just because
they do so, is to engage in flagrant mislabeling. However, China
is surely not a free enterprise society yet. To pick out just
one flaw among many, their horrendous levels of pollution bespeak
lawless allowance of trespassing smoke particles, surely a violation
of "private property rights." See on that the best essay
ever written on environmentalism, right here.
to Jonas, "The usual ruse is to play lip service to something
and not practice it. Capitalism has reversed this trend in our
times: Everybody knocks private enterprise, then goes ahead and
does it. Why? It bloody works. Enterprise grows prosperity like
Marx grew his beard. Canada, where private property rights enjoy
no constitutional protection, has its own way of playing the same
I think he
speaks too quickly here. Am I to believe that Jonas seriously
believes that "capitalism" is alive and well in Canada?
Perhaps this claim is not too far off the mark when compared to
other countries. But this country to the north of us has compulsory
marketing boards, zoning, minimum wage laws, drug prohibitions,
a central bank, fiat currency, coercive unions, anti-trust legislation,
tariffs, unemployment insurance, socialized medicine, helmet laws
even for bicyclists and skaters, taxes (far over and above the
10% of GDP that would be acceptable for most classical liberals,
to say nothing of even minarchists). It is a welfare warfare state.
It has "human rights" tribunals prohibiting discrimination
on a whole host of bases (in some ways, they are even more politically
correct and nanny statist than Americans). What in bloody blue
blazes is the Canadian army doing in Afghanistan? Did that nationís
army invade it?
are we going to get to reasons why Jonas rejects libertarianism?
I was too impatient. Here is one: "In my last column (February
13, 2013, mentioned above by the present author) I indulged myself
in the quip that libertarianism is too much of a good thing. How
can that be? Perhaps in a linear world there would be no such
creature, but in a circular, or more accurately, spiral world
like ours, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing again,
albeit one level closer to Nirvana. Can this happen to liberty?
I guess so; it can happen to anything. Unbridled liberty can become
chaotic. Chaos doesnít enhance freedom. On the contrary, it ties
freedom into knots."
This is highly
problematic. What on earth are "circular" and "spiral
worlds?" I googled the latter, and got this;
nothing that I recognize as helpful at all or even germane. Similarly
for "circular worlds." I googled that,
too, and the results were even less helpful, if that is possible.
Here I am, trying to have a serious debate with this man, and
he is giving me "circular" and "spiral worlds?"
Maybe that is a special Canadian code, unknown to outsiders? And
whatís with this "Unbridled liberty?" On the one hand,
this is all to the good. Our freedom to do exactly what we want
provided only that we respect the NAP should be unbridled, or
unlimited. That is what freedom is all about. The denial of this
is to that extent slavery. On the other hand, this sounds all
too much like a violation of the NAP (unbridled license to rape,
burn, loot, pillage?), which for sure no libertarian would favor.
And where, pray tell, does "chaos" come into all this.
Again, if my students wrote like this, giving no specifics, they
would get my red pen all over their work. It seems that the National
Post has far lower standards.
perhaps I spoke too quickly. Mr. Jonas now supplies us with a
specific example. Perhaps this is what he meant by "chaos."
designed and unregulated intersections in Asia kill bicyclists
and pedestrians by the hundreds but, as if that werenít bad enough,
they also bring traffic to a standstill. Anyone can witness the
consequences of vehicular anarchy on YouTube. Itís scary and enlightening.
Up-to-date libertarians donít conduct mindless campaigns against
traffic lights. Itís possible to be addicted to liberty without
being masochistic. Todayís libertarians seek to enhance their
program along with their electability. The best offer ingenious
substitutes for the command economyís current model of government-dominated
commerce and transportation. Such books as Dr. Blockís own The
Privatization of Roads and Highways argue persuasively
that communities can maintain standards of safety and good order
by voluntary, non-coercive and non-governmental approaches in
services and infrastructure replacing the insolent, petty and
all too often corrupt machinery of the state."
I thank our
author for mentioning my book. But I really do not understand
what he is getting at here. He seems to be saying at the outset
that unbridled ("chaotic?") capitalism in Asia kills
people. But then, if I follow him, and I am not at all sure that
I do, he follows this up by positively citing
which blames the government for all these road deaths which
plague modern society. So how can free enterprise both be the
cause (chaos?) of these deaths, and also the cure (privatized
roads and highways) for them?
"Although many agree with the libertarian view that ĎLeviathaní
Ė the state Ė is evil, the feeling is widespread that itís a necessary
evil." Yes, for sure, it is widespread. Most people have
been taken in by the siren song of the state. But is it true?
Is government really necessary? Our editorialist again leaves
us guessing his view. For classical liberal libertarians, as I
have defined them, the government is indeed a necessary evil.
The same is true for limited government libertarians. As far as
anarcho-capitalists are concerned, the government is indeed evil,
but not at all necessary.
"Convincing evidence of successful privatization of functions
that have been hitherto viewed as exclusively governmental would
go a long way toward demonstrating that Leviathan isnít just evil
but unnecessary." True. That is exactly what I tried to do
with my book on streets and highways. But how does this relate
to this author telling us why he rejects libertarianism? It does
not do so in the slightest.
Here is more
of his stream of consciousness style: "Iíve more tolerance
for what I call janitorial government than my libertarian friends,
but agree that most of their functions could safely be privatized.
Would the savings be worth it? I donít know. Itís a different
government?" Whatís that? Garbage dumps? Refuse removal?
Washing floors? Urinals? Picking up litter? Why canít he be specific?
Does he think he loses points for clarity? And, if he believes
that these functions, whatever they are, "could safely be
privatized" that puts him in the camp of the free market
anarchists. Does he really want to go there? Who knows?
Again I speak too soon. Here, at last, is a specific criticism
of libertarianism: "Like all movements on the fringes, libertarianism
can seem shrill, smug, doctrinaire and millennial at times, with
rhetoric and behaviour resembling a cultís more than a political
partyís. Dr. Block, for instance, described his credo of libertarianism,
speaking at least half-seriously, as "the last best hope
for Ö the very survival of mankind."
I am not
at all "half serious." I am deadly serious about this.
At a time when China and Japan might possibly go to war with each
other over a few islands and the oil there; at a time when the
U.S. and its allies (Canada, for shame, included) are bombing
innocents in of all out of the way places Afghanistan; at a time
when Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama is utilizing drones here,
there and everywhere; at a time when many different countries
have nuclear weapons; at a time when in the last century governments,
Jonasís "necessary evil" state, murdered some 170
million people; at a time when Israel and its Arab enemies are
at each otherís throats; at a time when people are killing each
other in Africa; does it really sound "shrill, smug, doctrinaire
and millennial" to say that if everyone adhered to the NAP
mankind would be much more likely to survive than if it does not?
It might sound this way to Jonasí ears, but not at all to mine.
I take note
that Jonas calls libertarianism (I should say, at least my version
of it) a "cult." In my understanding of this phrase,
a cult requires a cult leader, and slavish devotion to him. I
do indeed agree with Jonas that Randianism, Objectivism, is indeed
a cult, because these characteristics do fit that movement, and
that they are often considered libertarian, with good reason.
Why do I believe this? Because there is evidence
for this claim. What evidence is there for libertarianism fitting
this bill? Jonas, for his part, offers none whatsoever. This is
thus mere name-calling on his part. The last refuge of the intellectual
coward is to descend into name calling on the basis of no evidence
at all. Well, Iíve got some for you, Jonas: you are a dodo, a
poo-poo head, a silly-willy. There. Take that. Isnít this an elevated
is so great about a "political party?" Apart from the
Libertarian Party of Canada, the Libertarian Party of the U.S.,
and Ron Paulís part of the Republican Party, none of them are
in any way, shape or form libertarian. That means they all advocate
to a greater or lesser degree coercion against innocent people
and statism. I see no reason for changing my "rhetoric and
behaviour" to fit that of any of the statist political parties.
Jonas offers none, as is his wont. As to my "behaviour,"
I cannot believe he is accusing me of any NAP violation, such
as murder, rape, theft. Although with him, one can never be sure.
At long last,
Jonas concludes: "When I remarked that I wouldnít feel comfortable
discussing policy issues Ė drugs, abortion, central banking Ė
with people who thought they embodied the last best hope for mankindís
survival, because they might feel justified, indeed duty-bound,
to coerce me until I adjusted my view to fit theirs, Dr. Block
expressed relief that I misunderstood libertarianism to Ďthis
gargantuan degree.í ĎPerhaps there is hope for enlisting [Jonas]
in the one true faith (no, I donít speak tongue in cheek, here),í
Dr. Block wrote, Ďwhen once he learns what libertarianism really
is all about.Ö The essence of this freedom philosophy is the non
aggression principle (NAP). This means it is impermissible to
ever Ďcoerceí anyone, for any reason. The NAP further maintains
that no one should ever compel, force, coerce anyone into doing
or not doing anything either, except of course to respect this
very rule of non aggression.í Except to respect the holy NAP.
In other words, to disagree. Thanks, Dr. Block. I rest my case."
I take note
of the fact that in four tries, Jonas has not yet given a list
of the errors of libertarianism, as he sees them. He has forthrightly
and adamantly refused to discuss such issues as "drugs, abortion,
central banking." Lookit, "respecting the NAP"
does not at all mean "agreeing." It only implies that
you keep your mitts to yourself; off of other people and their
property, unless you have their permission. Jonas has not yet
threatened to punch me in the nose, or to in any other way disrespect
my bodily integrity. So, as far as I am concerned, he is a respecter
of the NAP in good standing. Now, he may as a matter of ideology
reject the NAP as a central premise in political philosophy. That
means he favors the threat or the actual use of violence against
innocent people. Ok, fine; he is not an anarcho capitalist, who
rigidly eschews such barbaric behavior. There is still plenty
of room for him in the libertarian universe, possibly as a minarchist,
or a classical liberal.
himself by the latter label. Fine, again. In his view then, if
it is to be congruent with my categorizations, he is neither a
minarchist nor a free market anarchist. Again fine. But, if he
is to carry this "debate" any further, then it is incumbent
upon him to give reasons why he rejects libertarianism
(apart from my "shrill, smug, doctrinaire and millennial"
rhetoric and my "cultism.") If he is to carry this "debate"
any further, he must say why he disagrees with libertarians on
"drugs, abortion, central banking." He has to be specific,
something it would appear is very difficult for him. He does not
owe this to me; rather, he owes it to his readers. He started
off this entire train of events on January 19, 2013 by writing
under the heading of "Donít call me a libertarian."
The only substantive reason he has ever given for not explaining
why is my shrillness, smugness, etc., and cultism. (Yes, he said
it would be "chaotic" but then contradicted himself
on that claim). That will hardly suffice. Mr. Jonas, please donít
"rest (your) case" without explaining yourself at least