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Monday, May 24, 2010

Another Lap Around the NAP

Now, I am not the first one to point out the fact that libertarian (in fact, all liberal) arguments are circular in that they assume libertarian (liberal) premises to reach their conclusion. It was, in fact, Alasdair MacIntyre who first convinced me this is so. So imagine my delight when I discovered a libertarian, Geoffrey Allan Plauché, who had denied libertarians made these circular arguments, completing a lap around the NAP in the space of a single paragraph, and doing so in addressing... Alasdair MacIntyre!

Now, what MacIntyre claims is that liberalism is not the "tradition-neutral" umpire it claims to be, but is itself a tradition, a tradition intolerant of other traditions, and one that will use force to bring them into the liberal order. What does Plauché make of MacIntryre?

"What MacIntyre is ultimate objecting to is the prohibition on violence and other forms of initiatory force. Is this the sort of community tradition he has it in mind to preserve? Perhaps he will reply that if communities are not allowed to enforce their traditions by aggression or the threat thereof, then they will not last in the face of competition. If this is the case, however, then they must not have been as valuable to those who abandoned them for alternatives. Who is MacIntyre, or anyone else who wants to preserve a particular community or tradition, to coerce others into conforming?"

Let's say I live in a old, tight-knit community. (As I happen to do.) And let's say the life of this community is being threatened by the construction of huge high-rise apartment buildings that will bring hordes of transient strangers pouring in, people with no ties to the community, no sense of its values, and no interest in whether or not it survives. (They'll be living in Greenwich in five years.) So my neighbors and I decide to prevent construction of one of these monstrosities by sitting ourselves down (quite peacefully) at the construction site. Per Plauché's "principles," we are engaged in aggression, and when the property owner calls in cops with tasers and billy clubs to clear us out, he is not!

So, when a community acts peacefully to protect itself, it is engaged in "violence." And when the liberal social order responds with violence in order to break up all resistance to the total dominance of market values, that is called "self-defense"! Of course, if we first accept liberalism's counter-intuitive definitions of what constitutes aggression and what constitutes defense, then we will no doubt find that liberalism is perfectly peaceful, and all other traditions are engaged in "aggression" in trying to survive. So Plauché illustrates MacIntyre's point beautifully by running a lap around the NAP himself.

UPDATE: And notice what Plauché assumes is the only reasonable test for whether a tradition should survive: "If this is the case, however, then they must not have been as valuable to those who abandoned them for alternatives." Traditions must allow themselves to be judged by the ultimate liberal criterion of goodness, the market test!

17 comments:

  1. "Now, I am not the first one to point out the fact that libertarian (in fact, all liberal) arguments are circular in that they assume libertarian (liberal) premises to reach their conclusion. It was, in fact, Alasdair MacIntyre who first convinced me this is so. So imagine my delight when I discovered a libertarian, Geoffrey Allan Plauché, who had denied libertarians made these circular arguments, completing a lap around the NAP in the space of a single paragraph, and doing so in addressing... Alasdair MacIntyre!"

    Interesting. You cherry-pick a quote from the middle of my dissertation and somehow make it out to be a free standing argument with no support. Moreover, the passage you quote is not even an entire paragraph, though you pass it off as one! Did you perform a careful reading of my entire dissertation in the past day or two, Gene?

    I don't think I've misinterpreted MacIntyre, but feel free to back up your claim if you can. There is no circularity in that passage you quoted from my dissertation, even taken out of context as it is. Applying a particular conception of aggression to someone's ethical-political position is not circular merely because that person would disagree with the characterization. I'm puzzled as to why you would think that it is. Even taken on its own, out of context, it is not circular. Taken in context, with supporting arguments, and it most certainly is not circular. I do not have to adopt the other person's conception of aggression in order to criticize his position without circularity. It is not necessarily circular to assume the truth of your premises, not that I do that with respect to aggression, libertarian rights, etc. You'll have to do far better than quote things out of context and make unsupported claims of circularity.

    "Now, what MacIntyre claims is that liberalism is not the "tradition-neutral" umpire it claims to be, but is itself a tradition, a tradition intolerant of other traditions, and one that will use force to bring them into the liberal order."

    Does "liberalism" claim not to be a tradition? Maybe some liberals or libertarians make such a claim, but not all do. Do liberals claim that liberalism is tradition-neutral in the sense of being open to all traditions? It would be silly to make such a claim. Of course any tradition or aspects of a tradition that sanction the threat or use of initiatory force (i.e. the violation of rights recognized by liberalism/libertarianism) are deemed illegitimate by liberals. Is it necessarily bad to be intolerant of some things? No. Do liberals need to use force to "one that will use force to bring [adherents of other traditions] into the liberal order"? Not necessarily. We merely want to be left alone, to have our rights respected, for others not to threaten or use initiatory physical force (i.e., what we call aggression) against us. We don't want to be forced into other traditions against our will.

    " And notice what Plauché assumes is the only reasonable test for whether a tradition should survive: "If this is the case, however, then they must not have been as valuable to those who abandoned them for alternatives." Traditions must allow themselves to be judged by the ultimate liberal criterion of goodness, the market test!"

    I did not claim this was the only reasonable test for whether a tradition should survive.

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  2. Nice circular response. You're getting a good groove dug there in that track.

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  3. "So my neighbors and I decide to prevent construction of one of these monstrosities by sitting ourselves down (quite peacefully) at the construction site. Per Plauché's "principles," we are engaged in aggression, and when the property owner calls in cops with tasers and billy clubs to clear us out, he is not!"

    You're not behaving peacefully in this hypothetical. You're trespassing on private property and refusing to leave. You and you friends are the initiators of force in this example. You have broken the peace.

    Not that I would necessarily call the cops on you. There are often other ways to deal with trespassers than call in other criminals to root them out for you.

    "So, when a community acts peacefully to protect itself"

    It's not acting peacefully in your example. That's just your characterization of what they are doing. I know what kind of arguments are generally made in favor of this characterization. Libertarians have dealt with them extensively. And we have provided extensive arguments in favor of our characterization as well. Though one would not know this to listen to you.

    "Of course, if we first accept liberalism's counter-intuitive definitions of what constitutes aggression and what constitutes defense,"

    Counterintuitive? If being consistent is counterintuitive....

    "So Plauché illustrates MacIntyre's point beautifully by running a lap around the NAP himself."

    Gene, assuming the truth of one's premises does not in and of itself make one's argument circular. Of course, I don't do this here anyway.

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  4. "Nice circular response. You're getting a good groove dug there in that track"

    There is nothing circular about my response. But to quote Inigo Montoya, "you keep using that word" but "I do not think it means what you think it means."

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  5. "We merely want to be left alone, to have our rights respected, for others not to threaten or use initiatory physical force (i.e., what we call aggression) against us."

    Left alone to destroy your culture, undermine your way religion, trash your environment, and if you "respect your rights" to do this, we will allow you to continue to retain your silly, non-liberal beliefs... in private.

    And please cut it out with the "physical force" nonsense -- I specifically made my protesters peaceful. Your position is that it's fine to initiate physical force against people who get in the way of liberal values, but then you want to scream "aggression" whenever anyone else tries to preserve their own values.

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  6. "You cherry-pick a quote from the middle of my dissertation and somehow make it out to be a free standing argument with no support."

    Was there a place in the dissertation where you wrote, "I will later introduce an abortion of a paragraph in which I allow MacIntyre's entire argument to sail right over my head -- but it's just a joke!"

    Cause otherwise I don't think the surrounding material will make much difference.

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  7. And I do understand, Geoffrey, that you are being sincere, and literally cannot see that you are moving in a circle -- as Daniel Larison recently noted, one ofthe main features of an ideology is that it acts as a set of blinders. I understand, in particular, because I spent six or so years arguing around the exact same circle myself, and I would have been just as astonished as you are to have someone point this out to me.

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  8. "Was there a place in the dissertation where you wrote, "I will later introduce an abortion of a paragraph in which I allow MacIntyre's entire argument to sail right over my head -- but it's just a joke!"

    "Cause otherwise I don't think the surrounding material will make much difference."

    So, in other words, you didn't bother reading my dissertation. You merely combed through it for a convenient round quote (pardon the pun) that you could struggle to jam into the square hole that is your conception of libertarianism.

    Oh, and it's always nice to learn new things: I see now that disagreeing with someone is letting their arguments fly over my head! Next time I'll be sure to make my arguments soar higher so as not to be overflown! Or should I just kowtow to MacIntyre's authority?

    "And I do understand, Geoffrey, that you are being sincere, and literally cannot see that you are moving in a circle -- as Daniel Larison recently noted, one ofthe main features of an ideology is that it acts as a set of blinders. I understand, in particular, because I spent six or so years arguing around the exact same circle myself, and I would have been just as astonished as you are to have someone point this out to me."

    I just see more of the same unsupported assertions here as well as the continued misunderstanding of what constitutes a circular argument. But, then, I suppose, you're just writing blogposts and comments, after all. No need to contend in a careful and scholarly manner with the actual arguments libertarians make. You already know a priori that they are all wrong in the same way, and you are therefore justified in being rude and dismissive towards any of them without provocation. Gee, that sounds a bit like one of your meddlesome ideologies, doesn't it?

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  9. "Left alone to destroy your culture, undermine your way religion, trash your environment, and if you "respect your rights" to do this, we will allow you to continue to retain your silly, non-liberal beliefs... in private."

    No, you won't. You've admitted that you are willing to invade private property to enforce your preferences on others.

    "And please cut it out with the "physical force" nonsense -- I specifically made my protesters peaceful."

    No, you didn't. You specifically described your protesters trespassing on private property and refusing to leave. That is not peaceful. It involves physical force. They are occupying a space that belongs to someone else without that person's permission.


    "Your position is that it's fine to initiate physical force against people who get in the way of liberal values, but then you want to scream "aggression" whenever anyone else tries to preserve their own values."

    No, my position is that it is never fine to initiate physical force against anyone. Throwing out trespassers who refuse to leave is not initiating physical force. It is retaliatory physical force. Defensive. Self-defensive insofar as one's property is an extension of one's self.

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  10. Looks as if Callahan has embarked on some sort of crusade against freedom? But he used to be a libertarian of sorts? What is he now?

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  11. GAP wrote:

    No, my position is that it is never fine to initiate physical force against anyone. Throwing out trespassers who refuse to leave is not initiating physical force. It is retaliatory physical force. Defensive. Self-defensive insofar as one's property is an extension of one's self.

    Let me just intervene to clarify the terminological dispute here. Geoffrey, Gene is making a distinction between property violation and physical force.

    So in that vocabulary, someone who orders tennis shoes using my credit card is committing theft, but he isn't using physical force against me. (Yes, he's using his body to influence the physical world, but if that's what "initiating physical force" means, then every action involves the use of force.)

    So Gene is trying to decouple the emotional "physical force" description that libertarians often use, as if it is interchangeable with aggression.

    Surely we can concede that from a certain (completely plausible) viewpoint, the Rothbardian security forces who shoot and kill a home invader, have used physical force more than the homeless guy who sleeps in a dumpster even though the owner ordered him to leave.

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  12. Oops I fell into the libertarian bog myself. The term "aggression" is also emotionally charged, Gene would say, especially when the security guards can shoot an intruder and that's not "aggression," but the homeless guy sleeping in my dumpster has committed "aggression" against me.

    Also, note that I am NOT saying I endorse Gene's critique of your dissertation passage. I am not taking a side one way or the other, I'm just trying to make sure you see what Gene's basic point is here. You are defining "aggression" and "force" to mean simply "violation of what I think property rights should be," and yet the reason people can get so indignant about "aggressors" is that it carries the notion of someone hurting somebody else.

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  13. Thank you, Bob, for acknowledging what is really at issue here.

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  14. "Throwing out trespassers who refuse to leave is not initiating physical force. It is retaliatory physical force."

    Riiiiiight. If someone is peacefully sunbathing on a corner of your land, they are "aggressing" against you with "physical force." And when you call security and have them attacked, you are just "retaliating."

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  15. "Looks as if Callahan has embarked on some sort of crusade against freedom?"

    That's right. Because if you're not a libertarian, you're in favor of aggression and against freedom!

    "But he used to be a libertarian of sorts? What is he now?"

    Sensible.

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  16. "You cherry-pick a quote..."

    Actually, Jeffy, I didn't really pick this quote at all. What I did was read the summary of your dissertation, say to myself, "Interesting thesis... I wonder if he tries to respond to MacIntyre?" search for MacIntyre, and then, once I could pick myself up from my laughing fit on the floor, copy and paste this to this blog.

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  17. "sensible"

    Oh OK. But that's not a political label is it? Never mind. I looked around - Now you are a "real conservative"TM ?

    Anyway, I think you have a point in that "owning" land doesn't mean you can rule the people who somehow use your land. But that cuts both ways. All your cultural stuff is not to be respected just because you conservatives own some land.

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