State – Society – Individual

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I came across this Facebook post a few days ago. Since that post, the conversations about the same and similar subjects became even more pronounced.

Marco’s post asked two basic questions:

  • What should be the proper relationship between our political and personal/moral/social views?
  • What should be the party’s position about people (especially candidates) expressing those views and using the party as a public platform to advocate them?

In subsequent conversations the second question got a little more crystalized into “how can the party ensure the ideological consistency of its message” and a third with a closely related fourth question emerged:

  • How to resolve the conflicts arising from differing social views between party members?
  • How far should we go in our efforts to win the support of special interest groups whose members may hold views very much opposed to libertarian principles?

The problem behind the first set of questions is the binary perception of the libertarian ideals. It is us versus them, the libertarians against the statists, the individualists against the collectivists, the individual against the state. Proper discussion of the third element, the role of civil society is missing from most classical libertarian literature, ESPECIALLY from Ayn Rand who had absolutely no consideration for it.

The political reality of the world we live in is the result of the interactions between the individual, society and the state.
The leftists like to conflate the notion of society with the notion of the state. When they say society, they usually mean the state. This is not by accident but by  design. The individual is not a match to the power of the state but society is. In order to be truly successful, the state must weaken society by co-opting its functions. The way this is done in practice, is by pretending that the state equals society.

As I pointed out in an earlier post “What’s next? Your goat?

“In the state-society-individual trichotomy, the state is in a constant conflict with both society and individuals. The state is most effective when individuals are atomized and the different groups of society are pitted against each other. That is how the state grows. Using its power to take over the functions of civil society in a slow process of ‘divide and conquer’, a process of conferring benefits to one group at the expense of others, strengthening its position as the arbitrator of social morality.”

The very essence of libertarianism is the clear separation of these three spheres. When we try to design libertarian policies, we have to be aware of and very clear about the differences. We have determine which human interactions, which issues are matters of individual rights, functions of civil society or things requiring the power of the state.

Individual rights

The most important individual right is self-ownership and EVERYTHING that grows out of it. The right to do whatever you wish with your own body. The right of ownership of the fruits of your labor. The right to freely associate with others. The right to voice your opinion. The right to conduct your business in whatever way you wish as long as you do not directly harm others in the process.

Societal functions

Society is where we interact with each other as individuals and act together as a group. Where we communicate with a set of codes called language; where we exchange goods with each other; where we freely associate and decide how to accomplish certain tasks together. Society is where we help each other. Society is the realm of voluntary exchanges, interactions and associations.
Marriage is a social function, the state should have nothing to do with it.
Welfare and social assistance is a social function, the state should have nothing to do with it.

State power

The essence of the state is the power to compel. Properly used, the state may compel the individual not to aggress against another individual. To compel social groups not to advocate or perpetrate violent acts or coerce individuals or other groups. A proper use of the power of the state may the settling of disputes between individuals, social groups and the business.

Social conservatism and social progressivism are insidious versions of statism, trying to use the power of the state to force their social norms onto the whole of society. The problem is not just the coercion, but the conflicts that it creates.
Gays, for example, should have the right to do whatever they wish, except to compel others to do something against their will. When the power of the state forces a baker to bake a cake for a same sex wedding that is the enslavement of the baker. When a Muslim Barber is forced to cut the hair of a woman against his will that is a serious violation of his rights. When a Muslim woman has the right to destroy the image of a company that took years and millions to build, that is an egregious violation of both property rights and the freedom of association.

What makes both the left and the right equally dangerous is their good intentions. Both the left and the right want to use the power of the state to do good. Good according to their ideals. Both sides believe that this world could be made into a much better places if only they could coerce all greedy, stupid, immoral, selfish, licentious, irresponsible people to behave according to their vision of goodness.

What makes a good libertarian is the recognition of the futility of these efforts. The state has never been able to create a better society. …. Or a better economy…… Or a better individual.
Only individuals can better themselves and only society can solve society’s problems. Racism, poverty, education, tolerance, health-care should all be left to the market and civil society.

What makes this problem very challenging is the allure of using power. It is much easier to force someone to do things than to convince him to do it on his free will. The problem with special interest groups is that more often than not they seek support for their positive action plans and libertarians should be well advised to make it clear where the line is between the support for their freedom to do things and the support for their actual cause or the use of state power to advance it. The dark side of the allure of using power is the potential material advantage one can gain from it, but let’s not complicate the issue with this aspect now.

The task of libertarians should not be the finding of answers to various social problems but to free society and the individual to deal with them.
Neither should libertarians be expected to take sides on these issues. It should not matter what libertarians think about homosexuality, drugs, guns and prostitution, gods, religion and education as long as they can stay united in their dedication to free all of these issues from the control of the state.

The message of the party should be clear:
We do not take sides on social issues. We advocate freedom, not particular outcomes.

I believe most of us would agree on these principles, but we all know that it is not that simple when an aggressive question is thrown at us. A libertarian Q&A on “What’s your position on…….” and even “What can you do for me concerning…….”

Send me whatever you want on that list so that we can together work it into a document with common ground.

Send me anything people are asking from you when you talk about liberty.

2 replies on “State – Society – Individual”

  1. Gene Balfour says:
    Excellent presentation Zork. Exactly on point.
  2. k1ttenwrath says:
    Zork I am so impressed with your most recent entry. You eloquently describe what sets apart the trichotomy State, Society, and the Individual. A libertarian minded person has a distinguishing difference – one who advocates freedom, civil obedience (order), and recognizes natural born rights which are negative rights. Libertarians yearn to minimize the size of the State in our lives as individuals and stay clear of positive rights that leave a collectivist (utilitarian) society which inevitably grows the scope of the State, leaving taxpayers to carry the burden of debt.

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