As the blog of a libertarian skeptic, one can expect the usual healthy fear of statism, and a frank discussion of the ways and means of resisting it through the free flow of information and the unrestricted private ownership of arms.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


I've been thinking quite a bit about governments in the abstract, and my own personal place in the greater political universe.

It seems that my thought process works in two directions; I either write a small concept piece against an idea I have held for a long time (such as my essay on Limited Capitalism a few years ago) and then retreat from it with a large apology (my epic Livejournal debate post In Defense of Capitalism in 17 Parts), or I write a large apology or defense and then arrive at a small, divergent concept.

My defense of libertarianism is one of the latter type. My exposure to the furthest extreme of the libertarian ideal, embodied in the writings and followers of Lysander Spooner, I am called to question some things myself.

Perhaps I was too hasty in dismissing Robert Locke's interest of what happens to children in the libertarian state. I think perhaps the treatment of children may be the key to the entire question of government. I was recently at a meeting with a half dozen spoonerites, and the subject of children came up. I had been attempting to figure out what the devil would happen to the age of majority/consent if you eliminated the traditional role of government in the matter. The impression I received from the group was that they thought that the harms that come to individuals because of imperfections in a hands-off system are simply the cost paid for the benefits of non-interference. However, I think that the spoonerites cannot look past their distaste for govenment to see the problems, or even the very principle of justice.

I have been reading a lot of Nozick these days, and I agree with his view of justice. The realm of justice is that of proper compensation for harm. This applies to all degrees and realms of harm. If children are harmed because of lack of oversight, that is injustice. If every family is its own sovereign unit, who will be able to demand justice for the children if they are harmed by abusive parents? I know how rare abusive parents are in the real world, but to some degree that rarity is the result of the knowledge that abuse will not go unchallenged. What I am saying is that any system of human order which allows children to come to harm, either because the parents are not overseen or because the parents are given no authority to oversee their children, is insane. This is not a problem in mainstream libertarianism, but it does have a hold in spoonerism.

This whole issue arose from a question of mine to this group: What is the age of majority in a state of nature? I believe the consensus answer was: Whatever the parents believe it to be, unless the child can prove his independence earlier. My first instinct is to think of this as a problem, what if the parents are unethical and/or the child is too weak/disabled to assert their independence? There is the possibility that the problem is imagined, since in a social darwinist view natural weakness of body or character is not the responsibility of society.

What I am really concerned with is the relationship of this dynamic concept of the age of majority/consent to the role of individuals in a governed society. Legislating a broad stroke age for this and that is unjust. It prevents those of early talent from applying it and it allows those of substandard merit to do things they really do not have the ability to do effectively or responsibly. What we must deal with is what gives men rights? Does a three year old have the right to wield a loaded gun (although it would probably have to be a .25 ACP)? If a three year old human being does not have this right, why does a 30 year old? Simply because 27 sets of 365 or 366 days have passed? Time cannot be a reasonable criterion. It must be merit. I have met teenagers who are as much or more deserving of and potentially responsible for a handgun than some 20 and 30 somethings I have also met. I believe that this is the key to a realistic application of freedoms and political rights and privileges in a governed society.

The problem with communism has been that it requires a sort of perfect humanity to work (I say "a sort" because it is a specific idea of perfection, one which an objectivist such as myself sees as wrong). I think that the extremes of spoonerite thought reveal a weakness in libertarianism and indeed in the whole concept of government in the Western tradition: the assumption that a uniform application of age-based limits on action can ever be just; or, perhaps more simply, the idea that humans are (perfectly) simple enough that they each develop at the same rate every time and are due the same things regardless of anything but time elapsed in growth.

The answer to this is meritocracy. Anything that can be denied to a person for lack of ability or responsibility as a child can be denied until the reasons for denial are allayed (as long as it takes!). Anything that is allowed to somebody because they meet criteria must be allowed to anybody if they meet those same criteria, regardless of their unknown intent, presence or lack of need, or whether or not their allowance is approved of by their neighbors/peers whatever. (I'm thinking about private reflections of government monopolies.) I am certainly not the first to think that perhaps society should be governed by standardized tests; however, I should hope that at least my approach to justifying it is somewhat original.

As I have proved the natural need and grant of authority to my own satisfaction, the problem which remains is how to set up such a system of testing so that it will be just, effective, and resistant to corruption. That problem exceeds my ability to find a solution at this time. I will revisit it.


Blogger Kevin said...

You've blown over some important questions.

Who judges "harm"?

Who brings the accusation?

Who sets the standards, and how does a non-group agree to them?

This, I think, is one reason that government of some type always arises in groups of people. There is a human need of authority in order to define justice, much less provide it.


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Blogger The New Samosatan said...

I hate to make appeals to the old "common sense," but it's unavoidable. I don't see any real need to deviate much from the process used in courts today. An accusation could be brought by the person perceived to be harmed or a 3rd party of the person harmed is incapable of bringing the accusation himself. The case would be judged to meet a minimum standard or threshold of merit and would move forward to be finally judged by arguments and proofs to whether the "harm" is real and reasonable.

Standards come in the form of precedents as to what has been accepted before and why. If people do not agree to those standards then they form their own system of justice (if you want any depth on that I suggest you pick it up with Nozick. There is no way in hell that I can summarize all he said regarding parallel differing systems of justice in a minimalist state or state of nature).


Blogger The New Samosatan said...

To simplify my response, I'm not suggesting a new system of justice, I'm only suggesting different criteria for legal requirements. These criteria would be established by (I would assume) something akin to congressional hearings of experts in the relevant field before legislating requirements.



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