Letters

|

DISCORD FAN

Though I am a reader as yet outside the circle of libertarianism (but increasingly feeling its tug), I was especially taken by George S. Swan's "Discord in Utopia" [October].

Swan has a remarkably impartial and unclouded perspective. More than anything else, in a matter of a few insightful pages, he has demonstrated the critical need for continued articulation of libertarian principles and policy.

My compliments to REASON magazine for providing a framework within which such a need can be met.

James Chesher
Santa Barbara, CA

PROPERTY RIGHTS

Several, although admittedly not all, of the "problems" discussed in George S. Swan's "Discord in Utopia" stem from the same fallacy: that of accepting into a "utopian" libertarian society certain traditional statist institutions. The issue of airlines flying over private property derives from the omission of a necessary definition of the owned property: namely its vertical dimensions. Thus the purchaser of a piece of land should obtain ownership rights to a three dimensional parcel extending so many feet above the ungraded surface of the land (or to a certain elevation) and similarly should own the land to a certain depth below the surface. The upper limit may also serve to limit the construction of high rise buildings in front of scenic property, provided developers write the appropriate clauses into the purchase contract (or the owners of the scenic property purchase the air space over the property in front of them), while the lower limit of owned property defines rights in the case of oblique drilling for oil (or of mining) beneath private property. (The law must define liability to the driller or miner should their activities result in damage to the property above.)

Similarly, while wiretapping is an invasion of private property rights, it is not the rights of the telephone user, whose conversation is being monitored, whose rights are invaded, but those of the private telephone company whose wires are being tapped. If your present telephone company permits wiretapping by authorized government officials, and it is the company's decision what constitutes "authorized," and you desire an untapped line, then you are free to contract with another company which does not permit tapping, provided such a firm exists.

Regarding the "problem" of nudity, fornication, or sadism on "public" streets, how does one allow public property in a utopian libertarian society in the first place? Clearly all public thoroughfares are privately owned by some individual or group, who grants permission to the public to use them for specified purposes, and those specified purposes may permit, or prohibit, any form of behavior that the owner chooses.

The question of the drive-in theater showing pornographic movies relates to the subject matter of another article in the same issue of REASON: "How to Fight Land Use Planning" by John McClaughry. The issue here is: does a government have the right to restrict the use to which private property is put, and if they do, is the property still "private?" Clearly the libertarian answer is no, unless such restrictions are written into the purchase contract. Nor can a government require such restrictions on future sales of property, for this would violate the rights of the present property owners to dispose of the property as they choose.

Donald L. Blanchard
Lakewood, CO

DISCORD REVISITED

Mr. Swan's "Discord in Utopia" article clearly indicates why conflicts exist in the libertarian philosophical sphere—a failure to grasp the full ramifications of total acceptance of libertarian policy. Mr. Swan's arguments rather than demonstrating fundamental or irreconcilable differences in his "real world" application of libertarian doctrine in the most part indicate muddled thinking on behalf of the various authors cited and a persistance in Swan's mind of the sanctity of the state.

Swan with his wire tap conflict opposes Murray Rothbard and the U.S. Supreme Court (a libertarian institution???). He irrationally concludes—else why cite it—that the Court could possibly be presenting a libertarian position when they rule that it is noninvasive to tap a phone so long as the tap is placed beyond the boundaries of the individual's property. Q.E.D. It is philosophically permissible to jam airwaves of television broadcasters, assuming the signal has left the transmitter. In a libertarian society, the individual would contract with the phone company of his choice with regard to the privacy of his conversations. I for one, and the market in general, would certainly command that communications remain privileged. Thus I see neither a philosophical dilemma nor a problem of practical implementation.

Mr. Swan also "plays fast and loose" in quoting Adam Smith out of context concerning conspiracy by businessmen against free trade as a problem facing "real world" libertarianism. Smith was concerned about a government-enforced mercantile (or the contemporary corporate) state. In a free market, no conspiracy or cartel will long survive lacking the backing of the guns of government.

As Mr. Swan asserted discord exists among those with a true libertarian understanding (certainly not the Supreme Court, Milton Friedman, and questionably Ayn Rand), the burden of proof falls upon him to justify his hypothesis. Mr. Swan himself shows an unsettled philosophical base. He opens his article with a rather objectivist viewpoint that questions the threat of libertarian utopia to productive inventors and authors, yet he closes anxious that productive capitalists will somehow conspire to exploit us—a statist cliche. If nothing else, Mr. Swan's article makes a strong case for the anarcho-capitalist, for he demonstrates that even a limited government with so-called libertarian jurists like himself in control can be quite toxic to freedom.

Douglas R. Colkitt
Philadelphia, PA

MR. SWAN REPLIES: The point is not that in each controversy libertarianism fails to mandate one particular policy. The points are that identifying this policy is so difficult that even in a libertarian utopia the honest will clash, and that their differences will be reenforced by the profit motive.

Mr. Blanchard exemplifies the ambiguity of rights to realty encompassing the "certain elevation" above and "certain depth" below the surface. (Orwell complained that in English "certain amount" means an uncertain amount.) Title is only as good as the homesteader's; Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia notes how vague is the homestead principle:

If a private astronaut clears a place on Mars, has he mixed his labor with (so that he comes to own) the whole planet, the whole uninhabited universe, or just a particular plot? Which plot does an act bring under ownership? The minimal (possibly disconnected) area such that an act decreases entropy in that area, and not elsewhere? Can virgin land (for the purposes of ecological investigation by high-flying airplane) come under ownership by a Lockean [homestead] process? Building a fence around a territory presumably would make me the owner only of the fence (and the land immediately underneath it).

Rothbard in Man, Economy, and State (Vol. I) denies that Columbus could via discovery own an entire continent, but is no more precise in detailing the exact reach of the homestead right.

Political theorist David Friedman admits that libertarian policy is not self-evident. He concedes in The Machinery of Freedom that the nonaggression principle "leaves open the question of how one acquires ownership of things that are not created or that are not entirely created, such as land and mineral resources. There is disagreement among libertarians on this question." —G.S.S.

KUDOS

Congratulations for "Discord in Utopia" by George S. Swan. The "knee-jerk libertarian" needs to be criticized too!

William A. Ware
Houston, TX

CONSERVATIVES IN DISGUISE?

George Swan's article, although well written, confirms my worst fears about the libertarian movement generally. Namely, there is a lot of contemporary American conservatism under a libertarian label and very little of the real thing reflected in the movement's largest professional publication. I can't possibly deal here with the entire article but shall rather try to use a few examples to illustrate my points.

I view the notion of a "libertarian state" as a contradiction in terms. Mr. Swan says that "Economically motivated political ferment over at least narrow issues will accompany even a libertarian [sic] state." Certainly that would be true. States are monopolies and the source of all monopolies. He says that "Marxists and less doctrinaire opponents of the libertarian movement will be quick to expose the problems inherent in a utopian polity wherein great property ownership is enjoyed by the few." He also cites reliable evidence that "in the U.S. 92 percent of the trust holdings are owned by one percent of the adults" etc.

I am no socialist, let alone a Marxist. Yet, I don't find that state of affairs either libertarian or utopian. A truly laissez-faire marketplace does not lead to economic concentration. The 19th century may have been freer but it was hardly a truly free market by classical liberal standards, not to speak of radical libertarian standards. Particularly during and after the Civil War, America was increasingly dominated by vast economic concentrations that are precisely traceable to massive state privileges and interventions. Even earlier, the Federalists gave us the Constitution that created what Albert Jay Nock called the "Merchant state." Hamiltonian centralization prevailed over the more libertarian Jeffersonian liberalism.

Persons of great wealth have almost to a man supported statist policies. The middle classes have been divided on the issue of "liberty vs. the State." The lower classes have also been divided, howbeit many have been tricked into being socialists, due partially to the failure of so-called defenders of liberty to distinguish between justly and unjustly acquired property, a concept basic to true libertarianism itself. Seldom, if ever, have the middle classes and lower classes united and waged a revolutionary struggle against those ruling classes that are the soul of every state. Such revolutions that have existed in this century are usually betrayed or co-opted in some respect by well placed conspiratorial forces, as witness the history of the Russian Revolution and the victory of the reactionary Bolsheviks.

As for honest disagreements between libertarians, we can never solve them by relying on "Central Committees" and large scale organizations trying to work within the state machinery. It will be mostly solved by spreading the word and taking individual and small scale actions to implement the changes we desire in the here and now. That means even taking revolutionary actions when, if and where such is strategically and tactically prudent.

Michael A. Nash
Memphis, TN

MORMON CHURCH REVISITED

I feel compelled to answer the letter of Mr. Joseph K. Stumph, Jr., regarding the Mormon Church and Libertarianism [October]. Mr. Stumph makes several claims for the Mormon Church which I will contradict.

I am not an atheist. But the Mormon Church is no more capable of proving the existence of a "God" or "Creator" or "Universal Intelligence" than I am. Mr. Stumph makes statements about the Laws of God, and says that God condemns homosexuality. Mr. Stumph has no means of proving that statement, certainly not on any objective basis. Nor has he any means of proving that the book which his church and others claim is the Word of God has any origin in the Almighty. It is a collection of writings whose origin is in almost all cases uncertain. I have no basis for believing that the men who said "Thus saith the Lord" were anything other than madmen, and that the miracles which were supposed to have been done by them were anything other than clever magic tricks, if they were performed at all.

In any court of law, the statements contained in the Bible could be considered nothing more than hearsay evidence: those who advocate that book and the Book of Mormon can not even claim second-hand acquaintance with the authors of the writings: it is no more reasonable to place faith in them than it is to believe the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, given the tendency of human beings to mythologize their heroes. To reasonable people, not terrorized by dogma, the writings of those books deserve to be treated with the respect reserved for the myths of the Greeks.

How can Mr. Stumph claim that the Mormon Church is on the side of Liberty when the Book upon which that faith is based demands the murder of those who deviate from its sexual mores? There is nothing libertarian about the statement "Believe or be damned," and that is exactly the attitude taken by the Mormon Church and all other fundamentalist groups.

I certainly maintain the right of all religious groups to say "This is our opinion." But when the say "Thus saith the Lord," I can only say they are being intellectually and morally dishonest, and deserve to burn in hell more surely than those they condemn.

John R. Vernon
Libertarians for Gay Rights
Oklahoma City, OK

COSMIC MISUNDERSTANDING

Mr. Morrone's interpretation of Carlos Castaneda and Joseph Pearce [September] is typical of the difficulties that people have with these writers.

All of Mr. Morrone's comments are so remote from Castaneda and Pearce that there is simply no place of contact for discussion, indicating that Morrone is so deeply submerged and hypnotized by his own point of view that observations are impossible.

This may be the effect of the hidden processes emanating from computer programming involvement.

Alexander Steinmetz
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

MILITIA EFFECTIVENESS

I have been interested in the recent debate over the effectiveness of the militia in the American Revolution; it has been debated for nearly 200 years. Some historians (e.g. McCredy) contend that the militia liberated the southern colonies despite the Continental Army. Taking just the battles fought in my state of South Carolina (more than any other state except New Jersey, and perhaps New York) we find that the militia, when given good officers and equipment, did very well. The one instance of the militia panicking (Camden) was with green recruits, who had not even been shown how to use the weapons that had just been issued. Furthermore the American troops at Camden had had nothing to eat for several days except green peaches, and half the troops were out with dysentery, which may have been another reason for running. The commander, Gage, ran also, not dismounting until he reached Charlotte, NC, leaving DeKalb and the Maryland and Delaware Continentals in the lurch.

On the other hand, it was the Maryland Continentals (Gunby's regt.) who broke and ran at the battle of Hobkirk Hill, while the Virginia militia held. At Eutaw Springs, the North Carolina militia retreated, after 17 volleys, but the second line, the North Carolina Continentals behind them held. Meanwhile, at the other end, the mounted militia had to rescue the Continental cavalry, as the British were using a garden palisade and the dormer windows of a three-story house as fortifications.

As for frontiersmen coming down out of the mountains with their long rifles and shooting at the British from behind rocks and trees, this is pretty much exactly what happened at Musgrove's Mill, and again at King's mountain. In both cases the British losses, captured and killed, were as many or more than the entire American force, composed of Georgia and Carolina militia solely.

The only battle fought solely by Continental troops, Buford's Massacre, was a total disaster, but against superior forces. Likewise, the second siege of Ninety-Six, by Greene's Continentals with only about 50 militia auxiliaries, was unsuccessful. But the militia and Continental cavalry took British posts at Ft. Watson (with a siege tower) and Ft. Motte (with fire arrows, setting the British powder depot on fire).

At the first siege of Charleston (Ft. Moultrie), the militia held off the British navy (which could not pass the forts guarding the harbor) and the British army (which had landed on the Isle of Palms, but couldn't cross to Sullivan's Island because of the militia riflemen). At the second siege, the Continentals let themselves be trapped in the city itself, without a fight, when the British invaded overland from Georgia, and starved out without a real fight.

There's only one other major battle: Cowpens. There the militia and sharpshooters faked a retreat, led the British regulars into a prepared ambush, reformed behind their own lines (an operation of considerable difficulty) and attacked the British on the opposite wing, completing a classic double envelopment. At this battle it was British regulars who ran away.

John T. Harllee
York, SC

MONDALE, BABY DESTROYER

Senator Walter Mondale put a bill through the Senate setting staffing standards for the new Federal day-care program. It was opposed on the basis that the states should set their own standards. It should have been opposed because it will destroy the hopes of millions of children ever getting any kind of an education. It interferes directly in their most important learning years with adult ego-centered "teaching."

It requires one adult for two babies. You can imagine 10 women sitting, smoking, drinking coffee, in an immense boondoggle, while 20 babies sleep peacefully on. But the destruction is saved for the children old enough to need to be left alone. His bill requires one adult for each five children. This is brutal.

We are programmed by millions of years of survival to learn at a tremendous rate from birth. Every baby is born a genius, as Bucky Fuller points out, but it is soon beaten out of him. Whether or not he will ever get a formal education is learned by age 1½, and it is measurable by 3. The Department of Education recently reported that nearly half of the nation's adults are functionally illiterate after a dozen years apiece enslaved. Inability should be determined by age 3, and those children should never be put into a dozen years of slavery for the profit of a teachers' empire. They have been turned off one-to-one and no thirty-to-one fakery can turn them back on. (There are ways, but not by teaching.)

The baby learns a foreign language by age 2, (his mother's, but it can be several at the same time), reaches half of his intellectual growth by age 4, 80 percent of it by 6, when the schools take over and pretend to educate him.

Give him an electric typewriter at something over age 2 and he will teach himself to read and write by 3, as we are working on in some Montessori environments. You can find their schools with 20 to 30 children, all furiously practicing to learn to use their minds, bodies, all their senses, with one teacher and a helper staying out of the way. The children go over and over the same fascinating games until they put them aside for others.

You can imagine the destruction that will be wrought when one "teacher" is trying to justify her pay by "teaching" every child in sight! The poor youngsters will lose their one chance to learn how to learn, all for the profit of the teachers. AFL-CIO teachers unions induced HEW to put a billion dollars in the next budget so they can extend their enslavement to age 3. You can imagine the destruction of ability to thrive that will result!

The 13th Amendment in effect calls mandatory attendance laws unconstitutional. Slavery is forbidden except as punishment for crime, except that children are criminals by this definition. When nearly half of the slaves get no benefit, then we must conclude that the system is organized for the profit of the operators, the politicians and teachers, the children are merely the game-pieces, and a dozen years of hate-filled slavery is a small price for the children to pay so their parents don't have to be responsible for them.

Thomas S. Booz
Plantation, FL

Advertisement