Determinist Liberterian needs your help to unify his two widely apposing ideologies.
July 24, 2007 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Can someone believe in both Liberterianism, Determinism and proudhonism?

I've asked this question before.. but the stasi who run metafilter deemed it subversive and deleted the post.

So Here i am giving it another go (although clearly not much of a go with that last comment)

My problem is this.. I deeply hold some political and philosophical ideologies on life and society but as much as i believe them to be true, I also realise that they completely contradict one another.

Please can you help me find someway to explain/justify/harmonize these beliefs.

Firstly I am a Libertarian.. I believe a human is most productive and creative when he is left to be free. Libertarian governments around the world succeed where as leftist governments are all without acception failures.

I also believe in the works of Adam smith and that the free market is the best way to create a stable economy


I am also a Determinist.. I believe that humans are no more than robots and that freewill does not exist except as an illusion in our consciousness.

and Thirdly

I am a Proudhonist in that I understand that all property anyone ever obtains is achieved only by some form of theft.
posted by complience to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The merits of the question aside...

You need, first of all, to understand the different contexts in which the word "free" is being used. When discussed in terms of libertarianism, you are discussing freedom as opposed to political oppression--the legal ability to behave as one wants (be clear, however, that I am not pretending to offer anything close to a formal definition). Now, the question of freedom in this context has nothing to do with what procedure leads an individual to do what he does. Even if we are actual robots who are controlled by aliens across the universe, all libertarianism means is that we robots who are controlled by aliens across the universe ought not to have laws forced upon us.

Of course, there is a dilemma posed by determinism and moral agency. If we are all just robots, then none of us ever can truly choose to do something, and it is a long-standing assumption that the ability to choose is necessary for moral responsibility. I will not try to explain all the detail of this when a fantastic explanation is available here.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:58 AM on July 24, 2007

I don't really understand the basis of the question. Why is it necessary to try and reconcile these things? I don't think you can reconcile Libertarianism and "proudhonism" (never heard of that one before) based on how you describe it; in fact I'm not even sure that you can reconcile Libertarianism and Determinism.

But that doesn't mean that you can't have a personal philosophy which includes elements of both; it just means that your personal philosophy wouldn't be cleanly Libertarian or Deterministic.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:01 AM on July 24, 2007

Is this what you mean by "proudhonism"?
posted by davy at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2007

Just to clarify: what I'm saying is that it's probably impossible to reconcile Libertarianism (the philosophy) with Determinism (also the philosophy) because they're both independent, internally consistent, mostly self-supporting philosophies.

What you're really looking to do, I think, is create some sort of amalgamation, which includes some subsets of each. But exactly which subsets of each you believe in isn't something anyone here can help you with; so you're pretty much on your own in terms of deciding what you believe and trying to make sure it's consistent.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2007

A lot of MeFites will beat you up for your libertarianism. And while I'm not a libertarian, I'll try a different tack.

You can't, as a human being, really believe in determinism. By that I mean that, because we're all stuck inside our first person perspectives, and we all experience the feeling of freedom, no one can really believe otherwise. This is part of the split between theoretical reason, which leads to determinism, and pratical reason, which doesn't. Immanuel Kant thought that, even though both sorts of reasoning pull in different directions, the practical supercedes the theoretical. Sort of. You might want to read him.
posted by smorange at 9:13 AM on July 24, 2007

No contradiction between determinism and the consequentialist account of libertarianism you might derive from the works of Smith and his successors in economics. You can't be a Randian (or generic libertarian mystic) and a determinist, but I think of this as just another virtue of determinism.

I guess I'm most confused about the "Proudhonist" facet. What do you take the statement "Property is theft" to mean? I mean, they're both like hugely metaphysical ideas of which it's hard to give full accounts. If you take "theft" to include an absolute negative value judgment, then your views are inconsistent, because on the one hand you believe that society is best organized with an institution of private property since that produces the best overall outcomes, but you think it's unacceptable to institute private property. But if you take "theft" simply to stand for the observation that any given regime of private property means imposing boundaries that take away rights that individuals would have under a less restrictive regime, then your views are not contradictory.

I disagree with Kadin, above. I think it's inaccurate to characterize "determinism" as a big, totalizing belief system. The determinism you describe seems to be the consequence of the narrow belief that there's no such thing as free will (bracket discussion of what this means). This doesn't obviously tell you anything about what your political beliefs (beliefs about how society should be organized) ought to be. It does trivially rule out political beliefs that include Not-determinism, but that only somewhat narrows the field of available political beliefs. As noted above, there are libertarianisms that include not-determinism (Randism), but there are also libertarianisms that are agnostic about determinism, like the consequentialist strand into which Adam Smith's thought seems to fit.
posted by grobstein at 9:24 AM on July 24, 2007

Libertarian bashing aside, I think that it's easily reconciled with the facts of physical determinism.

You can easily construct a piece of software with virtual entities maximizing a local quantity (like utility) for each of them following completely deterministic rules. A kind of libertarian just asserts that this is a good (or the best) way to maximize the total utility. There are some assumptions that you need to make that true, which may exist in some arena and not others. Similarly, local utility might be the best of available feasible policy options in some arenas.

An example of this is in what we call your personal life. We do a much better job of maximizing our happiness (some of us, anyway) than AskMe or whatever other entity might make those decisions for us. It's a pretty easy argument that we're all better off and maximize our global utility by minding our own business with regard to our personal lives.

The above is totally consistent with the idea that property is a sham that came about by bloody business. It might be the best way to proceed from here regardless of how it started. Or you might say that a libertarian approach is best in the non-screwed-up areas, and something else in the ones with problems.

Utilitarian libertarianism is a proud tradition in economic thought, in fact one of the dominant ones. Many people disagree, but that's true of everything. Try picking up On Liberty by Mill, or the works looking up the Chicago and Austrian schools of economics.

IANALibertarian, but I used to be.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:25 AM on July 24, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed - go to meta for your LOLIDEOLOGEEZ comments - we'll try to leave this question up to get answers, but seriously, stasi?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2007

So... you're essentially saying things suck and you don't want people to touch your stuff?

1. Libertarian - leave me alone
2. determinism - Things suck
3. "Proudhonist" - everybody sucks
posted by edgeways at 9:32 AM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

So, you're an individualist who believes that some resources are public, in that restricting them as property is in fact a form of theft? Because libertarianism is fairly strongly in support of "what is mine is mine, what's yours is yours."

This solves some of the contradiction in what you broadly paint as "leftist" governments. To my mind, England and France are fairly socialist (especially from an American standpoint, which is where I'm guessing you're coming from) but I don't believe anyone would claim they're failures. I'd assume you're referring to more dictatorial systems where property has been taken at force and redistributed -- resulting in the Soviet bloc, the struggles of China through the cultural revolution, etc.

Might I suggest that you attempt to reconcile your beliefs through experience? Whatever works in your own life, and that of those you respect and can confer with, might be a worthy goal. Note that many of your stated philosophies are more ideals than realities and try to evaluate them as they apply to your day-to-day actions.

Note that I grimaced a little bit because I've known self-described libertarian/"proudhonist" types (your terms) and it usually means "I have strong goals that I am headstrong enough to get done with no one else's help, and I am willing to use the resources available to achieve them." In reality, this turns into "I talk a mean game and end up breaking my friends' posessions while grousing about civil liberties all the time."
posted by mikeh at 9:54 AM on July 24, 2007

While I personally think you're a little batty, I'd love to hear what the minds at AskPhilosophers would say.

Also, if you're worried about non-libertarians deleting your questions for being "subversive" you might avoid saying things like "Libertarian governments around the world succeed where as leftist governments are all without acception failures." It's largely subjective, flame-baitish, and wholly irrelevant to your question.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:58 AM on July 24, 2007

I don't see a conflict between libertarianism and determinism. Determinism does not mean that one is immune to outside influences. It is not evidence of free will to say that if I were given a choice between soup or salad, I would choose the soup, but if someone were pointing a gun at me telling me to have the salad, I would then choose the salad. This is not inconsistent from determinism.

Libertarianism holds that the best government is that which coerces its subjects as little as possible. Since the existence of coercion is not anathema to determinism, the two are not in conflict.

As for "Proudhonism," you might be interested in reading about geolibertarianism. While geolibertarians don't hold that all property is theft, they would argue that treating land as private property is theft.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:01 AM on July 24, 2007

re: stasi, I thought that was just absurdist ribbing. I don't think he meant a genuine offense. I actually giggled a little at the over-the-top nature of it. If he really meant it then he's just delusional.

Onward to the question at hand, adherence to strict determinism would basically make all other facets of your question moot. If you genuinely believe in determinism (and, coincidentally, how could you not?), then any other beliefs you have or structures you surround yourself with are necessarily irrelevant.

DevilsAdvocate is not taking the consequences of total determinism far enough in his examples. Everything that can happen has already happened. Our lives are just a long line of dominoes that have begun being toppled, and will follow on to their preset destination.

As in a previous thread on this topic, I cannot abide any sense of determinism in my own personal philosophy, or else it immediately resolves down to fatalism or nihilism. Why bother/nothing matters/nothing can be done anyway. Then I get very depressed.

Also, someone needs to make a comic strip about Libertarian Librarians.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:33 AM on July 24, 2007

Which "Libertarian governments" are you talking about?

I think you can probably believe in all three ideologies and embrace the contradictions since any of them actually have internal contradictions.
posted by bshort at 10:46 AM on July 24, 2007

If you genuinely believe in determinism (and, coincidentally, how could you not?), then any other beliefs you have or structures you surround yourself with are necessarily irrelevant.

No, they're not, because determinism does not mean that one is immune to external influences. One may not have a choice whether or not to read Adam Smith, for example, but reading Adam Smith can affect one's actions, even in a deterministic universe.

I cannot abide any sense of determinism in my own personal philosophy, or else it immediately resolves down to fatalism or nihilism. Why bother/nothing matters/nothing can be done anyway. Then I get very depressed.

You can't abide any sense of determinism because you haven't fully committed to it. The thought of determinism is only depressing to someone who still believes in free will deep in his heart. "Why bother?" presupposes that one has a choice about whether to bother or not.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:46 AM on July 24, 2007

Libertarian governments around the world succeed where as leftist governments are all without acception failures.

Why is it that people are so insistent that libertarianism and socialism are opposite ends of the one spectrum? Is it true that no libertarian socialists exist in America? (?!) From the
Political compass
(I've added emphasis to the part that should be particular relevant to the question asker):

You can't be libertarian and left wing

This is almost exclusively an American response, overlooking the undoubtedly libertarian tradition of European anarcho-syndicalism. It was, after all, the important French anarchist thinker Proudhon who declared that property is theft.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the likes of Emma Goldman were identified as libertarians long before the term was adopted by some economic rightwingers. And what about the libertarian collectives of the mid-late 1800s and 1960s?

Americans like Noam Chomsky can claim the label 'libertarian socialist' with the same validity that Milton Friedman can be considered a 'libertarian capitalist'.

The assumption that Social Darwinism delivers more social freedom is questionable. The welfare states of, for example, Sweden and The Netherlands, abolished capital punishment decades ago and are at the forefront of progressive legislation for women, gays and ethnic minorities - not to mention anti-censorship. Such established social democracies consistently score highest in the widely respected Freedom House annual survey on civil liberties. Their detailed checklist can be viewed here. Such social developments would presumably be envied by genuine libertarians in socially conservative countries - even if their taxes are lower.

posted by PuGZ at 1:33 PM on July 24, 2007

I think you're looking for some form of compatibilism. Also, see John Christman's The Myth of Property. I think you will find that Proudhon is ultimately not compatible with libertarianism, though that position is certainly compatible with skepticism about state interference.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:40 PM on July 24, 2007

One may not have a choice whether or not to read Adam Smith, for example, but reading Adam Smith can affect one's actions, even in a deterministic universe.

Bollocks. You can't have it both ways.

If you have no choice in reading Smith, then you certainly have no choice in how it affects your actions.

How you act after reading Smith is exactly the way you were always going to act. Your actions afterwards were just as determined as you reading Smith in the first place.

It sounds like you need to get your heart right with regard to free will. ;)

Hard to give up isn't it?
posted by Ynoxas at 2:08 PM on July 24, 2007

If you have no choice in reading Smith, then you certainly have no choice in how it affects your actions.

You're misunderstanding me. I didn't say that you have a choice in how reading Smith affects your actions. I said only that reading Smith does affect your actions, thus refuting your statement that "any other beliefs you have or structures you surround yourself with are necessarily irrelevant." You don't have a choice in how reading Smith affects your actions, but that doesn't mean that reading Smith was irrelevant, nor does it mean that you would have done exactly the same thing if you hadn't read Smith.

And yes, I'm aware that under a deterministic worldview, "if you hadn't read Smith" isn't a possibility, but that doesn't make it meaningless to consider what would have happened if you hadn't read Smith. We can't change the past, but that doesn't mean "What if Booth had not shot Lincoln?" is a meaningless question.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:41 PM on July 24, 2007

I don't understand why you feel those values are contradictory. Libertarianism as a system can exist in a subordinate space to determinism. Even if free will is illusory, one can still pretend to act as if it is real, and would in fact be compelled to if determinism is the case. As for Proudhonism and Libertarianism, you just want a system to protect the property that you or your ancestors stole; who wouldn't?

Note that I think you are a little nuts, but that's beside the point.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:02 PM on July 24, 2007

No law says that your beliefs need to be consistent with each other. Perhaps your different moods cause you to believe one or another of these to different degrees at different times. If you want to be more consistent, examine WHY you believe these things. In what situations or idealized worlds do they seem true? I'd suggest learning more about each and also understanding why these extremes of philosophy aren't workable with real live humans.

If you believe in robotic determinism, doesn't it render any belief or non-belief in the others moot? You may robotically believe or not believe and just go ahead with whatever actions you were programmed to do anyway. No consistency of belief and action is required here.

As for Libertarianism and Proudhonism (which I've never heard of; I'm just going on your definition of it), it seems they are polar opposites. A libertarian might say that anything that stood in the way of his ownership of something was theft. You define Proudhonism as all ownership being theft. I suspect that different ideals are playing out in your mind. In the real world, there are strains of each of these philosophies and a hundred more. But they can't be applied algorithmically to society.
posted by DarkForest at 6:27 PM on July 24, 2007

I think it would be easier for you to resolve the contradictions in your beliefs if you first consider that all three of your descriptions of them are overly simplistic, and hence misleading. Determinism vis-a-vis libertarianism is neither here nor there: you can simply say you're destined to believe in the free market, if that's all those two words mean, although I think myself it would be much more complicated. Similarly, you can create a variety of "libertarianism" based on free associations of people organized along anarcho-socialist communal lines, but I think your current understanding of all three belief systems is altogether too facile, and could benefit from a great deal of supplemental reading that other Mefites could better provide.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:44 PM on July 24, 2007

"Firstly, the libertarianism shows a lack of critical thinking" -- pompomtom, you forgot to add "because I say so!" anyway, I'll try to improve on the ironic lack of critical thinking in this prior answer. Your answer probably lies in examining what led you to these beliefs -- there must have been experiences you've had and/or things you've observed that have led you to these beliefs, maybe you should think about these formative experiences through the lens of each of these belief systems?

As others have said, Libertarianism does tend to be a taboo in MeFi and you will be censured for thinking outside the herd of independent minds.
posted by mattholomew at 7:19 PM on July 24, 2007

"No law says that your beliefs need to be consistent."

Except, of course, for that pesky law of non-contradiction. Everyone ought to aspire to consistent beliefs. For the good of one and all.

(But, I agree with the rest of DarkForest's first paragraph. It's just that that is good advice as to how to get one's beliefs more consistent, not evidence that one need not seek consistency.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:57 PM on July 24, 2007

I can't help with the determinism, but when it comes to the free market libertarian/Proudhonist part, you might want to look into Mutualism. I wouldn't say it's exactly a pure synthesis of those two, but it's strongly influenced by both of them.
posted by a louis wain cat at 11:36 PM on July 24, 2007

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