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At My Real Job: The State, the Clan, and Individual Liberty

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This month’s Cato Unbound discusses Mark S. Weiner’s book The Rule of the Clan. It’s been one of the most interesting ever, if I may say so myself.

Liberalism is usually premised on some kind of ethical individualism: Liberal polities tend to judge people, and usually let people act, as if they were autonomous, individual agents. Liberal polities may make exceptions, but these typically stem from an overriding concern for individual autonomy. Thus even apparent violations of individual autonomy (for some) are justified liberally, in that they are expected to provide a still greater or more fundamental individual autonomy (for others).

In many flavors of liberalism, including my own, our autonomy is the very reason why we have societies in the first place: Paradoxically, we become more self-authoring, and we get better at it, when we author ourselves in the presence of others, from whom we can learn, and with whom we can share our labors and joys. I think people who live in a relatively healthy society are commonly better at authoring themselves.

The above — which is fuzzy on purpose — encompasses both modern and classical liberalism. Both care about autonomy. I’m in the classical camp, of course, but I imagine most modern liberals will also be okay with what I’ve written above. At Cato Unbound this month, our lead essayist is a modern liberal, Professor Mark S. Weiner, who poses a serious challenge to (at least certain forms of) libertarianism. He writes:

Many conservatives argue as a basic tenet of their political thought that individual liberty thrives when the state is limited and weak. “As government expands, liberty contracts,” explained President Ronald Reagan in his farewell address, calling the principle “as neat and predictable as a law of physics.” This view is especially pronounced among libertarians, and for libertarians of an anarchist perspective, the opposition between the individual and the state is fundamental and irreconcilable.

I believe this view is significantly mistaken. From the perspective of comparative law and legal history, it represents a dangerous illusion characteristic of citizens who already enjoy the benefits of modern liberal government. Although the state can be an instrument of tyranny, robust government capable of vindicating the public interest is vital for individual autonomy.

Take away the strong central state, and what’s likely to emerge, Weiner argues, is a decidedly illiberal social structure, the rule of the clan:

In the rule of the clan, the individual is submerged within the muscular group and corporate associations that maintain the society’s legal and political order… These groups include associations dedicated to unlawful activity, such as petty criminal gangs, the Mafia, and international crime syndicates, such as the drug gangs of Mexico—which in their cultural markers of solidarity, their lack of opportunity for exit, and their feuding patterns look and act a great deal like traditional clans. Today racial identity groups and multinational corporations have the potential to transform into similar clanlike systems.

Getting to individualism is hard. But in a society with a strong central state, you at least stand a chance of being treated as an individual rather than just a family relation. Under the rule of the clan, you will first be asked questions like: “Who are your parents?” or “What tribe do you belong to?” or “What religion are you?” or “What’s your gender?” Or even: “Are you someone’s slave?” The clan stands squarely against the individual, and it even tries not to notice that she exists, at least not as anything beyond an agent of the clan itself.

In the terminology of the great classical liberal sociologist Henry Sumner Maine, clan societies are societies of status, while societies with a strong central state can aspire to something more: these can be societies of contract, in which as many as possible of our obligations are freely and individually undertaken, rather than being assigned according to immutable characteristics.

Outside the constellation of liberal states, many forms of “strong government” are possible, including of course totalitarianism. But totalitarianism is not the only danger that liberal individualism faces. Weiner makes the case that the rule of the clan is still very important not merely in tribal societies or in underdeveloped parts of the world, but also as a possible fate for our own society, if we let our central government get too weak.

How weak is that, exactly? I’m not sure. One of Weiner’s examples of a “strong” central state, which successfully crushed the power of a clan-based society, was 18th-century Britain, which broke the power of the Scottish Highland clans in favor of its own individualist, contract-based legal system. For both of us, this was a positive development.

But what’s wrong with this picture, for me at least, is that 18th-century Britain is basically nobody’s idea of a “strong” central state today. Indeed, its economic policies were so laissez faire that they immediately spawned the Industrial Revolution. (For which my sincere thanks, by the way. We are all in your debt, and we always will be.)

In short, Weiner’s argument isn’t necessarily for the welfare-warfare-surveillance state as we know it. It’s a plea for individualism, but not necessarily for modern liberalism. (In the comments to his essay, some actually presumed him to be a moderate libertarian. He’s not, but it’s an illustrative mistake.) Likewise, I would disagree with him that the state needs to provide the kind of economic equality that clans once (putatively) extended. They didn’t actually deliver, I don’t believe, and neither for the most part does the modern state.

But anyway. Weiner’s argument does weigh against certain extreme kinds of libertarianism, in particular anarcho-capitalism. If any social system is so governmentally weak that it will bring back the rule of the clan, anarcho-capitalism is it. And Weiner’s thesis strikes the hardest at certain traditionalist-minded anarcho-capitalists who, far from fearing the rule of the clan, seem rather to look forward to it. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Gary North, and their followers have the most to answer for here.

These are also the sorts of illiberal, antindividualist libertarians whom Jeffrey Tucker recently called out as “libertarian brutalists“:

There is a segment of the population of self-described libertarians… [for whom] what’s impressive about liberty is that it allows people to assert their individual preferences, to form homogeneous tribes, to work out their biases in action, to ostracize people based on “politically incorrect” standards, to hate to their heart’s content so long as no violence is used as a means, to shout down people based on their demographics or political opinions, to be openly racist and sexist, to exclude and isolate and be generally malcontented with modernity, and to reject civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of antisocial norms.

Tucker’s essay may be the most important recent polemic on the direction of libertarianism, if you’re into that kind of thing. (If not, I quite understand.) Either way, you’re either an individualist or you’re not, and that’s where Hoppe, North, and the like abandon both libertarianism and the larger liberal project — that is, they abandon it right from the start.

Common among libertarian brutalists is the assertion that exit rights are enough to maintain a free society: It doesn’t really matter if we set up a national socialism, or a patriarchal clan, or an Islamic theocracy. All that matters is that you’re perfectly free to leave. If we can guarantee that, then we, the founders of an illiberal-but-localized society, are maximally free to tinker.

Tinkering is an admittedly valuable freedom. And with exit rights, you are maximally free to do likewise, just as long as you do it somewhere else. So you are perfectly free to set up a Maoist collective, or a matriarchal clan, or a Unitarian Universalist theocracy. Just as long as we’re all on an equal footing, everything’s okay.

There are a lot of problems with this approach.

First, it seems to place altogether too much emphasis (to my mind anyway) on the liberty to govern others, whereas the liberty that I value is the liberty to be governed by others as little as possible.

The two don’t sit well together. The former, the liberty to govern others, is logically inegalitarian in its application, because exercising it absolutely requires that someone else submit to my governing them. I wouldn’t want any of the libertarian brutalist governments suggested above, and I wouldn’t want to see them inflicted on anyone else either. Why bother making a society that is illiberal, even if it’s just locally? Or: Why must freedom always live somewhere else? Why not right here?

Exit rights, the darlings of libertarian brutalism, also just aren’t very good at preserving liberty in practice. Paradoxically, the more a persecuted group exercises its exit rights, the more that those belonging to the group who remain behind may find themselves lacking in other rights, as the majority grows more numerous and more confident in its mastery. Even if the minority has good reason to leave, individuals who leave pose an awful collective action problem.

Exit rights further neglect the plight of those who can’t afford to move or who are under the personal dominion of someone else in the illiberal society — people like slaves, serfs, children, women, the disabled, and those who are declared mentally ill or incompetent. Such forms of personal dominion flourish in illiberal societies, and when they do, exit rights die.

I’ve nothing against exit rights, but posing them as the solution to illiberal government, and then cheerfully setting up an illiberal government, is an insult.

—–

Image credit: Kahunapule Michael Johnson.

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86 thoughts on “At My Real Job: The State, the Clan, and Individual Liberty

  1. The 18th century British state was stronger than you think. It wasn’t strong in the sense that you define a strong state but thats only because it didn’t want to implement those policies. Laissez-faire was a policy choice made by the Whigs and Tories of the 18th century British parliament. When the politicians running 18th century Britain wanted the state to act, it did so very effectively. This was a state that crushed the Scottish Highlanders, persecuted Catholics, colonized large parts of the Americas and began to do so in India albeit indirectly through the British East India Company, waged war across Europe several times, explored the world, and sent thousands of convicts into exile though out the world. This isn’t an example of actions taken by a weak state. If the British parliament decided on a less laissez-faire social and economic policy than it could have easily.

    Weiner’s essay makes a good point but it misses something, the role of economic prosperity. To move from a clan-based society to an individual society you need an economy thats prosperous for most people to live on their own without extended kin and other groups for support when times get bad for the most part. People stuck with the relatively sucky clan structure because there weren’t other options. The clan might enforce conformity but hopefully you would have a place to sleep and food to eat in exchange. One of the reasons why modern liberals support welfare state measures and a more progressive tax policy is that we feel its necessary to create the wide-spread authority necessary for individualism to be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

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    • Mark and I discussed colonialism on Twitter. We agreed that it was extraneous to his argument. The English didn’t need to be colonizers to crush the Highlanders, or to enact a relatively contract-based legal system.

      As to the welfare state, I don’t think it’s necessary either for ending clannishness. The chronology just doesn’t support that claim, because the welfare state came much later. One can certainly argue that conditions have changed in the meantime, however, which is the move I expect he would make. (He hasn’t yet.)

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      • I was just using colonialism as an argument of the strength of 18th century British state. My point was that the relative weakness of the 18th century British state compared to Prussia or France was a deliberate decision by Parliament rather than something else. If the British Parliament wanted a stronger state, it could get one.

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      • Undoubtedly you’re right on that. It may also be that strong-versus-weak doesn’t map all that clearly onto contract-versus-status.

        For example, the Napoleonic Code was an enormous advance in terms of the status/contract distinction, because it abolished feudal land tenure, outlawed serfdom, and permitted divorce, among other very good works. But it was first enacted by a very, very strong central state indeed, certainly a much stronger one than was absolutely necessary to reap the individualist benefits of the Code.

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    • I don’t think it’s difficult to argue that in many respects, the British government in the 17th to 18th century wasn’t actually more a collection of tribal/clan representatives than it was a “centralized state”. One of the central premises of the Magna Carta, indeed is that the various tribes/clans of England had primacy over the crown. There was a remarkable amount of petty tyrannies around England, especially when you consider how local landlords had enormous amounts of influence on how their tenants lived.

      It wasn’t really until the Reform Act of 1832 where you started to see the freedoms start to percolate outside of the gentry and the reduction of clannishness.

      What seems to me to be the main driver against clannish behavior is urbanization and the necessary infrastructure and state development to maintain that urbanization.

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  2. One of the key ways that states enforce and spread individualism is by criminalizing all the coercive tools that clans and other informal groups used to get people to conform. It isn’t a perfect process, the state has to know of the crime and by willing to prosecute the offenders, state officials being human have been tragically known to not take minority and women’s rights that seriously many times, but it is the key tool. When clans could previously punish non-conformists with conformity, its now a lot more difficult.

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      • The right scope of government is the wrong question because it suggests that their is such a thing in the first place. Obviously, a state can grow so large and powerful that its a frightening but at the same time ineffective thing like the USSR under Stalin and the PRC under Mao. Both states were great at making the lives of millions of people miserable but weren’t so good at other things like putting food on the table. Than you can have a state thats so weak and small that its incapable of providing basic protection to people like Somalia or Afghanistan. At the very least, a state should be strong enough to ensure that people could go about their daily lives without having to worry about some punk beating them up or worse for shits and giggles.

        In a democracy, the scope of the state should be flexible enough to reflect the desires of its citizens. This might mean that what the state does could fluctuate over time but its better than having something thats all encompassing or extremely limited forever.

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  3. “Exit rights, the darlings of libertarian brutalism, also just aren’t very good at preserving liberty in practice.”

    I have to say, it’s quite nice to hear this. To my (tilting modern) liberal ears, the Libertarian devotion to exit rights often comes off like a preference for trading one dictator I can influence (through voting, lobbying, litigation, etc) for a million little dictators I can only flee.

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  4. It’s interesting to consider this through the lens of divorce rates.

    Here’s a table based on UN data for 2011:
    http://divorcescience.org/2013/01/04/world-divorce-rates-2011-incomplete/

    The highest rates seem to be in former Eastern bloc nations, the lowest in predominately Muslim nations; where I presume, women are more often denied the right to divorce due to tribalism.

    I am curious about the reasons for the high divorce rates in Eastern bloc countries; does the transition of those governments from totalitarianism to democracy expand economic opportunities for women? (And this is based on the assumption that increased economic opportunity spurs an increase in divorce).

    Note: I am not suggesting high divorce rates are a good thing; but the that increases in divorce rates, at least for a time, are evidence of women’s increased rights, including the exit right to leave a shitty marriage.

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      • Thanks for that; it’s exactly what I was getting at: emergence of a strong central government that protects individual liberties would, in transition, see an increase in divorce as women are granted exit rights they lack in tribal societies.

        I’m very pleased that this paper also takes note that those increased exit rights gives both partners in the marriage more leverage to negotiate the marriage; potentially decreasing abuse, suicide, and homicide, and so making some marriages that last better, even as it leads to an increase in divorce. This is something that gets glossed all too often.

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    • zic,
      a divorce in strict Islamic cultures mostly leads to the man keeping the children, and the woman being sent home to live with her parents (and, outside of Iran, she has little prospect for remarriage).

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    • I wonder if the situation in eastern Europe actually ties back to the clan/state distinction. Communism tried to replace older loyalties, including family, with loyalty to the party and its ideology and if I recall correctly used employment for women as part of this programme.

      The result would be a reduction in the idea that being married and having a family are important for being part of society, reducing the stigma of divorce so that fewer people stay married because it is expected.

      The economic changes would have helped as well, life as a factory worker in East Germany may not have been pleasant but it did mean that women didn’t need a husband to provide for them.

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  5. Either way, you’re either an individualist or you’re not

    Not true. I can withhold judgment about whether individualist lives or non-individualist lives are better lives to lead. Some ways of living can also be more or less individualist. In fact, if individualism is a matter of degree, I can construct a sorites like sequence where it is genuinely indeterminate whether a given way of living is individualist or otherwise. The key attraction of political liberalism (or for that matter political libertarianism) is that we can in principle bracket questions about individualism while endorsing a liberal polity. Even a communitarian has good reasons according to his own lights to accept a liberal polity. Individual liberties still protect a large range of things that even a communitarian can see as crucial to his interests. The liberty for like minded communitarians to come together for their joint projects and experiments in ways of living is crucial in garnering their support. Communitarians will not get everything. They cannot force the rest of us to live in their society, but it doesn’t follow that they cannot exert peer pressure to conform. This seems like an uneasy compromise, and certainly from an individualist’s point of view, it looks like something less than perfectly just, but it is something that everyone can, in principle accept. Such perfectionism is precisely what threatens to make liberalism incoherent. One of liberalisms central critiques of other regimes is the extent to which they force a particular conception of the good on others. That a given conception of the good is individualist or individualism itself does not justify its coercive imposition on others, or make such impositions any less problematic

    Getting to individualism is hard. But in a society with a strong central state, you at least stand a chance of being treated as an individual rather than just a family relation.

    I suspect that this is wrong. China (according to Fukuyama) was the first to have a modern centralised state, but during that time Chinese society was still heavily family centred and non-individualist.

    Exit rights further neglect the plight of those who can’t afford to move

    On being able to afford to move, if I remember Hanley correctly, it is the poor who are the most ready to migrate.

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    • Not true [that you’re either an individualist or you’re not].

      On any given issue, it is true.

      I suspect that this is wrong. China (according to Fukuyama) was the first to have a modern centralised state, but during that time Chinese society was still heavily family centred and non-individualist.

      You’ve mistaken my meaning. I said some P are Q, not all P are Q.

      On being able to afford to move, if I remember Hanley correctly, it is the poor who are the most ready to migrate.

      “Afford” has many senses.

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    • I suspect that this is wrong. China (according to Fukuyama) was the first to have a modern centralised state, but during that time Chinese society was still heavily family centred and non-individualist.

      And yet China also has a rapidly escalating divorce rate, stemming from all the traditional reasons discussed in the paper Jason linked to above. So even though the country is heavily family centered, expanding individual rights have led to an increase in the right of exit from marriage.

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      • I’ve never read Fukuyama, but I suspect he (and perhaps Murali) were noting the emergence of Chinese centralism as early as the Qin dynasty, ca. 200 b.c.e. I don’t think we can call the Qin (or Han, or Tang) dynasty China “modern,” but they were for the time remarkably centralized.

        One scholar, Jacques Gernet, has argued that Song Dynasty Chinag (ca. 960 c.e. to ca. 1250 c.e.) was in some places heavily market driven and proto-capitalist with the emphasis on economic individualism that implies. (See “Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion.”) It’s been about 20 years since I’ve last read it, and I suspect now what I didn’t then: for Gernet, this “modern” type of Chinese society was not necessarily a good thing, and his argument fits pretty well with a Marxist historical determinism that I in retrospect am very suspicious of.

        All that is to say that perhaps Fukuyama (and Murali, if he’s making the argument and not just noting it) has a point, if I understand the argument correctly. But then a counter argument–based on a counterfactual so not worth a whole lot, I know–is to wonder whether Chinese society would have been even more clan-centric without the centralization of the state. I suppose one way to test this thesis would be, if it’s possible, to somehow study the rates of “clan-centrism” versus state-centrism during periods of relative decentralization, such as the “warring states period” after the fall of the Han dynasty, or the briefer period of disorders after the fall of the Tang dynasty.

        These are all just speculations, of course. And again, I might not even be representing what Fukuyama is arguing.

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      • , recent scholarship has also argued that from the Ming Dynasty to the early 19th century under the Qing, the Chinese Empire was probably one of the most commercialized civilizations in existence. It did have the highest standard of living in the world till the early 19th century. Only during the Industrial Revolution, did the standard of living in Europe and the United States exceed that of China. It wasn’t an individualistic society as we would call it today but the culture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties was lively with lots of diversions and entertainment.

        Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate was also more centralized than anytime previously in its history. It was the Tokugawa Shogunate that produced the flourishing and relatively individualistic culture of the Floating World.

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      • You’ll excuse me for disagreeing that individualism (including exit strategies) were encouraged. Businessmen making profits were encouraged, so some measure of free markets.

        But at a most basic level, if women are not included. . . it is not okay to leave them out of these measures without noting the exception — half the population. That’s a huge segment ignored.

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      • You’ll excuse me for disagreeing that individualism (including exit strategies) were encouraged. Businessmen making profits were encouraged, so some measure of free markets.

        But at a most basic level, if women are not included. . .

        There is hardly a past society anywhere that did not burn, behead, or hang my kind whenever and wherever we were discovered. Often after torture, in the hopes that we would disclose our lovers.

        If I didn’t grade the past on a curve, I would be a bitter man indeed.

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      • yes, grade on a curve.

        An occasional roadside sign before the curve, something like “Dangerous curve ahead, half of all drivers go off the road,” is welcome for those who didn’t make the grade.

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      • Well, I see it like this… I can either be in judgment mode, in which case I give an F to every human society except (very occasionally) a handful of western societies of the last ten years.

        Or I can try to learn from the past, even as I recognize that they’d much prefer to have cut my balls off.

        Aside from societies that most certainly would have done that, or worse, I don’t have a lot to go on.

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      • Perhaps a ‘needs improvement’ for younger cultures that persist in stoning zic or castrating Jason; and a grading rubric with grades no higher then a B or C for older cultures that continue these habits liberty-depriving habits.

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  6. Good essay, Jason. Regarding exit rights: It seems to me that lack of right to exit is precisely one of the hallmarks of the most illiberal societies in recent history. Prime examples are the Berlin Wall during the cold war which was emblematic of the general lack of exit rights from the Eastern Bloc. Current obvious example is North Korea. For other illiberal regimes, the right of exit is granted selectively, as in Middle Eastern theocracies treatment of women.

    For exit rights to be any kind of general solution it looks to me like you would need some manner of global federalist system that can guarantee that right against the wishes of more illiberal subordinate regimes. That’s one of the great things about the U.S. It’s incredibly easy to move around. I should know, I’ve lived in eight different states and currently work in effectively all the lower 48. Internal checkpoints and such are another big indicator of an illiberal state.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if you live in a state with robust freedom of movement and exit, you’re already living in a relatively liberal society. The liberality seems to create the right to exit, not the other way around.

    I also think societies and governments are too complex a kind of entity to easily and meaningfully classify as strong or weak, big or small, etc., at least once you get beyond a certain threshold of effectiveness. What’s the measure of “bigness”? Size of the budget? Number of employees? Size of the legal code? The government of Afghanistan isn’t weak because it’s “small” by any of those measures; it’s weak because it’s ineffective. The powers-that-be in Kabul issue an edict and the people in the countryside respond, “Meh… whatever.”

    It seems to me the real hallmark of a liberal society lie in more qualitative aspects that are more difficult to quantify and measure. Broadly speaking, it’s a measure of how much the government is a general PITA in my life. How much it interferes with the attainment of my personal goals and living a good life by my own measure versus how much it facilitates those things.

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      • I look forward to it. I would like to note though, that in lay public debate, the term big government has become a sort of general purpose aspersion (i.e., “big government liberal”) that really means “government that’s doing something I don’t like.” I would also note that most people using the term, certain libertarians excluded, tend to have no problem with spending ungodly amounts on the military, or police knocking heads around given that the right kinds of heads are being knocked, or passing laws prohibiting behaviors — usually of the sexual variety — that they find objectionable. IOW, there’s no real principle behind any of it. So there’s that…

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      • term big government has become a sort of general purpose aspersion (i.e., “big government liberal”) that really means “government that’s doing something I don’t like.”

        Next you’ll say the same thing about “judicial activism”.

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    • Good point, governments do not have a one-dimensional “strength” or “size” characteristic. A better question to ask is what capabilities a state has to have in order to allow individualism to flourish.

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    • lack of right to exit is precisely one of the hallmarks of the most illiberal societies in recent history

      This seems true. A lack of exit rights is a guarantee of an illiberal society.

      The mere presence of exit rights is nowhere near a guarantee of a liberal society or of individual freedom. To think that exit rights are sufficient seem to indicate a lack of thought as to how difficult exit actually is in real life.

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  7. In some ways and for some people (akin to points raised by Rod and Zic above) a larger gov can lead to more freedom. I’m thinking specifically of a social safety net. Some libertarians and conservatives suggests the safety net should be run by private, community entities. That gives not only tremendous power to clans but especially supports traditional power over marginalized or non-traditional people. I’ve had a handful of cases, and i’ve seen others, of women with children who wanted to get out of very conservative religious communities. I’m not talking cults, but more about small town religious orders on the severe end of the mainstream. The women i’ve worked with were all married to heavy drinking and abusive men. They needed a safety net to help feed their children and survive when, and if they were to be able to, they were get away and build an independent life. A safety net run by the clan would have kept them married to their abusive husbands ( as was heartily suggested by some of their families).

    The same applies to gay teens/young adults who come out. If they need a safety net, then one based on clan will keep them in the closet. There are definitely times when gov can create more freedom then clan.

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    • G is right here.

      Mormonism covers you a lot. It’s like insurance. But it ain’t free. You have to join “the clan” of Mormonism.

      A more laissez-faire economy than what we have would either let the worst off die or offer them help via private charities.

      But human nature is such that when those charities get really expensive, when they really cover a lot, they will start making demands of the beneficiaries.

      The road to serfdom (clan-dom) for realz.

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    • Both of the above comments are all well and good and true. However, they imply that the government-supported welfare state doesn’t also come with a set of conditions and exact a price on those who must use its services.

      As with the clan, the central bureaucratic state grants lots of arbitrary power to those who hold positions in it. And, as with clans, the degree of freedom that an individual has will largely depend on where they stand in the existing power structure.

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  8. Now that I’ve read the OP, but before I go on to read the comments, I just want to say that this is an excellent post. The non-brutalist, non-anarcho-capitalist libertarianism is the one in which I find the most common ground, even though I probably tilt more to being a modern liberal than a classical one.

    Thanks for writing this.

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  9. Pingback: Health week: Fletcher seeks right-to-die debate | Self Help

  10. I’m wondering now about the relationship between the love of exit rights and the belief that (trivia like slavery aside) the Confederates were the good guys.

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    • Mike,

      Exactly right, by my lights. More Rothbard:

      If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as being in a state of impermissible “anarchy,” why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighborhood? Each block? Each house? Each person? But, of course, if each person may secede from government, we have virtually arrived at the purely free society, where defense is supplied along with all other services by the free market and where the invasive State has ceased to exist.

      It’s an informative read. He concludes the chapter with a sentence beginning

      Thus, a truly free market is totally incompatible with the existence of a State, an institution that presumes to “defend” person and property by itself subsisting on the unilateral coercion against private property known as taxation. On the free market, defense against violence would be a service like any other, obtainable from freely competitive private organizations.

      and moving on from there.

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      • On the free market, defense against violence would be a service like any other, obtainable from freely competitive private organizations.

        “Ya gotta nice house there. I’d hate to see anythin happen to it.”

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      • “Ya gotta nice house there. I’d hate to see anythin happen to it.”

        To which the answer comes: “My uncle is the Bishop of Annapolis, and his guards will make sure that it doesn’t. They also know where you live.”

        By then we’re back at feudalism, and/or the rule of the clan.

        There may be ways of avoiding this outcome, and I don’t believe it’s proper to rule them out, but I don’t think we know of any yet.

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      • We might also get a situation where different fire companies spend more time fighting each other than actual fires. This happened a lot when the fire companies mainly consisted of volunteers. When New York City municipalized fire-fighting, not only did it grow more effective but the number of fire-fighters needed decreased.

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      • “But, of course, if each person may secede from government, we have virtually arrived at the purely free society, where defense is supplied along with all other services by the free market and where the invasive State has ceased to exist.”

        I think that a lot of political differences can be summed up by the idea that some people (like me) look at that, and think that Rothbard was full of sh*t.

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      • One possible response is to ask “And apart from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

        Another is to note that the Confederacy spent almost its entire existence in a total war, making it impossible to judge what sort of state it would have been in peacetime.

        Yet another is to observe that its excessive regard for states’ rights interfered significantly with fighting the war, e.g. making it unclear that the national government had the power to shift troops from one theater to another, if it meant that soldiers from, say, Tennessee would be fighting to defend, say Virginia.

        And one more: since the Confederacy’s reason for existence was to spread slavery (Lincoln stated policy at the time of the secessions was to exclude slavery from the territories, not to end it where it was already present), the CSA would presumably have been an expansionist power, constantly looking for new areas (the southwest, the Caribbean, Mexico) to annex.

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      • Another possible response is that the Confederacy had no purpose or reason for existance outside of slavery.
        There wasn’t any institution or organization that wasn’t somehow tied to and tainted by slavery.
        For example, poor whites weren’t treated much better than black slaves. Its reasonable to hypothesize how, were all the black slaves magically vanished, the white underclass would have been pressed into service as indentured serfs.

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      • Many of those poor whites (or their forebears) likely earned passage to these shores as indentured servants. An while I’m certain there was some thumb-on-the-scale tilt in the contracts that favored the contract holder, indentured servitude at least had an exit built in.

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    • I’m wondering now about the relationship between the love of exit rights and the belief that (trivia like slavery aside) the Confederates were the good guys.

      Of course it’s easy enough to believe in exit rights, and even to support the right of the southern states to secede, and not think they were good guys. Nothing about exit rights assumes people will always base their exit on morally respectable reasons.

      And of course anyone who’s quite serious about exit rights would be quick to point out that the slaves deserved exit rights, too. I.e., that in addition to being a moral abomination, the existence of slavery in the confederacy was a violation of the very exit rights the south relied upon.

      I’m not sure if you’re actually doing this, but it sort of looks as though you’re questioning a theory based on the way a group of assholes (then and now) use it. Which is not really a logically rigorous approach.

      I worry about questioning exit rights because it so easily can become a tool of tyrants to deny self-determination. Tibet surely has no right to exit China, now that they are a part of it. Eritrea has no right to exist as an independent state rather than as a province of Ethiopia, etc.

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      • Of course it’s easy enough to believe in exit rights, and even to support the right of the southern states to secede, and not think they were good guys.

        Yet so many people who claim to care about Liberty first and foremost fail to avoid that trap. Andrew Napolitano is only the latest of many. And he’s not an asshole, he’s just (IMHO) someone who’s let his ideology blind him to some obvious truths.

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      • Well, assholes or idiots–even just the rare-occasion idiot–it’s on them, not the general theory. I’m in full agreement they’ve got no excuse for this error.

        Licoln went to war to save the union, not (initially) to free the slaves. I’d prefer he’d done the opposite, although that’s a bit trickier to do probably.

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      • I’m pretty sure that anybody of at least average intelligence understood that saving the Union would mean the end of slavery and that there was no way to reincorporate the CSA without the abolition of slavery. At the very least, it would be the most minimal thing required for reincoporation into the Union.

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      • Lee,
        Interestingly enough, Obamacare has encouraged the proliferation of slavery in America. [as a Result of other actions by our Chief Exec, the slaves are less likely to die nowadays than in the last administration].

        Yes, of course these slaves are … extralegal. duh.

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    • “I’m wondering now about the relationship between the love of exit rights and the belief that (trivia like slavery aside) the Confederates were the good guys.”

      If you assume that it was not ‘aside from slavery’, but ‘because of slavery’, the question answers itself. The whole idea was that ‘certain people’ don’t get exit rights.

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  11. Great article, Jason. Regarding anarchist-capitalism, I read The Rule of The Clan last year and my personal takeaway was as such:

    Streamlining the state is a noble goal. Eliminating it may create a vacuum which can be filled with warring clans. You don’t get anarchist libertopia, but rather Hatfields and McCoys.

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  12. “First, it seems to place altogether too much emphasis (to my mind anyway) on the liberty to govern others, whereas the liberty that I value is the liberty to be governed by others as little as possible.”

    Perhaps it is implied as a part of the latter, but I would think the ideal is to be governed as one wishes. Some people might want to be governed by others, though this should not be extrapolated beyond those individuals.

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    • Who wants to be governed by others? I am confused.

      Do you mean people want to be taken care of by others and are willing to accept the cons for the pros?

      Or do you mean people want a set of consistent rules and enforcement?

      Or do you mean that people like being told what to do even if it is not what they want to do? If they want to be a musician, and the governors want them to clean toilets, do you think they still want to be governed?

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      • Or do you mean that people like being told what to do even if it is not what they want to do? If they want to be a musician, and the governors want them to clean toilets, do you think they still want to be governed?

        I personally find something appealing in being told what to do even if it’s not what I want to do. I don’t find it urgently appealing and I have urges and aspirations toward autonomy and toward finding the good as I choose to find it. But that part of me is there. I don’t think I’m the only one, either.

        That is, of course, a poor basis for determining public policy.

        By the way, nice to see you back.

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      • Hi Pierre, and thanks

        Hmmm.. I like it sometimes when others tell me what to do, so that I don’t have to think about it. This allows me to concentrate on more important matters.

        I like being told what to do when others know better than me and there is little or no chance they are trying to take advantage of me.

        I don’t like being told what to do (or governed) most of the rest of the time though. However I can see the value in having someone take on this role for some situations. An official in a game or sport can fulfill this role.

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  13. So let me play devil’s advocate for a moment-
    Why would the vacuum left by the absence of the state give rise to clans? Lets wave aside the fact that it has always without fail happened that way.

    If the primary desire of humans is to be free, and if the biggest obstacle to that is the heavy hand of the state, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that were it not for the state, all sorts of Wonderful Things would happen? People would be free to have their hair cut by unlicensed barbers, hail unlicened taxis, purchase tainted meat, and hire their own private militias.

    Nirvana!

    What possible value would anyone see, in joining a clan? Why do women not flee Afghanistan en masse? Are they all being kept captive? How come, when the Americans swept in victorious, didn’t they all rise up and celebrate by wearing thongs and twerking the night away?

    Alright, now I am just trolling here.

    What I am driving at, is that there seems to be an assumption that individual rights and autonomy are universally desired, and morally compelling- Everyone wants freedom, and we absolutely must honor it.
    I don’t dispute that, actually.

    But isn’t it reasonable to assert that there are other basic human aspirations beyond liberty, that are also universal, and morally compelling?

    Such as the desire for community, a righteous order, human dignity, among others?

    I assert that these things can sometimes be provided by groups that ,while flawed in some or many other respects, provide enough balance of liberty and righteous order, so as to make them a fulfilling and happy place to live.

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    • @LWA: with seriousness it seems to me that one could either be socialized to value one’s own liberty less than (for instance) a harmonious community, or that one might make a rational choice to value one’s own liberty less than (for instance) good moral behavior, however that is defined. Indeed, I think a survey of societies, contemporary cultures included, would reveal that individual liberty the way we think of it has most often been considered a means to an end (usually a communitarian end at that) rather than an inherent good, and even then it’s been a reservation of the elite. “Freedom” to the republican Romans meant the ability to vote for one’s patron (not to choose the “best” candidate) and to serve in the military. “Freedom” to Renaissance Englishmen meant that the King was Protestant. It really takes the Enlightenment to popularize the notion of what we think of as freedom today, and it’s been a struggle to democratize that notion of freedom so that more than rich white dudes could enjoy it.

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      • That’s a non sequitor. Some value X need not be the terminal value or be intrinsically desirable in order for a polity to prioritise it in certain sorts of ways. Yes, all or many of us may value liberty for instrumental reasons. However our different final ends (dignity, autonomy, community, order, clan etc) take social rules in lots of different directions. That we have some further end over and above liberty does not mean that we all share final ends. The sort of perfectionism that you hint at is at the very least not stable for the right reasons because people do not all accept the same final values, you over estimate the extent to which they do and you underestimate the importance of basing a political system on common ground.

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      • The modern notion of freedom is based on the idea that there is no inherent good life and that therefore people should basically be allowed to pursue the good life as they see it with some reasonable limits. It took us centuries to get to this point. The idea that people should be allowed to live the good life as they see it might have started in the Enlightenment but going against traditional ideas about sexuality would have gotten you in serious trouble before the mid-20th century. Freedom will always be a work in progress.

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      • We could easily make “Obedience to God” the highest good. Lucky for you, He and I have a special relationship and I’m empowered to speak on His behalf!

        He totally told me that you seriously need to change. Also, that I’m fine and I don’t have to.

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    • “Why would the vacuum left by the absence of the state give rise to clans?… If the primary desire of humans is to be free, and if the biggest obstacle to that is the heavy hand of the state, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that were it not for the state, all sorts of Wonderful Things would happen?”

      Wiener argues that clans provide valuable services within this pre-State vacuum. They provide a natural cooperative unit for insurance, defense, reputation, justice and such. Individuals within a clan environment are easy prey, and as such the alternative to being a member of the clan is not acceptable. Clans also segment in such a way as to build up and scale down as necessary to evolve and dominate culturally.

      The problem is that clans discourage and suppress individual initiative (terrible incentives) and that they foster zero sum relationships between clans.

      “What possible value would anyone see, in joining a clan?”

      Survival. Individuals are easy prey by clans.

      “But isn’t it reasonable to assert that there are other basic human aspirations beyond liberty, that are also universal, and morally compelling?”

      Of course. Liberty has the benefit of recognizing that we may differ on our weighting, manifestations or interpretations of these values. Liberty recognizes both that people differ in values and context (goals) and that the path to these varying is discovered via exploration and variation.

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      • “But isn’t it reasonable to assert that there are other basic human aspirations beyond liberty, that are also universal, and morally compelling?”

        Of course. Liberty has the benefit of recognizing that we may differ on our weighting, manifestations or interpretations of these values. Liberty recognizes both that people differ in values and context (goals) and that the path to these varying is discovered via exploration and variation.

        Repeated for emphasis. The “but there are other values than liberty” argument always ignores how liberty enables others to pursue those other values that they prefer, even if others in their larger society would prefer they pursue a different set of values. Liberty can at times make it harder to pursue some of those other values, but far far more it gives people the opportunity to pursue their values, while a lack of liberty means people can only pursue the values that authority figures allow them to pursue.

        This is why I’m always so puzzled when people say liberty’s fine, but what about these other values. Fine, let’s put greater limits on liberty, and then let’s see if you’re actually allowed to pursue those other values, or whether whoever has authority puts greater constraints on achieving them than liberty does.

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    • So maybe asserting that “X is the highest good” is the problem here.

      When I survey the human condition, I see a complex and contradictory set of aspirations and desires.
      We want to belong to a community that embraces, protects, and supports us with rules and order and obligation;
      Yet we want the freedom to pursue our own aspirations and goals even when that challenges the order.

      Saying, “we all should have liberty, which enables individuals to pursue their own goals” is not wrong- its just insufficient, incapable of really addressing those contradictory goals.

      It assumes that the desire for self-ownership is universal and compelling, while the desire for community is a private pursuit, something done by consenting adults in private.
      By being agnostic about the universal desire for community, it fails to address or speak to the contradictions.

      I think it is interesting that when we use the word “clan” we immediately think of painted natives, primitive pre-modern people, or small cultish societies.

      But what are Facebook and Twitter, if not modern clans? We go way out of our way to establish groups and communities, establish rules and boundaries of conduct, and ruthlessly punish and ostacize trespassers.

      In order to be credible, philosophies need to address and recognize the actual, observed nature of human aspirations, not merely the ones that we wish people had.

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      • I too see contradictory aspirations and desires. I too see desires to belong to communities and rules, but again they are various and sometimes contradictory in form. Thus the need for classical liberalism and the need to beware high modernism and the uniform planning of the far left.

        I have no idea why you suggest the desire for community is a private affair. Seems like an oxymoron to me. Liberty is broad enough to cover the freedom of association, including large scale public association of many kinds.

        By clan, Wiener specifically alludes to larger scale kin based organizations. Brothers, cousins, second cousins, and so on and on. They perform useful institutional services for each other such as justice, defense, insurance, reputation management. These are all pretty much replaced in modern liberal societies with substitute institutions, some provided by the state. Some not (seller status on Amazon, for example)

        His argument is that absent the state, the clan solution will logically reassert itself, and with the “solution” comes the problems, not the least of which is widespread beggaring of our non clan neighbors.

        His warnings seem sound, though not conclusive.

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    • LWA,
      it has not always without fail happened that way. In fact, the idea that it would is fairly restricted.
      It’s certainly not happening that way in Russia, where a strongman rules a virtual anarchy.

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  14. I wonder a bit about the parallels between clan behavior as described here and the contemporary dynamics of ideological partisanism in the United States. Downplay of individual identity; strong demands for conformity, hierarchy, and regimentation; apostasy (including exercise of exit rights) the worst sin.

    I don’t think the analogy is complete, but seems like there’s enough there upon which to profitably muse.

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    • I would say possibly at the elite levels, where the size and cohesion of the groups involved remain somewhat comparable. but it starts to break down if you try to compare the dynamics of groups the size of clans with the political thought and behavior of individuals across a society as large as ours. Trying to make partisan attitudes analogous to clan-like group membership I don;t think ends up working. Most people don’t primarily identify themselves to others as their party or ideological sympathies, though I’m guessing plenty of people in Washington, D.C. do.

      I would say that there might be recognizably clan-like subcultures all over the U.S., where in some cases among the identifiers for the group are political allegiances or ideological views of various kinds. Think of the cultures that Murray tries to get us to become aware of in the quiz at the end of Coming Apart. Those clans have various identifying cultural totems, but indeed in a lot of cases political conservatism is one of the unifying tenets. But I’d say that the clan does’t exist at the level of political conservatism – it’s more specific than that.

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  15. I don’t have much to add. This is just great work, Jason. This post, but especially the symposium the Real Job.

    I guess the one thought I’m left with: isn’t this ultimately at least roughly what Hobbes was talking about? Obviously he was wrong to think an absolute monarch had to rule over other claims to legitimate political authority: it can be a more liberal state with divided powers, even divided federally to an extent. But, basically, wasn’t the issue for him the consequences of broadly distributed authority (to include some degree of legitimate violent enforcement)? He said, instead of that, lets all agree with each other to give enforcement authority to just one sovereign and relax our strong, force-backed justice claims directly on each other, because that breeds more, and less predictable violence (the omnium contra omnes.)

    Political organization took a form before the emergence of the centralized state, and that form was in large part clans. When Europe was ruled by clans it was not strictly a war of all against all. But nevertheless isn’t that condition (the rule of clans) the one that Hobbes was reacting to, whether his characterization was somewhat hyperbolic or not?

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      • …And definitely, I would say that looking at Hobbes’ prescription will put just about anyone writing today about the role of government in a very different place from him. I’m talking only about the problem Hobbes took himself to be addressing with his prescription.

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  16. I have nothing to contribute beyond a kudos except to note that I am so self centered that when I read the line:
    “Either way, you’re either an individualist or you’re not, and that’s where Hoppe, North, and the like abandon both libertarianism and the larger liberal project — that is, they abandon it right from the start.”

    I actually sat for a moment and pondered why I was jumping off the libertarian and liberal trains and who the heck this Hoppe guy was who was jumping off with me. *sigh*

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  17. The Clan is at heart an egalitarian place. The conservative propaganda is anything but egalitarian, and if we should drift away from our current (vastly imperfect, and quite illiberal) democracy, it is far more likely that we would wind up with a version of Feudalism.

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  18. The real weakness of exit rights is that they need to be enforced, which requires a strong government – you simply aren’t going to have exit rights in an anarchocapitalist society, which means anarchocapitalism not only isn’t desirable, it’s not even possible. So if someone actually wants tribalism, please say so.

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