"Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it." -John Adams

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Friday, December 30, 2011

It is absolutely impossible for anyone who claims to be rational to defend violence.

In my ongoing quest for the answer to the question, "What war made men more free?" I would like to explore one of the more recent defenses of libertarian rights, this being Hans Hoppe's "argumentation ethics" (Wikipedia entry for Argumentation Ethics).

Hoppe's basic thesis is that argumentation (discourse) is by nature a conflict-free (non-violent) way of interacting and that it requires individual control of resources (property rights). These presuppositions to discourse imply that the participants agree to both the non-aggression principle and by extension the idea of libertarian rights (i.e. self-ownership and property rights by extension). From this, Hoppe concludes that no one can argumentatively deny libertarian rights without self-contradiction.

Gary Madison makes a similar argument, but elaborates in greater detail. In his book, The Logic of Liberty, he argues that
the various values defended by liberalism are not arbitrary, a matter of mere personal preference, nor do they derive from some natural law. . . . Rather, they are nothing less and nothing more than what could be called the operative presuppositions or intrinsic features and demands of communicative rationality itself. In other words, they are values that are implicitly recognized and affirmed by everyone by the very fact of their engaging in communicative reason. This amounts to saying that no one can rationally deny them without at the same time denying reason, without self-contradiction, without in fact abandoning all attempts to persuade the other and to reach agreement.

Since recognition of these values implies renunciation of the legitimacy of violence, Madison concludes that
it is absolutely impossible for anyone who claims to be rational, which is to say human, outrightly to defend violence .... [As Paul Ricoeur writes:]'. . . violence is the opposite of discourse. . . . Violence is always the interruption of discourse: discourse is always the interruption of violence.' That violence is the opposite of discourse means that it can never justify itself—and is therefore not justifiable—for only through discourse can anything be justified. As the theory of rational argumentation and discussion, liberalism amounts, therefore, to a rejection of power politics.

My previous post provoked some very interesting comments, and I am actually working on a new post addressing some of those comments. A very thoughtful reader actually took a swing at the question posed at the beginning of this post, and I need to address that in greater detail. I hope to see responses from those who believe that violent resistance is some sort of solution. From a purely practical standpoint, I do not understand how it could be effective. From a purely philosophical standpoint, I do not see how it could be consistent. I could be wrong on both counts which is why I continue to pose the question. There is a myriad of strategies available for advancing liberty, but if we are chasing unicorns or tilting at windmills, we will never be effective. Maybe we just need to vote a little bit more... :-D


  1. I have committed long ago not to vote for anyone. And I have twice. For myself. I am the only person I can trust to be voted into power that would follow the oath that I would take.
    Thankfully, I have never been voted in, if I had, I would no longer be able to trust even myself.

  2. I thought someone would have jumped into this already.
    Rational: Having reason or understanding;relating too, based on or agreeable to reason.
    Reason: 1. a basis or cause, as for some belief, action, fact, event, etc.: the reason for declaring war.
    a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action.
    the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences.
    sound judgment; good sense.
    normal or sound powers of mind; sanity.

    Your post is right on, but only works when both party's agree to not use force on each other. When one party decides to not use reason, and makes the decision he would rather use force on you to get his way, you may have to defend yourself by using force. The rational thing may be to use force. You may have to use force after reasoning in your mind that you have no other rational way to survive.
    What then?
    Was it rational or reasonable to get on the train cars without resisting?
    If someone takes your family by force, is it reasonable to use force to save them?

    Saying it is "absolutely impossible" is pretty absolutist, and leaves no rational thought to be explored beyond your premise.

  3. I am in complete agreement with Sir Josh here.

    But the sole reason I am in a flurry right now is for something along these lines. Obama just signed the NDAA 2012 bill. Scary for not just the reasons we have all been talking about, but more. It is a true double whammy. It all but declares War on Iran with strict economic sanctions forced upon them. How are sanctions enforced? by violence of course. It is a practical declaration of war for a second reason, the Iranians have threatened to retaliate by closing the Straight of Hormuz. This means that when they do that, the full time American propaganda machines will be turned up to 11, flags in the corner and all, so that they can say that Iran started it. This will have the worst possible result on our democracy, as once we invade Iran, it is sure hard to ask them to leave without some sort of victory. This means Ron Paul and other peaceful beings will lose total support, and Obama, the greatest Tyrant in our history, will coast to re-election. Awful News... Happy New Year my ass. I have no doubt he decided to sign it VERY late in Hawaii on NEW YEAR'S EVE FOR A REASON!!!!

    Happy New Year indeed, Mr. Obama.

  4. Just finished a quickly written fairly hot-headed response over at revolutionation.org, If anyone wants to participate in the conversation. I need to go kiss my wife now, quick!


  5. I would return your challenge RE:war, and ask you to point out to me one movement that resulted in any real and lasting change without the use of or threat of violence.

    MLK had it.

    So did Ghandi.

    So did the Egyptians in Tahrir square.

    Tell me, practically (as philosophy is useless if not pragmatic), what language to governments and tyrants speak?

    This is truth:
    Without a people willing to kill and die for liberty, the last pacifist dies.

    Pacifism is a luxury enjoyed and paid for in blood.

    I spent years as a pacifist. It cost me more than I care to speak of.

    There is a time for violence; of this I am sure.

    One more point: One paints himself into a corner that is nearly impossible to leave when using the absolutist terms you did in the post's title.

    I am rational. I will use violence and kill to protect my family.

    Tell me killing to protect my wife and six children is irrational, and we have nothing further to discuss.

    Your statement and title is therefore untrue.


  6. The statement and title are not mine, but Gary Madison's (read carefully).

    The questions are for all of us.


  7. Also, since you have constructed a rational argument to justify your position vs Madison's, you have implicitly validated his thesis, which is basically that in order to invalidate an idea you have to argue for a different idea. Shooting the messenger doesn't justify your argument against him, and since you chose to make a rational appeal, you renounced the use of violence implicitly. We can do this with almost everyone around us (even those in government) if we set our fear aside and go talk to them. It is only a small percentage that will reject rationality outright. In those cases we can just walk away and move on to the next person.

    Now, something that would be worth bringing up, and I'm surprised no one has done so yet, would be something along the lines of what Jefferson did in the Declaration.

    He very carefully listed a "long chain of abuses and usurpations" probably with some sort of inherent understanding of something along the lines of argumentation ethics. In other words, that it would be completely idiotic and unjustifiable to go to war without first addressing the injustice that was being done by the King. Since violence cannot justify itself, Jefferson saw to it that the use of reason along with the philosophy of self ownership would be used to justify his grievances.

    It's also worth considering that the Declaration probably was not aimed primarily at the King, but instead at his countrymen. It was in many ways a rational appeal to them to think long and hard about what they were living under and what they would be willing to put up with. I would think that Jefferson, being a man of very high intelligence, did not have a "lone wolf" survivalist mentality because that strategy is just a death wish, not some noble cause or anything of the sort. I don't think he was that stupid, and I think the appeal to the public that is the Declaration bears this out.

    Had Jefferson, Paine, and the other pamphleteers stocked up on "beans, bullets, and bullion" and scuttled out into the woods, they probably would have just been rounded up one at a time. Thankfully they had a more far sighted philosophical strategy (one that took literally decades of hard work to implement).

    Unfortunately, as in the case of all war, the outcome is completely unpredictable and the politically minded first created, then found their way into the seats of power in the aftermath. Oops.

    Perhaps the anti-federalists could have just walked away from the King and gone west without permission? It is impossible to know what sort of alternatives could have been tried successfully. We do know that Canada and Australia became independent of the crown with no war and no threat of violence. You may want to review Ghandi's message. While some of the people associated with his movement were violent, it was mass non-compliance that he advocated (and was most effective). You might also want to look at the strategy adopted by Jesus Christ. He probably had a bigger impact than MLK, etc. I could be wrong tho.


  8. Here are some MLK quotes too. Note that MLK advocated strict non-violence, yet was willing to die for his cause (as he stated repeatedly). He had found the source of his power as a human being, and it wasn't through the barrel of a gun.


    At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

    Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

    He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
    (I like this one because he is not actually advocating violence here. In the same way that Ron Paul is incorrectly called an isolationist, I think many who advocate strong, yet non-violent resistance are incorrectly called pacifist. True pacifists do not protest the state or even try to change it. They are non-participants. Violence is not humanity expressing its greatest strength, it is humanity expressing its desperation. Why do you think the state always resorts to it?)

    I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

    Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.

    Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

    Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

    Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

    Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

    Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

    We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

    We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

    And one of my all time favorite:
    The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.

  9. http://whiskeyandgunpowder.com/there’s-no-such-thing-as-a-stable-state/

    "The lesson of the Soviet collapse is not just that socialism doesn’t work. It is that all-embracing statism cannot last, regardless of whether this comes about under one-party tyranny or the illusion of democracy. This experience of 20 years ago ought to instill some humility. In the same way that the Soviet experience was upended, the future history of the last superpower could change just as quickly."

  10. We may disagree on the use of violence under specific circumstances, but my partner in crime shows that violence without the proper non-violent spread of the message of liberty is a waste of time. I think you guys and Ron Paul are doing a great job of spreading the appropriate message.