NOTE TO SELF, BASED ON QUAKER TESTIMONIES OF INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COMMUNITY:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
2. Do what you say, say what you think, think what is true.
3. Subtract superfluities from your life, speech, desires and thoughts.
4. Don't initiate aggression against the persons or property of others, nor support people who do, including the people who "constitute" the government.
5. Respect life and natural law.
6. All people are endowed by their Creator with equal and inalienable rights to the earth and to the fruits of their own labor, and a "Citizen's Dividend" funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be the fairest way to protect these rights.

For supporting materials, see the Archive and the Recommended Reading and Videos section at the bottom of this page.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Libertarianism and the Quaker Peace Testimony

In an earlier post, titled John Woolman's Plea for the Poor, I promised in a subsequent post to try to make the case that "the political philosophy historically known as Georgism recommends itself to Quakers as the one most consistent with the Quaker social testimonies of Peace, Equality, Community, Simplicity and Integrity." That's a pretty tall order, a worthy subject for an entire book rather than a single blog post, and one I think upon reflection this blog can best address post by post from time to time, probably indirectly, as occasion suggests. Today I would just like to offer a simple idea that pithily suggests how Georgism / geoism / geolibertarianism (essentially equivalent terms) follows from our Quaker Peace Testimony against war. As stated in my earlier post on John Woolman's Plea for the Poor, the geoist principle is simply this: everyone owns what they create, but everything supplied by nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all humanity. (The connection with the Testimony of Equality is therefore evident.)

Caroline Stephen explains the Quaker Peace Testimony and its relation to the Testimony of Simplicity in her classic Quaker Strongholds (1890) in a way that rings true for me (The excerpt that follows is rather long, because she says a lot of things that are very good and essentially interrelated, some of which also provides a corrective balance to my recent posts regarding "superfluities." If you're already familiar with the Quaker Peace Testimony and how it relates to the Testimony of Simplicity, you can skip ahead.): "The question upon which we Friends differ from other Christians is not the question whether peace be desirable -- whether it be not, in fact, the goal of all political effort -- but what are the means by which it is to be attained or maintained. Other Christians do not deny that quarreling is contrary to the spirit of Christ, and we do not deny that a holy warfare is to be continually maintained against evil in every form. But we regard the opposing of violence by violence as a suicidal and hopeless method of proceeding; we feel, as Christians, that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. We cannot, by taking military service, place ourselves at the absolute disposal of a power which may at any time employ its soldiers for purposes so questionable and often so unhallowed. . . . It is commonly supposed that Friends have some special scruple about the use of physical force in any case. This is, I believe, by no means true of the Society at large, although the popular notion may very likely be founded upon fact as regards individuals. . . . It is not, as I understand it, the use of physical force, or even the suffering caused by the use of it, which really makes war hateful in Christian eyes; but the evil passions, the 'lusts' from which it springs, and to which, alas! it so hideously ministers. The dispassionate infliction of punishment by an impartial and a lawful authority surely stands upon a quite different footing from that 'biting and devouring one another' which, whether between nations or between individuals, it is the very aim and object of law to suppress. Suffering inflicted for the purpose of maintaining peace cannot, I think, be condemned by the advocates of peace unless it be on the ground of failure. I own that I personally cannot but recognize that upon this view certain wars appear to be not only inevitable but justifiable, as partaking of the nature of national police operations. I cannot, therefore, regard all war as wholly, and unmitigatedly blamable, although I can hardly imagine any war which does not both come from evil and lead to evil. . . . A protest against strife and selfishness; not only against strife, but against 'the greedy spirit which leads to strife.' If we are willing to go down to the root in this matter, if we truly desire to do what in us lies towards ridding the earth not only of wars and fightings, but of all forms of oppression and cruelty, must we not recognize that the very first step is to be ourselves freed from covetousness? For who can doubt that it is mainly about outward and material things that nations or individuals are led into quarrels? Who will venture to say that, if none of us desired either to get or to keep more than our share of this world's goods, there would be anything like the amount of fighting, or of preparation for it, which now devastates the earth? . . . It seems to me that in struggling to rise and to raise others more and more clearly above the greedy spirity which leads to war, is the best hope for many of us of contributing in any real sense to the cause of peace on earth. It was long ago recognized by Friends that (to use the words of John Woolman) 'in every degree of luxury are the seeds of war and oppression.' The connection between luxury and cruelty is, indeed, almost a truism, but it is one of those truisms of which is it unfortunately easy to lose sight; and I fear that even amongst Friends the familiar testimonies against all war and against superfluities are apt to be held without any vivid sense of their vital connection. No one, surely, will deny that the selfish desire of mere pleasure, when allowed to rule, will feed itself at the expense of suffering and privation to others; that it does cause that scramble for gain in which the weak are trampled upon, and every furious passion is stimulated. The difficulty in regard to bearing a practical testimony against superfluities is not that which some of us feel in the case of war -- that we do not know where to take hold, that our personal and daily conduct seems to have no immediate bearing upon questions of international policy, and that the whole problem eludes our grasp by its very vastness. It is, rather, that we do not like to put our shoulder to the wheel of simplifying life for ourselves and others; that we do not see the beauty of severity; that we love softness, or yield to it for want of any purifying fire of hope. . . . It is, indeed, not easy to define the precise kind or amount of luxury which is incompatible with Christian simplicity; or rather it must of necessity vary. But the principle is, I think, clear. In life, as in art, whatever does not help, hinders. . . . The higher our ideal of life, the greater, indeed, must be the sacrifices which it will require from us. As we rise from the lower to the higher objects of life, many things of necessity become superfluous to us -- in other words, we become independent of them, or outgrow them. This is a widely different idea from that of ascetic self-discipline or self-mortification; and it is surely a sounder and a worthier idea. . . . If we bear in mind the essentially relative meaning of the word 'superfluous,' it is obvious that such a testimony against 'superfluities' does not require any rigid or niggardly rule as to outward things. To my mind, indeed, this view of the matter seems to require at least as clearly the liberal use of whatever is truly helpful to 'our best life' as the abandonment of obstructing superfluities. No doubt a testimony against superfluities is very liable to degenerate into formality, and to be so misapplied as to cut off much that is in reality wholesome, innocent, and beautiful."

The "pithy" idea I referred to in the first paragraph of this post is simply the flip-side of the military theorist General Carl von Clausewitz's famous dictum: "War is the extension of politics by other means." It seems to me that not only is this dictum evidently true, but that the converse is just as true: "Politics is the extension of war by other means." (This inference from Clausewitz's dictum seemed to me so pithy and true that I guessed it must have occurred to others, and a quick Google search reveals that it indeed has, to a number of people.) Virtually all States have their origin in war and conquest, and politics are the means by which the spoils of that conquest are divided over time by the conquerors' successors in power. (See Albert Jay Nock's book Our Enemy, the State, which is linked in the Recommended Reading section below and discussed in my post "Why be a libertarian?".) Behind every government law is physical force and the threat of punishment for those who disobey. So long as this sword is simply used for the maintenance of peace -- i.e. for the prevention and if necessary the punishment of aggression -- there is no injustice (as recognized by Caroline Stephen), but the strife inherent in politics as we know it reveals that the sword of government is used for much more than that. People fight over politics because things have been made subject to it which are not naturally subject to it, and willingly or not are driven to engage in its war-like processes because there is much to win that does not belong to them, and also much to lose that does belong to them. The greed and covetousness that Caroline Stephen speaks of as the seeds of war are such not only in the field of international relations but also in the battlefield of domestic politics. A certain stripe of small-minded libertarian is prone to decry the covetousness and "envy" of the poor, with their petitions for government "hand-outs," but the far more dangerous and operative covetousness is the coveting of what does not belong to them by those who actually have political power, among whom the rich are disproportionately represented.

If the abuses perpetrated by the politically-powerful through the means of our present government were cataloged the list would extend at least as long as that list of grievances filed against the British Crown in the Declaration of Independence. The first thing the government does (which all governments have done before it) is to lay claim to ownership of all the land within its power and territorial jurisdiction, most of which it sells off to private individuals and corporations over time, thereby depriving successive generations of inhabitants of their equal right to the earth and leaving them with nowhere to live or work without paying somebody for the privilege. (See "Why be a left libertarian?" ) The government might also, at the behest of a politically-powerful guild, protect the vested financial interests of that guild by forbidding the practice of a certain honest livelihood unless the would-be practitioner spends a substantial number of years in higher education and indentures himself to pay for the privilege, even though most of that education has precious little relation to the actual practice of that livelihood. (See, e.g., the articles "The Lawyer Cartel" and "Why Law School Costs So Much," written by a lawyer, linked to in the Recommended Reading section below.) Finally (though this by no means exhausts the list of abuses that might be named), on top of the unjust rents and the unjust extortion of payments for the privilege of earning a living, the government confiscates between one-third and one-half (when all taxes are taken into account) of the labor of its already over-burdened "subjects," to pay for . . . what, exactly? War, and the dividends of those who profit by it? The salaries of politicians, and the pet projects of those who bought them into office? It's noteworthy that under our Constitution as amended there is no limit to the amount of taxation that the political class might levy upon the fruits of our labor under the color of "democracy," and that they have already succeeded in imposing on us, without significant protest, tax burdens that would make Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson roll in their graves and that are many times greater than the impositions that were cited by the Founding Fathers as justifications for the American Revolution. The fact that the government could, but chooses not to, finance itself in well-known ways that would be consistent with and contribute to justice (see, e.g., half the links in the Recommended Reading section below) is proof positive that the government as we have known it is grounded not in justice or in some kind of social contract, but rather in war and the "lusts" of war.

My response to this reality of the State, and the response I recommend to others, parallels Caroline Stephen's observation that, while the problem of war may seem too vast for us and disconnected from our daily lives, "in struggling to rise and to raise others more and more clearly above the greedy spirit which leads to war, is the best hope for many of us of contributing in any real sense to the cause of peace on earth." Similarly, while I see little prospect for a political or electoral solution to the entrenched and institutionalized greed which is the State, the best hope for us of contributing to peace on earth is, along with rising above the greedy spirit which leads to war, to disentangle any patriotic attachments we might have from the machinery of government and pledge our allegiance instead to the people who labor under its unjust burdens. We should withdraw from the State as we know it our moral support and sense of moral obligation, rendering to it only what justice and prudence demand. Hopefully, with God's grace, this might be done with a peaceful and confident heart and with less rancour than my language in this post might suggest. And in the meantime we can pray and work for a better society, through which one day by the grace of God might be formed governments worthy of our respect.