Freedom implies equal rights

July 31, 2014 § 39 Comments

Libertarians and reactionaries coming from a libertarian background tend to make equality subordinate to freedom in their political theories, or in some cases abandon equality entirely in favor of freedom. This doesn’t work, because freedom as a primary political principle implies equality in a context of massive and complex constraints on what people are permitted to do.

Freedom is the capacity to actually choose what we wish to choose. It is incapable of discriminating between good choices and bad choices, so when it is treated as a good in itself it makes discrimination between different kinds of choices impossible. If discrimination between different kinds of choices is impossible it follows that all choices are to be treated as equally valid politically.

So it isn’t really possible to abandon equality and still retain freedom as a guiding political principle. If we do that we’ll just wake up on liberalism’s eternal Groundhog Day all over again.

§ 39 Responses to Freedom implies equal rights

  • sunshinemary says:

    Freedom is the capacity to actually choose what we wish to choose. It is incapable of discriminating between good choices and bad choices, so when it is treated as a good in itself it makes discrimination between different kinds of choices impossible. If discrimination between different kinds of choices is impossible it follows that all choices are to be treated as equally valid politically.

    Isn’t the libertarian thinking on the matter just that if you just give people enough freedom and don’t subsidize their bad choices by bailing them out of the messes they make, then they’ll learn to make good choices on their own in order to avoid suffering bad consequences?

    I used to think that way, but I no longer do. I have come to the conclusion that many people are nearly incapable of figuring out what would be a good choice. It seems that most people simply must be ruled. I include myself in that group, too.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy, you may need to tell us what rights you mean, since many with same-sex attractions demand a right to same-sex marriage. If anyone asked me whether I supported “marriage equality,” I’d reply, “People with those attractions have always had that equality. They’ve always been free to marry people of the opposite sex.

  • Zippy says:

    Sunshine:

    Isn’t the libertarian thinking on the matter just that if you just give people enough freedom and don’t subsidize their bad choices by bailing them out of the messes they make, then they’ll learn to make good choices on their own in order to avoid suffering bad consequences?

    More or less; but that begs the question of a preexisting political order based on something other than freedom which trumps freedom. “Subsidize” for example simply assumes that the person receiving money or goods doesn’t have a right to it as a matter of justice, when who is entitled to what as a matter of justice is precisely what a political theory has to address.

  • William Luse says:

    Your second paragraph isn’t real clear to me, but based on your past writing I’m going to assume the best.

    The freedom regime does not in fact treat “all choices…as equally valid politically,” and does in fact discriminate among them.

    For example, my city is on the verge of passing a non-discrimination ordinance which will now include transgendered people (sexual orientation was included a long time ago). This freedom-enhancing law (the political jargon employed appealed to our interest in “fairness, diversity and equality…”) will forbid denying employment, housing, etc. to said aggrieved individuals. If I have a room for rent, and Sam knocks on my door to announce that he’s queer as a three dollar bill and would like to rent my room, I can’t deny him on that basis. The same goes for a Sam who thinks he’s a Samantha. It sounds as though I could be arrested for doing so. (I don’t know what actual coercion would be brought to bear.) So it appears that the freedom regime will not treat my choice “as equally valid politically.” But perhaps that’s what you meant by “massive and complex constraints on what people are permitted to do.”

    I do agree that liberalism and libertarianism are just the same guy in differing regalia, where the clothes do not make the man. I was listening to a real libertarian on TV the other night, and there wasn’t a single moral issue – our freedom to indulge which I thought should be sorely restricted by law – that he wasn’t ready to grant carte blanche.

  • Mike T says:

    I do agree that liberalism and libertarianism are just the same guy in differing regalia, where the clothes do not make the man. I was listening to a real libertarian on TV the other night, and there wasn’t a single moral issue – our freedom to indulge which I thought should be sorely restricted by law – that he wasn’t ready to grant carte blanche.

    In fairness to libertarians, one thing you and Zippy neglect to factor in which is a huge difference is that libertarians are typically open to voluntarily submitting and being bound to authority by contract law. Most libertarians, for example, would have no problem with privatizing marriage law such that the Catholic Church via contract law would become a de facto government with real law enforcement authority over its members via a fusion of secular contract law (binding the layman to the RCC’s understanding of marriage) and cannon law courts as legally binding arbitrators per the contract. They also tend to take the view that the RCC as a non-governmental body has an absolute right of freedom of association permitting its excommunication orders and such no secular legal review or challenge in a hypothesized libertarian regime. Heck, most libertarians would probably even support allowing the RCC to sue cultural catholics who are wildly heretical for making fraudulent statements about their catholicity if they impugn the reputation of the Church since fraud is something mainstream libertarians believe the state can and must suppress.

  • Maximus says:

    Hi Zippy,

    I think you are right in this post. Freedom/liberty and Equality are part of a polarity. They imply each other, even though they look and act as opposites a good deal of the time.

    The problem is that neither of these poles should function as absolutes, which is what they have done for the past 250 years or so.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:

    The freedom regime does not in fact treat “all choices…as equally valid politically,” and does in fact discriminate among them.

    That will be true of all specific instantiations of freedom-as-primary-principle in reality, because of their blindness to the constraint modality of rights, as I explained in the previous post. You see this blindness in the intramural conflicts between liberals. Specific examples have shown up in my own comboxes here as folks have defended libertarianism and treated its consequences as if they were rationally inevitable as opposed to political consequences of libertarianism itself; and the cold war between capitalism and communism, a great intramural battle between different kinds of liberals, was that same blindness writ large.

    Almost all modern political conflict is intramural, as liberals argue over whose conception of political freedom is authentic. In reality there is no non-vacuous but ‘authentic’ conception of political freedom.

    Discussing incoherent ideologies is always problematic, because of course they have internal contradictions. Life isn’t a game of pure combinatorial logic though, so those internal contradictions work themselves out over time and in particular contexts. In practice those internal contradictions can often be a tactical strength, because they permit the ideology to pivot, equivocate, adapt, preserve, and spread itself. Equivocation is frequently the most efficient tool for meme propagation and preservation, which is why the neoreactionaries are so far off in the weeds on ‘memetics’: their postmodern support of the propagation of lies as instruments of power just ends up undermining all of their own truth claims. The Father of Lies always consumes his children after filling them with emptiness, in Hell’s great eucharistic inversion.

    Once you understand that rights inherently involve freedom addition combined with constraint multiplication – and that liberalism also requires willful blindness to the constraint modality of rights – the tyranny of liberalism makes a kind of sense, viewed from the outside, in much the same way that mental delusions (e.g. “he thinks he is fighting the Crimean War, but he is really in his bathtub staring at his feet”) can make a kind of sense viewed from the outside.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @ William Luse:

    But perhaps that’s what you meant by “massive and complex constraints on what people are permitted to do.”

    Exactly.

    Zippy has talked before about how the libertarian acknowledges the licenses he gives out while pointedly ignoring the constraints. Losing the ability to deny a tranny lodging is one such constraint.

    A freedom = a right = an authority = a license.

    Those words are interchangeable for anyone who understands what they’re talking about. However, it’s easier to ignore reality when you use the words ‘freedom’ or ‘right’. Everyone understands that when you have an authority or a license, that constrains someone else. But somehow, by referring to the same matter with the different words of ‘freedom’ and ‘right’, that particular part of the concept is obfuscated.

    @ Mike T:

    In fairness to libertarians, one thing you and Zippy neglect to factor in which is a huge difference is that libertarians are typically open to voluntarily submitting and being bound to authority by contract law.

    IOW, if the authority comes from the consent of the governed, which is a load of bull excretions.

  • Zippy says:

    Maximus:

    The problem is that neither of these poles should function as absolutes, which is what they have done for the past 250 years or so.

    They shouldn’t be treated as a priority at all. If a lot of people happen to be free, it means that a lot of people are actually able to choose what they wish to be able to choose. That is a consequence of either:

    * their wills are conformed to what is good in a good society; or

    * their wills are conformed to wickedness in a wicked society.

    Treating freedom or equality as political priorities at all involves a basic misapprehension: it involves deliberately taking our eyes off of what is good and adopting a pose of neutrality. And because political neutrality is actually impossible, this in effect makes wickedness the goal.

    So treating freedom and/or equality as a political priority is just wickedness, simpliciter.

  • Mike T says:

    IOW, if the authority comes from the consent of the governed, which is a load of bull excretions.

    With the minor difference from liberals that libertarians believe you can so submit yourself to non-liberal authority and then be bound by free acquiescence to obey it per the terms of the agreement.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @ Mike T:

    So… you can bind yourself with a voluntary contract so long as you do so exactly the way libertarians think you should do so? As long as you do so according to their authoritative conception of how things should be done?

  • sunshinemary says:

    Freedom is the capacity to actually choose what we wish to choose. It is incapable of discriminating between good choices and bad choices, so when it is treated as a good in itself it makes discrimination between different kinds of choices impossible. If discrimination between different kinds of choices is impossible it follows that all choices are to be treated as equally valid politically.

    Though, didn’t God give us free will? I mean, we do have the freedom to choose good over evil or vice versa if we wish. Didn’t God give us this freedom? And we know that He only gives us that which is good, so freedom must in some sense be a good thing. Or I guess spiritual freedom must be different than political freedom.

  • Zippy says:

    Sunshine:

    I guess spiritual freedom must be different than political freedom

    Unless your idea of authority is that its source of legitimacy is enabling evil choices.

  • Mike T says:

    So… you can bind yourself with a voluntary contract so long as you do so exactly the way libertarians think you should do so? As long as you do so according to their authoritative conception of how things should be done?

    JustSomeGuy, perhaps if you spent less time trying to strike an oh so superior pose and considered what I was pointing out, you’d have noticed that “exactly as libertarians think you should” only implies that the contract has valid form cognizable by the state, is entered into without duress and would not obligate the state to break its own laws. That is to say, it’s something freely chosen that wouldn’t have the state turning on itself or acting against the common good.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @ SSM:

    The fact that God gave us the ability to choose doesn’t make all choices equal. It also doesn’t mean that politics should enable evil choices. If evil choices should be enabled on the basis of not interfering with free will, then things like rape and murder shouldn’t be forbidden.

    Free will is a good thing because – in order for a being to be rational – it must possess free will. Instead of making us, God could easily have made robots programmed to do good things, but that would be completely empty of meaning. Free will is necessary for love because love is a choice.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    “exactly as libertarians think you should” only implies that the contract has valid form cognizable by the state, is entered into without duress and would not obligate the state to break its own laws. That is to say, it’s something freely chosen that wouldn’t have the state turning on itself or acting against the common good.

    And that is their authoritative conception of the good in this particular instance.

  • Marissa says:

    Way OT question for Zippy: have you read “This is our Faith” or “Black Legends and the Light of the World”? The first is an introduction to Catholicism, the second is a history of the Church, seen through the battle of the Word (a world-changing transformation) with the word (philosophical excuses for status quo naturalism). Just curious if you have, and if you have any opinions on them.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    Your take is typical of what I encounter in libertarians and the libertarian-sympathetic, inasmuch as you seem to be blind to your own metaphysical baggage.

    “Consensual contracts” always and necessarily take place in the context of, and bargained in the shadow of, a whole world of things to which the parties did not consent. A simple example is the issue of who “owns” what and what “ownership” entails; but that is really just the very tip of the iceberg of a whole world of non-consensual political context that you are simply assuming. “Consequences” always and necessarily arise from and include all sorts of things to which the parties to a contract did not consent. Libertarians might affirm a right to sell yourself into slavery, but few people would sell themselves into slavery if they had truly consented to the contract when the contract is understood as inclusive of the political context in which it is made.

    Now, if you happen to find the context amenable to your view of things the fact that you didn’t consent to it is more likely to be invisible to you. But even in that kind of case it is still true that you did not consent to it.

    So at the end of the day JSG is right: despite all of the libertarian lip service to consent and consensual contracts, libertarian politics is no more consensual or less authoritative than any other politics. I do not know how to pull the veil back from the eyes of people who refuse to see this.

  • Zippy says:

    Marissa:

    I haven’t read either.

  • […] of liberalism, because they have not fully grasped that making freedom a political priority necessarily leads right back around to liberalism. In order to escape the mind trap of liberalism it is not enough to unequivocally reject equality […]

  • Maximus says:

    “Treating freedom or equality as political priorities at all involves a basic misapprehension: it involves deliberately taking our eyes off of what is good and adopting a pose of neutrality.”

    I am thinking that politics is the realm of contingency anyway, so within a metaphysical context of the apprehension of the good, political “priorities” for liberty or equality might be envisioned. They would just be bounded in their importance in the larger scheme of things. We should be careful that we do not sink our metaphysics into politics simpliciter.

    Another way of putting it is that the idea of “political priorities” is an ontologically low-ball concern in the first place.

  • Zippy says:

    Maximus:
    Perhaps what you are suggesting is that a nice tame liberalism is possible?

  • Maximus says:

    Nope. Just that we have to be careful not to elide categories. Metaphysics is not dependent on political demonstration in first order, not least because politics is often a welter of confused detritus.

  • […] It is self-contradictory to make freedom a political priority, because politics is essentially the art of resolving controverted cases. By definition all parties in controverted cases cannot be granted the actual capacity to choose what they wish to choose. Attempting to limit political freedom with some other principle doesn’t work: it just represents an attempt to confine the self-contradiction into a little box, from which, like a powerful acid, it will inevitably escape. And within whatever scope it is permitted to operate, it will insist upon equality of rights. […]

  • […] between good intentions and evil intentions, making freedom a political priority within any scope implies equality of rights within that scope. And since scope itself is a restriction on freedom, freedom as a political […]

  • […] of government in marriage, since the traditional authority of a husband does in fact constrain the equal freedom of wives. That the wife may have entered the marriage voluntarily doesn’t fix the problem, […]

  • […] true of liberalism – politics which makes freedom a political priority, thereby creating an implicit or explicit demand for equal rights, insisting on rule that pretends not to rule in order to […]

  • […] like “racial differences”, to make it clear that, even though they reject equality (kind of), they still have the credibility and authority of the materialist gods behind […]

  • […] If you took a poll of average people on the street I expect that less than one in a hundred – maybe one in a thousand – would have ever even heard of the Frankfurt School.  But nearly every one of them would agree that the government should protect everyone’s freedoms and make sure that everyone’s equal rights are respected. […]

  • […] freedom/autonomy and equality are two modes of the same idea. You can’t have one without the other, and embracing one necessarily implies embracing the other, […]

  • […] as a political priority begets the equality imperative.  The pretty side of the equality coin is freedom from discrimination: equal rights.  But […]

  • Bruce says:

    “If discrimination between different kinds of choices is impossible it follows that all choices are to be treated as equally valid politically”

    This by itself doesn’t seem to explain their equality of outcome fetish. If I could presume to try to finish the thought, I assume the equally valid political choices then imply the equal outcomes must be effected since each person’s goals are equally valid.

    At a gut level (my instincts could be wrong of course) their victims fetish seems to be a distinct thing from their liberty fetish. E.g. it’s hard to imagine that their near-worship of blacks and black victimology has much to do with liberty.

  • Zippy says:

    Bruce:

    If I could presume to try to finish the thought, I assume the equally valid political choices then imply the equal outcomes must be effected since each person’s goals are equally valid.

    Exactly right. The distinction between ‘positive rights’ and ‘negative rights’ is inherently question-begging, since precisely what is at issue is who is entitled to what as a result of the exercise of political power. Liberty cannot give an authoritative answer to that question, because every individual entitlement (“right”) implies a multitude of constraints: thus equality. Otherwise ‘liberty’ is just a sham that some people invoke as a pretext to lord it over others.

    it’s hard to imagine that their near-worship of blacks and black victimology has much to do with liberty …

    It has everything to do with it. The legacy of white privilege and oppression of blacks remain unchosen chains which unfairly hold some people back by accident of birth (since there is no principle of what is fair other than liberty itself). Failing to ‘adjust’ for these unfair constraints is to leave some people enslaved and imprisoned by the unjustified privileges of others.

    So nondiscrimination/equality follow quite naturally from adopting freedom as a political priority (liberty).

    Mind you, the fact that liberalism is rationally incoherent means that these arguments can have whatever substantive implications you like, as a logical matter. That buzzing in your brain telling you that something isn’t quite right stems from the fact that the political doctrine we are discussing is rationally incoherent. Liberalism can ultimately mean whatever you want it to mean, as a logical matter: that is the nature of starting from self contradictory premises.

    But it still has implications that we can discuss from various points of view because it operates within reality, in a context, like an electrical circuit with a random noise generator in it.

  • […] alongside conservatives and vibrant minorities.  As long as everybody respects each others’ equal rights, can’t we all just get […]

  • […] equality is not the most fundamental commitment of liberalism.  Equal rights inevitably follow from liberalism’s fundamental commitment to political liberty, and when denied by […]

  • thordaddy says:

    The white man’s political order should be aimed at Perfection, i.e., objective Supremacy. The need is to fulfill white man’s desire for free will (maximized moral freedom) and other “white men’s” need for a certain stability (equality/redundancy). As it stands, the latter is a ruthless AND toothless mob cannibalizing a dynamically dying mini-minority.

    Who is accountable for this present state of direness is simply that class of high IQ “white” males that span the ideological and religious spectrum possessing the failure to envision Perfection into the nihilistic Narrative..

  • Zippy says:

    All political order should aim at the good, the true, and the beautiful. Labeling this ‘supremacy’ is at best bad editorializing, obscuring the fact that in the particular, the humble, and the small we find the good, the true, and the beautiful as much as we find it in supreme might and high hierarchical status.

  • […] the immortal abstraction in his full trinitarian glory, correctly realizing that father liberty begets son equality, from both of which proceed the fraternity of the free and equal emancipated new […]

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