The frontiers and fences founding the freedom fantasy

July 13, 2017 § 41 Comments

Political equal freedom is self contradictory, because politics – resolution of controvertible cases through the exercise of authority by those in authority – just is discriminatory restriction of freedom. Liberalism then is ultimately an attempt to nullify or escape from politics: to retreat into the frontier or behind fences and avoid other people and the controversies which arise when people live together: to practice politics through mechanical trickery while avoiding the messy problem of the existence of other human beings.

Frontiers and fences are mechanical features of the world not human beings, so if we can hide the ‘problem’ of politics behind them maybe we can escape from the debasing horror of accepting human authority as an inescapable feature of the world which never fades away, no matter how desperately (and sociopathically) we try to suppress it.  I’ve mentioned before that the kind of person who comes closest to escaping from politics is a homeless madman living a brutish and short existence alone in the wilderness.  If you never interact in any way with any other human beings, controversy with other human beings is avoided; though even Lord Greystoke had his hierarchy of apes to contend with.

As the number of people on Earth exceeds seven billion those fenced in frontiers become smaller and smaller, less and less habitable, creating a kind of hive.  The ultimate expression of liberalism becomes the libertarian paradise of urban projects: vast modern unnatural structures of tiny apartment cubes fused together in almost-anarchy.  The only thing you can’t get away with in the projects without bringing down the Supreme Court and the Feds is refuse to bake a cake for out-and-proud sodomites. But otherwise the rest of the world will try to avoid the anarchotyrannical singularity.

Politics is authoritative resolution of controvertible cases when human beings interact. To avoid politics is to avoid other human beings. This is why ‘freedom of association’ becomes so important to some kinds of liberals: once again the impulse is to just make other people and their problems go away, so the free and equal superman can live his life in peace.

But folks who want to live in a civilization, or even a tolerable small community, or merely a functional family, have to first accept the reality of messy, fallible, flawed, particular human authority vested in actual human beings. And if the community isn’t going to be intrinsically sociopathic, that means understanding and unequivocally rejecting political liberalism.

Unequivocally rejecting liberalism doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have a sociopathic community, of course.

But failing to unequivocally reject liberalism does guarantee that we will.

§ 41 Responses to The frontiers and fences founding the freedom fantasy

  • LarryDickson says:

    Sorry, Zippy, your attempt to wave away the only possibly viable alternative to “intrinsically sociopathic” authority doesn’t get us far. First, your characterization of the frontier as apes and madmen does not correspond to the actual reality as it was experienced by my ancestors. The authority of daddies and even sheriffs was recognized there, as long as it did not overstep its bounds. Second, your unconditional support of human authority refuses to recognize that unrestrained human authority always goes very wrong, as in the Supreme Court creating a right to abortion which is enforced by police sexually assaulting women protesters.

    Put simply, the frontier works much better than you paint it, and centralized authority much worse. If people insist on huddling in cities, maybe they are dooming themselves.

  • Zippy says:


    The authority of daddies and even sheriffs was recognized there, as long as it did not overstep its bounds.

    That demonstrates the point; yet you state it as if it were a counterpoint.

  • Zippy says:

    To simplify:

    The fact that you might be able to minimize the influence of formal authorities on yourself personally by hiding out in the wilderness or the urban projects or on a remote planet, cannot be converted into a philosophy of the just exercise of authority.

    Once the attempt is made to turn avoiding authority into a principle justifying the concrete exercise of authority (e.g. ‘just powers derived from the consent of the governed”, etc), you get liberalism: a sociopathic political philosophy which comprehensively governs while pretending to minimally govern.

  • I’ve actually lived off the grid, on the outskirts where people think they don’t believe in authority. It rapidly becomes very sociopathic. Two things opened my eyes to the truth of what Zippy is saying, books are a kind of authority, so just reading the words of others is submission to a kind of authority. Those of us rebels and outliers who read are actually consulting with the wisdom and experience of other humans. Second, “the herd” is another kind of authority, one I can hardly abide, but if all the wildebeests are marching off a cliff, you are going to go down with them. That is just a fact, a truth.The whole mess will really give you a fondness for daddies,sheriffs, and authority,that’s for sure.

  • Terry Morris says:

    LarryDickson, one of the interesting things about human attempts to escape to the frontier (one’s dream “frontier” might be Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oklahoma, Alaska, Guyana etc.) is that there is always some busybody, or group of busybodies, to alert the authorities that you have so escaped and that your women and children are beaten abused and raped against their will.

    Of course there is the alternative of steralizing oneself, moving to the wilderness of Alaska and getting eaten by wolves and bears.

  • Zippy says:

    I remember thinking to myself at one point how wonderfully apolitical was this particular company I had founded in its internal workings. Immediately after that I realized that the company wasn’t apolitical at all: that the politics all orbited me, as the founder and CEO whose leadership was never questioned (by anyone but myself) between founding and sale, which made the little solar system look like a quiescent meliocentric system from my point of view.

    Liberalism on one view is an attempt to create that meliocentric mathematical zero-in-the-authority-function experience for everyone, equally.

    Which works just fine for individuals who are completely alone in the universe.

  • LarryDickson says:

    You guys are veering toward reasonableness, especially by admitting that daddies and sheriffs provided authority on the frontier – and there were bounds to that authority. As soon as you admit bounds to authority, you are agreeing with my point.

    Terry Morris, the frontier is not survival cultism. It is rejected human beings and families in the 1800s finding they were not trapped and could make a life. Many had great admiration for MORAL authority, but they also did a lot of VOLUNTARY COOPERATION, a thing Zippy seems to assign no weight to. (Read “Little House on the Prairie.”) And, Insanitybytes22, I wholly agree that books are a kind of authority, which is why I quote them, but their authority obviously works by my consent.

    The only unconditionally legitimate authority is divine. Against any other authority, if it goes wrong enough, I am a potential rebel. Whether I ought to be an actual rebel depends, not on self-will, but on divine law and the human nature God created. If that is being liberal, then I am a liberal, and so is Thomas More.

  • Zippy says:


    You guys are veering toward reasonableness,

    That’s big of you. But I’d suggest that an alternative reading of the situation is that you are veering toward understanding.

    Against any other authority, if it goes wrong enough, I am a potential rebel.

    All human authority is inherently limited.

    Any attempt to directly command a subject to do evil is invalid by definition – an “obligation to do evil” is self contradictory.

    More general rebellion against a legitimate authority may, rarely, be justified under some fractal version of the just war doctrine.

    That said, it is characteristic of liberal societies that we can’t have a discussion about authority without using up all the oxygen in the room with obsessive worrying over when defying it is morally warranted. An example of this is feminism: we can’t talk about a husband and father’s authority without lengthy obsessive fretting over how many husbands are abusers, how wives are “equal” to husbands so his “leadership” means that she should do what he says only as long as she agrees that it is “God’s will”, etc etc etc.

    The extent of your own (or any other person’s) liberal commitments isn’t something I care to assess.

    My message is this:

    The Ring must be destroyed. That is your only choice.

  • Zippy says:

    Nothing I have said, by the way, should be taken as a denigration of voluntary cooperation. Voluntary cooperation is an essential part of any community — this point is so obvious that it shouldn’t really need to be stated at all.

    However, voluntary cooperation is entirely irrelevant when the specific question we are asking is the fundamental question of politics: that is, what grounds the legitimacy of every (or any) concrete exercise of authority?[1]

    The answer to this question cannot be “freedom” or “equal rights” or any permutation of those things without resort to

    a) tautology (“freedom” just means that the concrete exercise of authority is justified when it is and isn’t justified when it isn’t);

    b) nominalism (described recently here); or

    c) self contradiction (described recently here).


    [1] My answer to this question is that I don’t have a comprehensive answer myself. But modernity’s answer, liberalism — no matter how circumscribed right liberals attempt to frame it to be — is a motte-and-bailey mashup of tautology, nominalism, and self contradiction.

  • […] voluntary cooperation is entirely irrelevant when the specific question we are asking is the fundamental question of politics: that is, what […]

  • GJ says:

    and there were bounds to that authority. As soon as you admit bounds to authority, you are agreeing with my point.

    The liberal bogeyman is the absolute monarch, therefore ‘but there are limits to authority!’ is the kneejerk response.

  • Zippy says:


    The liberal bogeyman is the absolute monarch …

    Like unicorns, though, the truly absolute monarch doesn’t exist, has never really existed, and cannot exist even in principle. I’ve pointed out that Richard Lionheart was killed in what amounts to a minor police action at a fortified farmhouse garrisoned by just a few men.

    But by making absolute rule the bogeyman modernity comes much closer to actually achieving it than any Catholic monarchy ever came.

  • TomD says:

    Ah, but the truly absolute monarch does exist, and once you know His Name you understand why the modern world rails so hard against Him.

  • So are you saying that all government (even the absolute monarch) is necessarily limited?

  • Zippy says:


    All human authority (capacity to morally oblige subjects) and power (material capacity to make things happen) is limited, yes.

    (The two don’t always correspond very well, for that matter).

  • You just don’t like it when authority is self limited, correct?

  • Zippy says:


    You should grasp by now that what you or I (or anyone else) do and don’t like isn’t pertinent. The conclusion that liberalism is rationally incoherent and has been used to rationalize vast swaths of mass murder is like the Pythagorean Theorem (or, perhaps more pertinently, Arrow’s Theorem): its truth value doesn’t depend on what anyone wants.

  • Terry Morris says:

    Zippy (to Winston):

    You should grasp by now that what you or I (or anyone else) do and don’t like isn’t pertinent.

    This is a particularly noticeable blind spot for Winston; which is made evident by his oft-repeated refrain that he thinks “most reasonable and moral people” would prefer liberal government to alternative/illiberal forms given the choice.

    Personal preferences trump obligations to obey moral precepts every single time.

  • Zippy says:

    Terry Morris:

    That is a pattern of thought that living in liberal societies teaches people in general: that moral governance strives for equal satisfaction of preferences, without prejudice toward what those preferences happen to be. Jim Kalb’s writing is especially illuminating on this. (Not to mention introspection on the part of recovering liberals).

    In my own framing, making freedom the justification for politics (exercise of authority) is incoherent and thus triggers the principle of explosion; this ironically makes it look like “freedom” means whatever the person invoking it wants it to mean (the empowerments he sees feel right, and the constraints are mostly invisible to him or reflect “common sense”). This all makes him subjectively feel free.

    That is why the industrial scale mass murder, micromanagement of every aspect of life, and the like under liberal regimes has to be ignored, minimized, and attributed to anything-but-liberalism: because seeing the part of the iceberg that is underwater shatters a very pleasant illusion.

  • So you are saying all authority is limited but it is a sin for man to attempt to limit his own authority because this leads to mass murder?

  • Zippy says:


    There are many, many thousands of words here saying what I actually do say. What goes on in your mind when I say those things, I couldn’t say.

  • It seems a little contradictory.

  • Zippy says:


    How things seem to you is I am sure deeply interesting to you. But your feelings are just your feelings, and you’ve been commenting long enough to demonstrate (at least to me) that your ‘paraphrases’ are basically expressions of your feelings.

    If you feel like addressing something someone actually said though, feel free to do so.

  • Wood says:


    Authority isn’t, in the pertinent sense, consensual. Building societies upon the lie that authority, in the pertinent sense, is consensual leads to mass murder.

  • So you do not agree it is incoherent to say that all authority is naturally limited but it is wrong for man to put further limits on authority because this will lead to mass murder?

  • Zippy says:


    You have demonstrated your approach to be nominalist, so there isn’t any way for me to even tell what you mean by your words.

  • Answer it as an essentialist.

  • Zippy says:


    Answer it as an essentialist.

    Not until you put on a clown nose and do three reverse somersaults.

  • Are you avoiding the question because you don’t want to admit your theory is incoherent?

  • Zippy says:


    I am giving your comments exactly the consideration they deserve.

  • TomD says:

    This does as an aside bring up the issue that there is a double duty with authority – the duty to obey and the duty to order. An authority who shirks his authority is doing a grave evil: this is something the ancients knew, and you can see it in Tolkien:

    “Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire of the Halflings.”

    “And this do I hear, Denethor son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the high King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honour, oath-breaking with vengeance.”

    I feel an unmentioned part of the desire for liberalism is that we do recognize that each and every one of us is called to be an authority in some way; we’ve (at a minimum) been given our life (which is not our own) to hold as a useful steward. And that’s terrifying; much nicer to pretend there is no authority (and therefore no personal responsibility).

  • Terry Morris says:


    So you do not agree it is incoherent to say that all authority is naturally limited but it is wrong for man to put further limits on authority because this will lead to mass murder?

    You understand there is a difference between natural (i.e., by nature) and artificial (i.e., unnatural) limitations on human authority, no? And how that to essentially deny the former and embrace the latter might tend to create huge problems in a society?

    Lemme ask you this – in your view is it possible to “empower Muslim Americans” without disempowering everyone else in direct proportion thereto?

  • But for some unexplained reason the principle of explosion does not apply to your “limited authority” contradiction.

  • Hrodgar says:

    Authority simply IS limited. Nobody, except you and now Terry Morris, has even mentioned “self” limited authority.

    Nor does this contradict anything our host has, to my knowledge, ever said on this blog. It is as if Zippy were to point out that you’re building a house on quicksand, and you were that all foundations have limits. Yeah. So what?

  • Hrodgar says:

    Pardon, upon checking back I noticed that Mr. Morris has also not mentioned self-limited authority. He mentioned a distinction between natural and artificial limitations, which isn’t quite the same thing.

  • Terry Morris says:

    Hrogdar, right: I don’t buy into the “self limiting” authority nonsense. I made a distinction only because I thought it might help Winston see the sleight of hand involved with presenting the illusion of “self limiting” authority.

  • […] discrimination. By its nature the law cannot treat everyone equally; it can only treat various controverted desires and choices justly or unjustly, by authoritatively discriminating either justly or […]

  • […] aside the multivocity of the term “free State” it is possible to propose an (illiberal, explicitly authoritarian, and […]

  • […] conflict.  To have a right is to have an authoritative claim superior to competing claims in some controvertible […]

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