Tuesday, January 28, 2020

On Liberty vs. Democracy: My Comment on a Great QUORA Answer

In answer to the QUORA question “What makes the U.S. Constitution undemocratic?,” Jerry Adler posted a great answer, concluding with:

[The movement to try to change the foundations of our Government to be more democratic] scares me more than anything else has in my entire life and I’ve been shot, stabbed, ran into burning buildings and beat cancer three times. I will fight this entire movement with everything I have because history shows us the Majority is never kind, nice, or even right.

You can read his whole answer here. The only quibble I have with Adler’s answer is with his statement that “while it has democratic elements, because the people need a voice, it was never meant to be a government chosen by the people.” It should read “chosen directly by the people.” The people do choose their Senators and President, but only through their respective state legislators, who themselves are elected. This places a firewall between the people and the Executive and Senatorial Congressional branches of the federal government by keeping the state governments “in the loop.” This procedure is part of the checks and balances of governmental power.

I posted this supporting comment:

Great answer! Thanks

The question points to a crucial philosophical conflict that has been raging for 200 years. The final outcome of this battle will ultimately determine the future of America as a free country. Constitutional and legal scholar Timothy Sandefur takes on this divide in his book, The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty. In this book, Sandefur answers the question “Is liberty or democracy the primary constitutional value?”:

“At a time when Americans are increasingly facing violations of their civil liberties, Timothy Sandefur's insightful new book explains why the Declaration of Independence, with its doctrines on the primacy of liberty, the natural rights of man, and the limits on legitimate government, should serve as the guidepost for understanding the Constitution. The author takes the reader through the ideas of substantive due process and judicial activism and defends them from mainstream criticisms while drawing on examples from literature, television, and Supreme Court cases. The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty argues that modern legal doctrines, which value democracy over liberty, are endangering individual rights and corrupting our civic institutions.”

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Saturday, January 25, 2020

QUORA: ‘What are some of the best, specific arguments for capitalism and against communism?’

I posted this answer:

The best argument for capitalism and against communism is the most fundamental philosophical argument, from which all specific arguments follow--the moral argument. 

Capitalism—by which I mean fully free laissez-faire capitalism, not the “welfare capitalism” or mixed economies or crony “capitalism” we see today—is based on the Enlightenment ideal of individualism. Individualism holds that the standard of moral value is the individual, which leads to economic, political, and intellectual freedom based on inalienable individual rights to life, liberty, earned property, free trade, and the personal pursuit of happiness—secured by a government instituted and constitutionally limited for the purpose of protecting that freedom.

Communism (as a social-economic-political system) is based on collectivism, which holds that the standard of moral value is the group or collective, as represented by the state. Under communism, all “rights” are vested in the collective--the individual has no rights--so any individual[s] may be sacrificed for whatever purpose the state deems to be in the interest of the general or common good of the collective (society, the proletariat, etc.) it represents. 

Capitalism means each person has a moral and legal right to live for himself. Communism means each person’s only moral and legal purpose for existing is to live for others. That is the basic divide--and for anyone who values human life, the best argument “for capitalism and against communism.”

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

QUORA: ‘Since corporations are not actual people, how does John Roberts justify legally defining them as such?’

I posted this answer:

I take the question to refer to the legal doctrine called “corporate personhood.”

The question is a little misleading. It’s true only humans are people, and of course corporations aren’t “actual people”. Private corporations are voluntary associations of individuals, each of whom has rights. A group, as such, has no rights. But among the rights of individuals is the right to express their individual rights collectively, through a group. This is the right of freedom of association, expressed in the First Amendment as “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging . . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble. [*]”* This right is what the legal doctrine of “corporate personhood” is designed to protect. 

Contrary to its critics, the Supreme Court never legally defined corporations as “actual people” distinct from the people who comprise it. For example, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court ruled “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with the corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.” [page 18, my emphasis]

In other words, the “rights” of corporations are nothing more than extensions of the rights of the corporation’s owners and/or employees, who are actual people. The associates of corporations do not forfeit their individual rights simply by joining corporations any more than individuals would forfeit their rights by organizing into other types of groups such as professional associations, churches, families, political or intellectual advocacy movements, recreational organizations like book clubs or bowling leagues, charitable institutions, or unions. Nor do corporations gain rights that the underlying individual members don’t have. Corporate “rights”, like the “rights” of any group, are merely extensions of the actual rights of actual individuals acting through freedom of association, nothing less and nothing more. 

To deny the “rights” of corporations—corporate personhood, properly understood—is to deny the rights of individuals, including the rights of association, speech, contract, property, free trade, equal protection and other rights individuals may choose to exercise cooperatively to achieve some common desired end, which can be any peaceful purpose the owners choose.

[ * This right of free association is listed in the context of freedom of religion, speech, press, and petitioning of the government, which the framers considered to be inextricably linked; that is, to violate one is to violate all. But it logically extends to all individual rights, including rights to property and free trade.]

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. For His Moral Ideals Rather Than His Politics

In commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Peniel E. Joseph, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University, said in a 2014 article:

King emerges as a talented individual whose rhetorical genius at the March on Washington helped elevate an entire nation through his moral power and sheer force of will.

The March on Washington was when King delivered his famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. Joseph goes on:

Yet missing from many of the annual King celebrations is the portrait of a political revolutionary who, over time, evolved into a radical warrior for peace, justice and the eradication of poverty. During his last three years, King the “Dreamer” turned into one of the most eloquent, powerful and scathing critics of American society. King lent his moral force and power to anti-poverty crusades that questioned the economic system of capitalism and called for an end to the Vietnam War. . . . King’s powerful rage against economic exploitation and war is often overlooked when we think of him as only a race-healer.

The "moral power" of King's famous "Dream" speech in Washington was actually the moral power of the Founding Fathers resurrected. In that speech, King reminded Americans of the ideals laid down in the Declaration of Independence—the philosophic blueprint for the constitution and the new nation—and called on Americans to fully live up to those ideals. “In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check,” King said.

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Yet, King's Dream was to be corrupted by an inner contradiction. In his later years, King questioned the legitimacy of capitalism and turned to what he termed "democratic socialism," a hybrid of two evil systems (democracy and socialism) that repudiates the very ideals he espoused in his speech. Therein lies one of the great American paradoxes—the clash between King the moral force and King the political revolutionary.

When the Founders drafted the Declaration of Independence, they laid down the radical principles that would give birth to capitalism. These 55 brilliant words—the opening lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration—sum up the essence of capitalism:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .

When King reaffirmed those ideals—that all men are created equal, possessing inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness protected equally and at all times under a government of objective law rather than of men—he was really, though apparently unwittingly, affirming the foundational principles of capitalism.

Capitalism is the system based on individual rights, rights-protecting government and the only kind of equality consistent with justice—equality of individual rights before the law. Because of these principles, Capitalism is the only social system that banishes exploitation and war, because individual rights banishes aggressive or initiatory force from human relationships—particularly aggressive force by government against the people. Under capitalism, exploitation is replaced with voluntary trade to mutual benefit among individuals, a win-win in which individuals trade value-for-value and get better together. Capitalism liberates every individual to think and act on his own judgement and work to lift himself from poverty, and protects those who take up that life-affirming challenge from would-be exploiters who don’t. And under capitalism, war is replaced with peaceful coexistence among nations based on that principle of trade.

So why would King uphold the moral principles of capitalism in his most famous speech while repudiating it in his politics? It's obvious that King didn't understand capitalism or fully grasp the moral implications of the Declaration of Independence that he so eloquently honored.

He undoubtedly viewed the America of the 1960s as capitalist, when in fact what America had was a mixed economy; a mixture of economic freedom and government controls—that is to say, an economy corrupted by heavy political interference, which included the virulently anti-capitalist Jim Crow segrgation laws. America in the 1960s was just emerging from a time when large segments of blacks were legally oppressed and hence unable to enjoy “the riches of freedom and the security of justice” that is capitalism. Blacks, King failed to understand, were not victims of capitalism but of statism.

King’s legacy includes an end to state-sponsored segregation and oppression—a monumental achievement. But his democratic socialist political policies also “succeeded,” strengthening and entrenching the mixed economy in America, which he mistakenly perceived as capitalism—the result being, in turn, to reduce economic opportunities for many poor but ambitious people, including African-Americans.

To his credit, King explicitly opposed full-blown socialism, which he believed leads to communism, a system that he correctly understood "forgets that life is individual." But he wrongly believed that "Capitalism forgets that life is social," leading him to his hybrid democratic socialism. He failed to see that capitalism, by leaving individuals free to pursue their own values in the absence of physical coercion, provides the only proper moral foundation for both individual flourishing and robust benevolent social interaction. That moral foundation, rational egoism, is implicit in the Declaration of Independence, which defends the inalienable rights of every individual to pursue his own happiness.

Thus is the paradox of Martin Luther King.

Commentators like Joseph urge us to elevate his politics to at least the level of his ideals. That, of course, would be an impossible contradiction. But ideas are where the real power lies. Since ideas are the driving force of human events, Martin Luther King, despite his politics, remains one of my heroes. Standing in a line that includes John Locke, the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, and Ayn Rand, among others, King reaffirmed America's Founding ideals at a crucial point in American history. That, to me, is his real legacy contribution to America. For that, I am grateful to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal—Ayn Rand

Martin Luther King: Right On Racial Justice, Wrong On ‘Economic Justice’

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

NJ’s School/Vaccine Battle Need Not Pit Public Health Against Individual Rights

New Jersey has been trying to pass a law that eliminates the religious exemption from its school vaccine mandate. Potent anti-vaccine activism has thus far stifled the bill. In The vaccine bill is an adequate compromise. For now, the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorializes:

It’s been 115 years since the Supreme Court ruled that states can mandate vaccines to protect the public health, and 98 years since the court ruled that learning institutions could exclude unvaccinated students from attending schools in their districts.

Every challenge to both rulings has been swept aside, apparently due to a cosmic awakening to the wonders of indisputable medical science. Or perhaps it was just common sense: In 1900, 30 percent of all deaths in the US were children less than 5 years of age. Today, it’s barely 1 percent, because children who would have previously died from childhood infections live full lives now, thanks to vaccines and antibiotics.

So it is with some ambivalence that we hope both chambers pass the vaccine bill Monday [1/13/2020].

It isn’t the mandatory compliance bill that lawmakers had promised for nearly a decade, because the anti-vax forces brought their percussion instruments and windy cascade of First Amendment rhetoric to Trenton to blow open a loophole that may not benefit anyone at all.

The compromise bill “allows private schools or day care centers to accept unvaccinated children.” 

I posted the following comments:

I’m always suspicious when science is used to push a political agenda. Science is not an infallible omniscient authority. Science should be consulted when making law, but only in conjunction with the broader picture. For example, individual rights, the foundation of free societies, should always overlay the law. Rights are not mere “rhetoric.” Properly understood, individual rights are inviolable. They are crucial protectors against all forms of tyranny. With that perspective, some points:

  1. Individual rights means equality of rights. For both 1st and 14th Amendment reasons, there should never be a strictly religious exemption from any law. If there be exemptions, it should extend to all conscientious objectors, religious or non-religious. 

2.            Schools public or private have the right to establish entry requirements, including vaccine requirements. Parents’ right not to vaccinate their kids does not mean the “right” to force a school to risk infecting other kids.

3.            But if kids are excluded from a school, the parents should not be forced to pay for that school. This is clear with respect to private schools. But the same should go for public schools. If a kid is excluded from a public school, the education tax dollars should follow the unvaccinated kid to whatever alternative the parents choose.

I side with the vaccine requirement. I believe science should always be consulted, and its clear to me that vaccine benefits far outweigh the risks, both regarding personal health and the health and rights of others. But individual rights should always be respected and protected as well. On this basis, there is a compromise that can protect both “public health” and individual rights; a vaccine mandate coupled with parental school choice.

Rights “properly understood” means every individual has the right to live by his/her own judgement so long as his actions don’t violate the same rights of others. Clearly, walking around with an airborne infectious disease crosses the line into other peoples’ rights.

On Monday, January 13, 2020, the bill failed to pass. It is now dead, as the current legislative session is over. The bill will have to be reintroduced in the next session and begin the approval process anew. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney vowed to get the bill passed eventually.

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Facebook Stands Up to the Would-be Censors

Ever since 2016, when Britain’s Brexit vote and Trump’s election went against the desires of the political/media/intellectual elites, pressure has been high on social media companies to “regulate”—i.e. censor—speech on their platforms, particularly political speech. Recently, my interest in this is even more militant because of a great book by Nadine Strossen I’m currently reading, HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship (Inalienable Rights)

As the 2020 U.S. presidential election year gets underway, Google and Twitter have succumbed to the pressure. But Facebook is resisting in no uncertain terms. As the New York Times reports in Facebook Again Refuses to Ban Political Ads, Even False Ones:

Despite escalating pressure ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Facebook reaffirmed its freewheeling policy on political ads Thursday, saying it won’t ban them, won’t fact-check them and won’t limit how they can be targeted to specific groups of people.

The company said it was guided by the principle that “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

The thing that concerns me is not as much that private companies might limit or regulate political ads, which would be bad but their right. The thing that concerns me is politicians using legal or regulatory extortion (threats) to coerce companies into banning or limiting ideas the politicians don’t approve of under vague and nonsensical yet dangerous rationalizations like “that social media is warping democracy and undermining elections.” It’s hard for politicians in the United States to censor outright, thanks to the First Amendment. But censorship-by-proxies is a real concern. See my post The Banning of Alex Jones: Facebook Choice or Regulatory Extortion?.

Facebook is no completely innocent. It has called for federal regulations and rules to govern political advertising, saying private companies should not be the ones to do it.

But for now, kudos to Facebook for standing up to the political/media/intellectual elites who want to enforce silence and shred the rights of we the citizens to hear, analyze, fact-check, and decide for ourselves what is true, false, or misleading in the upcoming political campaigns.

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

QUORA: 'Why can't libertarians name a single successful libertarian experiment in running a country?'

I posted this answer:

Because there are none.

If we define “libertarian” as a person who upholds individual rights to life, liberty, work, trade, property earned through work and trade, and the personal pursuit of happiness, the answer is simple: There are no “successful libertarian experiments at running a country” because a libertarian by definition does not seek to run a country. He seeks to establish a country where people are free to run their own lives, governed by a government that protects that freedom by establishing a legal structure geared to protecting individual rights.

On that premise, the historical evidence of successful libertarian experiments is everywhere, starting with the United States of America. If success is measured in terms of general standard of living, the extent of a country’s individual freedom is the extent of a country’s success.

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