Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Am still plundering "Unqualified Reservations".

Against Political Freedom

(How's that for a provocative title?)

...when we look at the astounding violence of the democratic era, it strikes me as quite defensible to simply write off the whole idea as a disaster, and focus on correcting the many faults of monarchism. Certainly, it's hard to imagine how the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Holocaust, etc, could have occurred in a world where the Stuarts, Bourbons, Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs and Romanovs still reigned and ruled. The royal families of old Europe had their squabbles, but conscription, total war and mass murder were not in their playbooks.

Personal freedom is the freedom to engage in all other acts that satisfy you directly, and that do not infringe the rights of others. For example, the other day I quoted Navrozov quoting Hobbes, who lists the following personal freedoms:

to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract with one another; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their children as they themselves think fit; and the like.

Note that democracies tend to do a rather poor job of respecting these Hobbesian liberties. The only two that are customarily still respected are abode and trade of life - the Universalist democracies, at least, do not assign their citizens housing or jobs. They are massively obsessed with the regulation of buying, selling, and contracting, they manage enormous programs of official education, and they are not without their dietary laws.

Furthermore, there are some rather obvious candidates for "the like" in a modern society. For example, one might have freedom of medicine - absolute ownership of your own body, and the right to choose what experts help you maintain it, or what chemicals, devices, or procedures they may employ. Or freedom of association - the absolute right to choose who you work and play with, when and why. Or freedom of finance - the absolute right to manage your own property and dispose of it as you see fit.

On the border between personal and political freedom are freedoms such as freedom of the press, which can be defined as personal freedoms, but which as such affect relatively few people in a relatively minor way. Not many people are intellectuals who like to write for the public - there are probably more windsurfers, for example, in the world. Banning windsurfing would be a personal cost to those that like to windsurf, but not so much to anyone else.

Of course, infringing the freedom of the press harms the freedom of those who like to read - a much larger group, if still hardly the majority. But suppose the freedom of the press is infringed only on political subjects? Or only trivial subjects? For example, suppose it's illegal to insult the King, as it is in Thailand?

When I compare freedom of medicine, for example, to freedom of political publishing, I can't help but feel that the former is much more important. Am I crazy? Perhaps I am crazy. If so, perhaps someone will write in and tell me.


But the crucial point is that a government whose legitimacy is a consequence of property rights, not public opinion, has no reason to manipulate public opinion or otherwise deceive its residents. And plenty of reason not to.

This is one of my main points about monarchy. A monarch knows that he, in a sense, owns his country and that it will most likely be passed on to his great-grandchildren. He has a vested interest in taking good care of it. A politician knows that it is not "his" country, that he is only going to be around for a few years, and all he can really think about is making a splash while he can, and scrambling to keep his place. If monarchs still ruled Europe, the EU would be a pipe dream silly bohemians talked about while smoking opium. Non-ornamental monarchs would never have delivered their people over to such an entity as politicians eagerly have. And if you think American politicians won't do the same, bear in mind the Democrats' love of the UN, approval of the EU, appeals to "international law", yammering about an "international court" which will decide if we can go to war against a bloodthirsty regime which has funded people who attacked us, etc. And if you think Republican politicians will protect America from the internationalist aspirations of Democrats, I agree. They will protect us from it just like they protected us from abortion-at-whim, no-fault divorce, the Miranda rights debacle, the welfare system which supplies a steady stream of criminals to keep us in line, etc. etc.

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