Why Republican Libertarianism? III

(This text was written for the European Students for Liberty Regional Conference in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University. I did not deliver the paper, but used it to gather thoughts which I then presented in an improvised speech. As it was quite a long text, I am breaking it up for the purposes of blog presentation)

There is a gap between ancient Athens and classical liberalism, and covering that gap will explain more about the development from antique republics to modern liberty. The trio of major antique republican thinkers mentioned above, Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero, sets up the tradition. They establish the idea of the best state – polity/politea in Greek, republic/res publica in Latin – as one of hearing political power between groups in the context of shared citizenship and decision making.

For Aristotle, that is the sharing of power between oligarchs (the rich, in practice those wealthy through commerce), aristocrats (the virtuous, in practice the educated land owning classes) and the poor majority. Polybius was a later Greek thinker who admired the Roman republic and Cicero was a Roman aristocrat-philosopher from the last years before the republic gave way to the one-man emperor rule system.

Both use arguments from Aristotle but tend to refer to Sparta rather than Athens as the ideal republic, which indicates the difficulties for antique thought in accepting a commercial and free thinking republic as model. Polybius and Cicero both admire the Roman system because they see it as based on law and on sharing power between the people (citizens’ assembly), the aristocracy (senate), and a monarchical function shared between two year-long co-rulers (consuls).

Their arguments also rest on the idea of the state as military camp. It is interesting to note that Pettit the egalitarian liberal prefers this Roman model to Athens and that Arendt prefers the Athenian model. This suggests that Arendt has something to say to classical liberals and libertarians, though she is rarely taken up within that group, and that egalitarian liberalism is rather caught up in strong state ideas, the state strong enough to force redistribution of economic goods rather than impose extreme military spirit on its citizens, but a strong intervening state.

All three of the ancient republican thinkers had difficulty with the idea of a commercially orientated republic and has some idea of virtue in restraining wealth, though Cicero in particular was staggeringly rich suggesting that ancient republican thought had some difficulty in accommodating commercial spirit, more so than some ancient republics in practice.

There is one major step left in ancient republican thinking which is the account the senator-historian Tacitus, of the early Roman Emperor period, gives of liberty in the simple tribal republics of ancient Germans and Britons. He sees them as based on independence of spirit and a willingness to die for that independence, in a way largely lacking amongst the Romans of that time.

The admiration for such ‘barbarian’ liberty also gives some insight into the difficulty of combining commercial spirit with republicanism in ancient thinking. Wealth is seen as something tied to benefits from the state, state patronage, so reduces independence of the state whether the local state or a foreign invading state.

Republicanism takes the next great step forward when some way of thinking of wealth as existing at least partly independently of state patronage appears. This is what happens in northern Italy from about the thirteenth century. To some degree this Italian republicanism has older roots in the maritime republic of Venice, but the trading wealth is still very tied up with aristocratic status and a rigid aristocratic hold on politics.

It is Florence, which serves as a thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth century Athens, where Italian culture, commercial wealth, and republican thinking all thrive. The cultural greatness goes back to the poet Dante and the republicanism to his tutor Bruno Latini. The really great moment in Florentine republicanism comes in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, though, with Francesco Guicciardini, but mostly with Niccoló Machiavelli.

Commentary on Machiavelli is heavily burdened by the image of Evil Machiavel or at least of Machiavelli the cynical advocate of power politics in The Prince. This is just a completely false image of a man whose ideal was the revival of the Roman republic, not the rule of absolute and absolutely immoral princes.

The supposed wickedness and cynicism of The Prince related to comments on how kings seize and maintain power, in which as far as Machiavelli advocates rather than analyses, he advocates minor acts of political violence. The age of Machiavelli is the age of the Catholic Inquisition torturing heretics and passing them to the state to be burned at the stake, the mass persecution and expulsion of Iberian Jews and Muslims, wars of religion and conquest, which involved systematic and mass destruction of property, torture, rape, and murder.

Those who chose to condemn the ‘wickedness’ of Machiavelli at the time were often those engaged in such activities. Machiavelli’s advice to princes does no more than advocate at the most extreme, very limited amounts of violence to institute and maintain rule, certainly very limited by the standards of the time.

Why Republican Libertarianism? II

(This text was written for the European Students for Liberty Regional Conference in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University. I did not deliver the paper, but used it to gather thoughts which I then presented in an improvised speech. As it was quite a long text, I am breaking it up for the purposes of blog presentation)

We can confirm Arendt’s sense that ancient Athenian democracy was not concerned with collective confiscation of private economic goods, by looking at the most famous political speech of ancient Greece. That is the funeral oration delivered by Pericles in the midst of the Peloponnesian War between democratic Athens and oligarchic-militaristic Sparta. Pericles states that in Athens there is no shame in poverty, only in not struggling with poverty (clearly referring to an individual struggle), and that poverty is no barrier to a place in political life. Pericles also refers to the greater tolerance of the different characteristics of other citizens in Athens compared with Sparta, and that bravery of the Athenian soldiers he mourns, so though the Athenian society does not put the military life as much at the centre as Sparta, it can show just as much courage in war.

As we can see, republicanism is the most historically situated form of political theory, aiming for continue a way of thinking about political community that goes back to Aristotle in fourth century BCE Athens. It was the tradition that runs through Aristotle, Polybius and Cicero in antiquity which informed the understanding of liberty in the classical liberals, in Locke, Hume, Smith, Montesquieu, Tocqueville, Constant, de Stael, J.S. Mill, and so on.

Their understanding also included the idea that there were differences between ancient and modern societies, particularly the greater emphasis on commerce in modern societies, which modified the understanding of liberty so that the liberty pursed by the moderns would be and should be different from the liberty pursued by the ancients, as summarised by Benjamin Constant in his speech ‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns’ (1816).

However, Constant did not argue for a complete opposition between the two. He noted the commercial life of ancient Athens and its greater cultural openness than many ancient states. So that though Athens still shared in the tendency of ancient states to  impose conformity to officially defined religion and manners, it was less extreme than many. The republic of Carthage, defeated by Rome in the Punic Wars of the third and second centuries BCE, has also been mentioned by some as an ancient republic in which sea trade was at the centre of life, and since ships were the best means of trade in antiquity, that meant it was one of the commercial republics of antiquity. Montesquieu in particular noted that Carthage shared republican political forms with Rome, in which a citizen assembly governed the city in co-operation with an oligarchic-aristocratic council (the Senate in the case of Rome), but had a different attitude to trade and commercial life.

So though the classical liberals emphasised the differences between ancient and modern liberty, they did not simply reject ancient liberty, and did not reject the republican tradition. They found the centrality of war to ancient life, the relatively static political economy and commercial life, and the attempts of the state to enforce virtue to be different from what they hoped for from modern liberty.  The classical liberals also saw liberty growing in ancient republics and thought there was some link between the conditions of liberty and a public culture of shared concerns between citizens.

The laws and institutions necessary to liberty require some support from a feeling of citizenship and joint political enterprise. The need to replicate the solidarity of ancient societies based on preparedness for war is one of the reasons that Smith gives for advocating some public role in promoting education, though with a preference for most education to be provided by private institutions rather than the state.

It is useful to look at the views of the apparent greatest classical liberal defender of monarchy, Montesquieu, to see the importance of the ancient republican tradition for modern liberalism. Montesquieu suggests that a monarchy of the kind that existed in France in the eighteenth century is good for commerce and liberty where it rests on institutions that have some independence of the monarchy such as law courts and a land owning aristocracy.

However, the legal tradition he though guaranteed such liberty in France, is something he traced back to the German invaders of ancient Gaul during the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west. They brought the customary laws of tribes in the German forests which where essentially republics as kings existed to lead in war and relied on popular support. Montesquieu is a bit more ambiguous than this in his description of the ancient Germans, as he is generally an ambiguous thinker with regard to his views on monarchies and republics, and which are the best for liberty.

He recognised both a law governed ‘moderate’ forms of government opposed to despotism. He recognises the commercial capacities of the Athenian and Carthaginian republics. For his own time, he recognises England as a disguised republic (in the eighteenth century, Great Britain was essentially an oligarchic-aristocratic republic with a very constrained monarchy) which has a leading role in the era with regard to liberty and commerce. Montesquieu’s main criticisms of England relate to missing some aspects of a culture or honour and aristocratic courtesy, rather than any criticism of substance.

Why Republican Libertarianism? I

(This text was written for the European Students for Liberty Regional Conference in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University. I did not deliver the paper, but used it to gather thoughts which I then presented in an improvised speech. As it was quite a long text, I am breaking it up for the purposes of blog presentation)

Republicanism has been on the rise as a term in political theory debates since the late 1990s, where it has joined egalitarian liberalism (that is a version of liberalism in which the state decides on income and wealth distribution, markedly more flat than the distribution achieved by the market, at least in intention), communitarianism, and libertarianism in the main recognised streams of political theory along with radical democracy, deliberative democracy, and Marxism.

The egalitarian liberal position emphasis rights, justice, and rational political procedures claiming that constituently employed they lead to a morally based economic pattern of distribution distinct from the relatively spontaneous activities of the market and civil society. Libertarianism (covering anything that might be regarded as classical liberal or libertarian) tends to have the same basis and argue that correct understanding leads to a more market based individualistic view of how economic goods should be distributed.

Communitarianism is most economically egalitarian but includes social conservatives as well as social liberals. It argues that views about justice have proper foundation in the rules according to which humans live in, form, and maintain communities, rather than individual rights. It tends to be anti-libertarian but a communitarianism based on voluntary communities below the level of the state, or independent of the state, can converge with form of libertarianism emphasising the freedom to create voluntary communities of those with shared visions of the good life, socialist, capitalist or anything else.

Marxism is, I presume, well known enough to need no introduction and radical democracy is the attempt to make Marxism, or something like it, compatible with liberalism in democracy and rights, and maybe even compatible with libertarianism in some social and moral issues. Deliberative democracy is the view that political institutions and laws should rest on a constant process of public discussion and negotiation, presumed to engage most of the population.

Simply explained, republicanism is the view that political institutions and laws rest on the tendency for human communities to have a political aspect, and liberty to have some aspect of rights of political participation, where there is some life is devoted to discussion of the best institutions, laws, and policies for maintaining liberty. If all this sounds rather libertarian, it has to be said that republican political theory in its current manifestation, which goes back to the late 90s, has used there same arguments as egalitarianism, but taking the understanding of liberty in a different direction.

In the egalitarian liberal understanding, liberty is just as much to do with state designed economic equality, or limitations on inequality, as individual rights to life, property, and freely chosen version of the individual good life. From the egalitarian liberal perspective, which theorises the views of new liberals, constructive liberals, social liberals, and progressives since the late nineteenth century, ‘liberty’ must include the idea of some equality in the distribution of economic goods as part of the fairness or equality of respect, which is part of those aspects of liberty concerned with individual rights under law.

The idea of republicanism as now discussed in academic circles, at least those largely concerned with a ‘normative theory’ approach to political theory emphasising conceptual analysis  was developed by the Irish philosopher Philip Pettit (long based between the US and Australia). Pettit rests his arguments on a mixture of a historical republican tradition going back to antiquity, and arguments about the meaning of liberty and what kinds of liberty there are. The arguments in Pettit, like many other discussions of liberty, refer back to a famous paper by the philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin in ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ (1958), which rest on a view of the history of political ideas, so again we come back to a historical argument.

Republicanism in recent political thought has another inspiration, (at least for those concerned with the more cultural, literary, historical, and interpretative aspects of political theory) from an a mid twentieth century writer on politics and philosophy, Hannah Arendt. Arendt is hard to situate politically, and has been taken up both by radical democrats and conservatives. She was rather evasive on the subject of socialism versus capitalism, however the basis in her thought for this was that political issues should be distinguished from social welfare issues, which certainly seems to exclude the possibility of socialist or even egalitarian liberal ideas entering into her basic political assumptions.

Arendt looked back to ancient Athens, in contrast with Pettit who takes Rome as his starting point, and to a culture of competition to prove excellence, which was aristocratic in origin. Athens at the the time it was home to Aristotle, as well as many other notable cultural and philosophical figures, was a democracy based on citizens meeting in the centre of the city to make laws and make the major decisions about state actions.

For Arendt, the political culture of the democracy took up the aristocratic tradition of competitiveness to produce a political life that itself cultivated excellence through contests, and a concern with the public good, at the same time as it was producing great culture, as part of the same pattern. She points to the largely political decision making of the assembly, which was not engaged in attempts to change shares of economic goods.

Reading the Laws, Part 3

If you have not been following along thus far, I recommend going back to parts one and two.

To summarize the foregoing, the Athenian has continued his metaphor of the family at war to show his point, that the purpose of the state is not for warfare, but warfare is one of the necessary functions of a proper state. Nor is courage in battle the highest virtue, but one of many virtues that are necessary for the flourishing (τὸ ἄριστον) of a polity. He illustrates this by an analysis of a poem by the Spartan Tyrtaeus, praising veterans of foreign wars. Courage and valor may be exercised on the civic field, but it is not praised as it is in foreign conflicts – this indicates that warfare, and its matching virtue courage, are not the summum bonum, but may be put on a gradient, depending on where they are exercised. He then extrapolates this outward to all virtues, the individual man, the lawgiver, and the state. Now, back to the action.

631a-632c: The Athenian recapitulates his argument against the Cretan’s claims, to wit, that war is the foundation of the good state, and tells him how he ought to have begun his statement:

1. The foundation of a good state is in a foundation looking towards the highest good of its subjects (identical with Klinias’ earlier idea)
2. Goods are bifurcated into greater (divine) and lesser (human) goods, ranked in order of first to least below. Human are (naturally) subordinate to divine goods
Divine: wisdom (φρόνησις), rational temperance of soul (νοῦ σώφρων ψυχῆς ἕξις), justice (δικαιοσύνη), courage (ἄνδρεια). The word for wisdom, transliterated phronesis, is the sort of quality that far-thinking and capable administrators must posess, so that Themistocles had phronesis in building a fleet of ships to combat the Persians by sea, avoiding their dominance by land. My translation uses “rational temperance of soul” for Plato’s term, but a more literal meaning is “A state (ἕξις) holding to the soundness of mind (νοῦ σώφρων) of the soul (ψυχῆς).
Human: health, beauty, strength, wealth
3. In implicit relation to the metaphor of the family previously described, the lawgiver must lay down these goods for his people, and then he must instruct them thoroughly in their use, as a father would ensure his children know how to brush their teeth and say their prayers after he has taught them: “he must observe and watch their pains and pleasures and desires and intense passions, and distribute praise and blame directly in accordance with the laws themselves.” This extends to almost all the important affairs of the citizenry, from marriage rituals, to the burying of the dead, to the rearing of children, and so on and so on.
4. Having set a firm foundation of good behavior for the people, he must then ensure that they follow his dictates, especially when it comes to money and the formation and dissolution of their mutual bonds.
5. Finally, having laid all this down, he must abdicate, and give power to others (φύλακεις, or “guards”), who will rule with wisdom (φρόνησις) and true opinions/beliefs (ἀληθοῦς δοξῆς ἰόντας), without recourse to the sins of greed or ambition.

632e-633c: Thus the Athenian lays plain what Klinias ought to have said. It seems our enquiry is over, for the state and its proper goods have all been described in full. However, this served merely as an outline, and not as a definitive exposition of the proper laws for a good state. Indeed, we now only have sharpened the focus of the enquiry, from looking at the notion of the good itself, to now transitioning to specific goods. It may be useful here to rehash a bit about what the good, “τὸ ἄριστον,” really is. The good, as revealed in the etymology of the word itself, is excellence, the best, dominance, nobility, flourishing, greatness. Based on the prevailing dialogue, the good is the proper flourishing of a thing, what makes it the most successful in its actions and its dealings with others. Specifically for a polity and the ethny it serves, the good is the proper relations between the parts, the individuals and the groups, as the Athenian related in 627c-628a. For when parts are in conflict, then there is no benefit, only calumny. When the parts are in harmony, then the individual good is maximized, thereby allowing the communal good to flourish as well, in a self-fulfilling cycle of virtue.

The parallelism between human and divine continues throughout, and in fact brings up an almost paradoxical idea: the most salutary of laws come from the gods, and indeed the goods can be divided into divine and human according to the Athenian, but they nonetheless come about through the lawgiver, who is a human being. This introduces a tension in the dialogue that may not be readily apparent, and reflects a bit of the Socratic irony that is not entirely absent, even if Socrates himself does not appear as a character: the object of the dialogue has, it seems, been the establishment of what a good state should be, yet everyone has agreed from the outset, that the fundamentals of a good state are bequeathed by the gods alone! It seems to vitiate the entire point of the enquiry at all. I am unsure how Plato will bring it together in the end, so I will refrain from commenting on this interesting dimension more here, save to mention a blog post I read a few days ago, which I am now reminded of. Not sure yet whether it applies here.

Back to the present. As the dialogue began with a discussion of the state at war, and the virtue of warfare is courage, the Athenian decides that it will be proper to interrogate what the virtue of courage actually is, as it is the fourth of the divine virtues he considers necessary for a good individual and a good state. This time Megillos, the Lakedaimonian, ventures to describe the practices of his people for the fostering of courage, the chief virtue in war:
1. The gymnasia
2. The common messes
3. Hunting
4. The Krypteia, an initiation ritual for young Lakedaimonian men. Purportedly, it involved living by guile and rapine, alone on the land. Any slaves, known as helots, that were encountered out of doors after nightfall could be killed.
5. Various athletic practices

633e-635e: The Athenian then notes the principle at work behind these practices: to harden the individual to struggle. He then asks: Is it struggle of the individual solely against pains, or against other evils, such as desire as well? Megillos answers in the affirmative, that it is struggle as such, struggle against any obstacle, that the rituals exist to teach, for the virtue of courage would be incomplete if a man could master his fear of pain, but not his indulgence in bodily pleasure. Indeed, pleasure is counted as a far more grievous thing to fall to, than is pain, for the adversity of pain does not corrupt a man and turn him from the paths of virtue, but pleasure most certainly does. Thus, out of all the human goods that the Athenian listed previously, not one except wealth can be accounted a pleasure – and that itself is subordinate to the far more important divine virtues of wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage.

Despite heartily agreeing to this, both Klinias and Megillos cannot name a single important law or institution of theirs that acts to inoculate the people against the insidious aspects of pleasure. Rather than attacking their institutions, the Athenian then stipulates that the laws, even if they are deficient, should never be openly criticized, and instead should be treated as if they were given by the gods: “One of the most beautiful [καλός] of the laws would be that which forbids the youth from seeking which of them are beautiful or not beautiful, but with one voice and from one mouth, to declare together that all are laid down beautifully by the gods, and if one says differently, they shall listen to him not at all: and if some old man reflects on them to you, he shall do so to an archon and to one of his own age, but he shall not speak a word of it to the young,” or “εἷς τῶν καλλίστων ἂν εἴη νόμων μὴ ζητεῖν τῶν νέων μηδένα ἐᾶν ποῖα καλῶς αὐτῶν ἢ μὴ καλῶς ἔχει, μιᾷ δὲ φωνῇ καὶ ἐξ ἑνὸς στόματος πάντας συμφωνεῖν ὡς πάντα καλῶς κεῖται θέντων θεῶν, καὶ ἐάν τις ἄλλως λέγῃ, μὴ ἀνέχεσθαι τὸ παράπαν ἀκούοντας: γέρων δὲ εἴ τίς τι συννοεῖ τῶν παρ’ ὑμῖν, πρὸς ἄρχοντά τε καὶ πρὸς ἡλικιώτην μηδενὸς ἐναντίον νέου ποιεῖσθαι τοὺς τοιούτους λόγους.”

This ties into what I commented on earlier, namely that to speak of a divine lawgiver is to undermine a rational discourse on the law, because if the laws were truly given by the gods, they would be infallible, and to even debate them would be a waste of time – it would be akin to debating the laws of gravitation, and then proposing that there could be better laws, like that things should continue to move upwards when ones throws them into the air. However, Plato crucially limits this self-censorship to the young, and permits the old to speak freely amongst themselves, as the three characters in this dialogue do. It may be asked, though: if free thinking is discouraged in the youth, but the old are allowed it, how can the young expect to enjoy the privileges of their forebears when they, too, take up the grey mantel and ascend to old age? This law seems more designed to reduce dissent and ossify the system of laws as they stand. Yet, the guardians are to rule with wisdom and temperance, but how can such guardians be drawn from the population, if the population is denied the ability to exercise any form of ruling reason? It seems we descend into the same paradox, and instead of drawing us out, Plato is drawing us further in. It remains to be seen what his object in this is.

As the final part of his enquiry into courage, the Athenian continues to drive home his assertion that true courage exists in the mastery of both pleasure and pain. To master pain but not pleasure results in a hardened body but a weakened mind, which may be enslaved by vice. To master pleasure but not pain will result in a body impervious to vice, but weak and susceptible to those who are stronger. Both types of men are partially free and partially enslaved in different ways, as both of them have failed to attain mastery over themselves. This self-mastery in all things is the definition of courage for the Athenian, though Klinias and Megillos hold off on their assent for a later time.

Staten Island and Cleveland: Different from Ferguson

Having argued in a recent piece that the problem with Ferguson was collectivism, as manifest in the notion of collective guilt, I feel obliged to speak out on recent incidents in Cleveland and Staten Island. None of us (presumably) were there so we need to be cautious, but what we see from those unfortunate places strongly suggests police misconduct.

I am a native of Cleveland and it comes as no surprise to me that the police force there is a troubled one. For many years there has been a divide between the central city and suburbs and despite a few encouraging exceptions, things have gone steadily downhill in the central city. The problems are similar to Detroit’s but on a smaller scale. The best Cleveland Police officers would surely aspire to leave the Cleveland PD for one of the suburban forces at the first opportunity. It doesn’t surprise me that the Justice Department claims there has been systematic excessive use of force by the Cleveland police.

I have only been to Staten Island once and cannot add anything to what is generally known. That the unfortunate victim was selling untaxed cigarettes, of all things only adds to the outrage.

The non-violent demonstrators in both cities are right this time.

Libertarian as Ethnicity

The past few months have been busy, to say the least. The Obama administration announced a series of executive actions regarding immigration and that has taken up most of my time. Meanwhile in my day job as a graduate student I’ve been overwhelmed with midterms and finals; I am sure my fellows in NoL can sympathize with this. The few moments of peace I have enjoyed have gone towards pondering one question: Who is an American? 

The question is not isolated. By asking who an American is, I’m really asking what ethnicity, and other social groups, really are. The best answer to my question was an old Cato blog post appropriately titled, What is an American? In it Edward Hudgins discusses what makes an American. It is not, as some believe, a common language, creed, or ancestry. What makes an American is his love for liberty. It is in his closing remarks that Hudgins hits on something amazing, there is no meaningful thing as ‘American’.

Unfortunately, the American spirit has eroded. Our forebears would look with sadness at the servile and envious character of many of our citizens and policymakers. But the good news is that there are millions of Americans around the world, living in every country. Many of them will never make it here to the United States. But they are Americans, just as my grandpop was an American before he ever left Italy.

There exists those individuals who can prefix themselves as Americans, but at best this only tells us that they are somehow affiliated with the American continent. There exists a group of people who yearn for liberty and are willing to fight for it, but many of them were neither born or live in the United States. Likewise there are those who were born and live in the United States who are no friends of liberty. And so my initial question has lead me to a new one. Why not promote being a libertarian as an ethnicity? Why not introduce ourselves as ‘Libertarios’ instead of Americans, Germans, or Turks?

At first my proposal may sound strange to some. Would it not be silly to define an ethnicity by political views? I don’t think so. Few ethnic groups have a concrete basis in reality and are based more on fiction than anything else. I was born in Mexico, raised in the United States, and am directly descended from Germans, Jews, and Cubans. I feel little fraternity to these latter groups though. Why should I? I didn’t elect to have Jewish or Mexican ancestry, but I did elect to be a libertarian. Anyone who proclaims to be a libertarian automatically has my sympathy and support, even if I know nothing else about them. As this is the case I would prefer to be identified as a Libertario than any other ethnic group.

I am sure that there are those who would prefer not to be identified by any collective label at all. For those of you who fall into this category I would offer a pragmatic case for identify as Libertario.

I hope it can be taken for granted that, as libertarians, we wish there to be more libertarians. In the best scenario more libertarians in the world might lead to better public policy. In the worst scenario we at least have more potential friends. By promoting our existence as an ethnic group we would encourage more people to remain as libertarians. I have often found people who have libertarian political views, but who withdraw from participation if they become discouraged about the hope for change in their lifetimes. If we were an ethnic group though these individuals would continue to promote liberty, if only to signal their membership in the group. An ethnic group therefore not only encourages members to remain active, but produces positive externalities to promote the group’s message.

For comparison consider the Mormon people. Many Mormons spend time advocating on behalf on their religion, with several even going abroad on missionary work. From anecdotal experience I’ve noticed that many of them are ill treated when they perform their advocacy. Why do they bother to do so then? Because, as I’ve noted above, it signals their membership in the Mormon community. The average Mormon may not particularly enjoy being harassed for their beliefs, but they do it anyway to tell other Mormons a simple message, “I’m one of you.”

It goes without saying that there must be a benefit to belonging to a given group for this to work.

Additionally the existence of an ethnic libertario community would make raising children to be libertarians much easier. I side with Bryan Caplan in the belief that a relatively easy way to grow the movement is by simply having more children than the general population. It doesn’t matter if you believe children’s political beliefs, and by extension their ethics and other characteristics, are shaped by genetics or their nurturing, a libertario community would help with producing children. If you believe in the genetic argument, then an ethnic community reduces the cost of finding a spouse who shares your political beliefs. If you believe in the nurture argument, then surely a child raised among libertarians is more likely to end up being one himself.

Thoughts? Am I just crazy? Or do you have a counter proposal to ‘Libertario’ as our ethnic label? Comment below.

Friends of Liberty and Friends of Montaigne II: Marie de Gournay (Expanding the Liberty Canon series)

Marie Le Jars de Gournay (1565-1646) was a minor aristocrat from Sancerre in central France who became a leading scholar and writer of her time, and an important advocate of women’s liberty through her scholarly career against the dismissive attitude of powerful men of the time, and through her writing in favour of equality between men and women. She was a friend of Michel de Montaigne, one of the great historical advocates of liberty if in a rather enigmatic manner, and he even treated her as an adoptive daughter. After the death of Montaigne, she lived on the Montaigne estate as a guest of the family, while preparing the third edition of Montaigne’s Essays, a contribution to the history of thought and thinking about liberty in itself.

Gournay’s work in the transmission of Montaigne’s thought is though just one episode in a life of writing covering translations of the classics, literary compositions, and essays. Two essays in particular mark important moments in the case for liberty to apply equally between the two sexes: The Ladies’ Complaint and Equality of Men and Women. In these brief, but rich texts, Gournay argues that there can be no liberty, where goods are denied, so since women have been deprived of the goods of equal esteem, there is no liberty.

She points to the frequency and intensity of denial of equal esteem to women and contests it through the examples in which women have been esteemed, or we can see that women have performed great deeds on a level with great men. The argument is very much that of a Renaissance Humanist, that is someone educated in the languages, history, and literature of antiquity, as great expressions of human spirit and with the assumption that these are the greatest expressions of human spirit. Greatness of literary, intellectual, and statecraft in modern languages, modern thought, and modern states, is possible where  continuing from the classical tradition. Since the emphasis is on pagan classical antiquity, the Humanists to some degree placed humanity above Christian theological tradition, though some Christians were also Humanists and secular Humanist achievements to some degree interacted with scholarship of the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible, along with the Greek and Latin used by church thinkers.

Gourany’s concerns are largely secular but she does deal with the place of women in the Bible. For the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) She points out that if the Queen of Sheba (often thought to refer to an ancient queen of Yemen, or possibly Sudan) visited King Solomon, because she knew of his great wisdom then she too must have had an interest in wisdom, and had some high level of scholarship, learning, and intellectual work herself.

With regard to the New Testament, she comments on St Paul’s injunction in his Epistles that women be silent in church and not take the role of priest. Gournay argues that Paul was not writing out of contempt for women, but fear that men would be distracted and tempted by women speaking out in church serves whereto as part of the congregation or as priests. The limitation on the role of women is not therefore based on beliefs about the supposed inferiority of women, but control of male desire.

On the role of women in the Bible, Gournay argues that in general we should not argue that it supports an inferior role for women, given that God created both men and women in the beginning, and given that men are commanded to leave their parents in order to find a wife. The connection between man and woman, and the idea that a man’s life is completed by association with a woman, is the main message of Christian scripture for Gournay.

Looking at the more secular aspects of Greek and Roman antiquity, Gournay deals with philosophical and with historical concerns. On the philosophical side she notes the importance that Plato gives to the priestess Diotima (unknown outside Plato’s writings) in his dialogue The Symposium, which appears to recount conversations about love in a dinner and drinking party in Athens attended by some of the leading people of the time.

Plato shows Socrates presenting the views of Diotima as the correct ones on love, and Socrates, the teacher of Plato, always appears in Plato’s dialogues as a representative of truth. So Gournay points out, it must be conceded that Plato claims that his ideas, and those of Socrates, are in some degree dependent on the thought of women of their time. In that case, Aristotle made himself absurd when  he claimed that women were defective and inferior, since he was the student of Plato and therefore was in some way formed by ideas that Plato said came from Diotima.

Plato’s student Aristotle may have claimed women were inferior by nature to men, but Antisthenes, a follower of Socrates regarded women and men as equal in virtue. Gournay also refers to the tradition according to which Aspasia, female companion of the Athenian democratic leader Pericles (admired by Plato and Aristotle though they did not share his democratic principles) was a scholar and thinker of the time. There is a lack of contemporary sources confirming this view, but this applies to much about the antique world, so Gournay’s suggestions about Aspasia are just as strongly founded as many claims about antiquity, and the investigation of tradition is itself an important part of any kind of intellectual history.

Moving onto Roman historiography, Gournay points out the role take by women in the tribes of Germany and Gaul, according to Tacitus. Women serve as judges of dispute and as battlefield participants inciting male warriors to fight fiercely. So she can point to a revered classic source, which suggests that women had roles in ancient France and Germany denied to them in those countries in early modern times. In general, as she points out, the antiques often referred to a tribe of female warriors, known  as Amazons, which may have some historical origin in Scythian tribes from north of the Black Sea.

Gournay uses her formidable Humanist learning to demonstrate the ways in which equality between men and women had been recognised in the ancient past, on some occasions in some places at least. Showing that women have been recognised as equal to men in some contexts is evidence that the lower status of women in many societies is a result of socially embedded prejudices rather than any difference in abilities. As Gournay notes, rectifying denial of rights to women is part of the basis for real enduring liberty.