Is Freedom Really Free? III: Fairness Peace and Fear, Research Time, 14/07/2017

When I was looking back through Antonio Negri’s Empire to prepare yesterday’s post, I found a beautiful line.
“Disobedience to authority is one of the most natural and healthy acts. To us it seems completely obvious that those who are exploited will resist and – given the necessary conditions – rebel.”
It’s a very deep truth about humanity. We rebel in the face of exploitation – we fight for our exit.

The very real division between libertarian-leaning and anarchist-leaning folks these days is over what constitutes exploitation. If you take Negri’s lead, exploitation is a matter of an entire economic system – the global network of relations that constrain the choices of millions of people into a series of shit deals.

One (among so, so many) humiliating result of
signing a contract with Donald Trump. I still can't
believe he's actually the President of the United
States. For fuck's sake.
The libertarian has a much narrower conception of where exploitation could arise. Look at Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, any of the trolling social media activists, and a lot of the popular communications coming out of the major liberal think tanks today.*

* Before you have any conniptions, yes, I do consider libertarianism the logical extension of liberal values about politics and economics. It’s the trajectory of any individualist logic. It needs leavening with values of community and universal brotherhood to avoid its own perversity.

Friedman, early in his great popular work of philosophy Capitalism and Freedom, describes the utopian liberal ideal. He describes a society where there’s barely a need for a government because the community can govern itself through free, voluntary associations and agreements.

That does sound genuinely wonderful. In a society where no one wanted to hurt each other and no one ever got hurt, we wouldn’t need government. The idea needs a whole hell of a lot of development. But that’s what the book is for. I'm writing a blog post well before I'm ready to get this thing written.

Instead, I want to focus tonight on a more critical question about Friedman and the libertarian perspective in general. Why does Friedman think it’s good to get rid of government? What’s the reason for his distrust?

Conveniently, it’s in his book. Yes, the most peaceful way to construct a society is through voluntary associations and agreements between all the individuals in that community. But he’s extremely pessimistic about whether an entire community of people can reach genuine agreement in real time.

No constitution is ever accepted by literally everyone. Not even the current (and second) United States constitution. The contemporary right wing in America may worship their dogmatic icon of this document with all the mystic rage of a prophet. There was plenty of opposition. Just read The Federalist Papers and you’ll see that.

But Friedman's focus on government as the only significant force
of constraint on people doesn't hold up to our individual
experiences. In everyday hypocrisy, everyday cruelty, we still
have to fight for our rights. Even if it's just the right to party.
Humans are volatile, changeable, and very different from each other in a lot of different ways – interests, culture, histories, positions, personalities. In all that diversity, agreement in real time at one moment is impossible.

So a society of humans can only be peaceful in a context where our variety is tolerated – everyone must be able to believe, do, and be whatever they want without any force trying to constrain them. Any force or movement that tries to make anyone agree to anything but tolerating disagreement is oppressive.

He counts among those oppressive forces the government. But Friedman also counts the bonds of community, family, and any kind of social solidarity for any purpose or ideal than leaving each other alone.

The existence of the state, says Friedman, is built on a false premise. That falsehood is the presumption that an institutional decree alone is all you need to produce harmony and peace in society. In reality, negotiation never finishes and will never finish.

In a sense, that’s true. That sense is at the heart of libertarianism’s and liberalism’s appeal to anyone who does value freedom. No matter how limited it might be.

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