Clear libertarian principles

The 1972 Libertarian Party Statement of Principles is far and away the best such presentation anywhere today. But the clearer we make it the less chance there is for regrettable misinterpretation. The fallacy of equivocation is the assignment of different meanings to a term, usually by accident or oversight. The word in question, however, is the noun form of “right” or “rights” the thing we seek to defend. Here is the correct usage, in which a right is an ethical claim to freedom of action: 

We hold that each individual has the right to exercise sole dominion over his own life, and has the right to live his life in whatever manner he chooses, so long as he does not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live their lives in whatever manner they choose.

Compare that with Thomas Jefferson’s phrasing: 

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Jefferson makes a clear distinction between rights and powers. Here is an LP rendering Jefferson could improve by editing: 

Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the life of the individual and seize the fruits of his labor without his consent.

Clearly, this version of a “right” is at best a legitimized power or a deontological arrogation of coercive privilege, and conservatives, fascists, socialists and communists delight in misattributing those meanings to “rights,” just as gleefully as they blur the distinctions between freedom and coercion.

A right is a moral claim to freedom of action was drummed into our UTEXAS Ethics classes by tenured Prof Tara Smith, who dared us to refute it. The definition is consistent with most of our criminal code, Constitution and Declaration. If a right is a claim to freedom (absence of coercion) it can hardly be retasked into a political provision for the execution of convicts, belligerent criminals or enemy combatants, all of which mean the exercise of political power. Even in classical terms, political power in social sciences is the capacity to see to the physical restraint of men, hopefully men who have abdicated their claim to freedom by aggressing against others.

Physics according to the Hog of Steel

Prof. W. Warthog, PhilbertD.

By analogy with freshman physics, where force times distance is work, and the rate at which work is done is power, political power is the same, with the caveat that since the exercise of physical restraint typically involves harmful and often deadly force, the rate at which that sort of work can be done is people incapacitated/killed per unit of time. Look at comparisons of military force and they are measured and expressed in those terms. So if we want to keep clear the distinction between the exercise of individual rights and exercise of the physical restraint States are tasked with using to secure those rights, we ought to resist blurring the distinction.

On the practical side, the change ought not to cost us any votes. I expect that the added clarity will better attract the support of anyone we could ever hope to attract. Even if the suggestion undergoes defenestration, I would then turn to attempting to replace the equivocated “right” with “legal standing”, “authorized authority” or some other, more appropriate construction. Even the “right” to kill in self defense is only a sloppy expression of the special, often regrettable, unintended and unfortunate case of the freedom or right to act in self defense in situations so fluid and dangerous that a jury might agree that the fatal outcome could be justified in a court of law or court-martial. Nicholas Sarwark is more qualified to expound on that collocation.

Suppose the original idea was to deliberately misuse “right” as a venomous barb on what amounts to a criticism of (imputed) wrongs we hope to right. Then I beg leave to suggest the barb was way too subtle for the opening statements intended to enlist support for us. As a joke it does not translate well. Right this minute there are 20 other countries looking to us as exemplars for the drafting of platforms for advancement of rights and minimization of coercion—even if less than instantaneous. Examining just a few of the “constitutions” those people have to work under makes one appreciate the advantage of a Constitution smaller than 8000 words.

This language is in the original platform, which I cherish and defend, yet would not hesitate to rescue from error. I have always admired Hospers and Nolan and would argue the same point to them. This is something no later platform committee can be blamed for, yet its importance is so fundamental (especially when you contemplate expressing it in other languages), that I feel obligated to advance this suggestion. I of course welcome the most vigorous attacks on its supporting logic and rhetorical usefulness.

I move that the expression be reexamined and incorrect iterations of the word “right” be replaced with “political power” something more appropriate for the description of even the most salutary government coercion. If that motion fails, I would move that the incorrect specimens be placed in quotes. 

Find out the juicy details behind the mother of all economic collapses. Prohibition and The Crash–Cause and Effect in 1929 is available in two languages on Amazon Kindle, each at the cost of a pint of craft beer.

Brazilian blog

Deontological dementia affecting translators


Listing hobgoblins frightening to people who wish they were translators has developed into a sort of anti-industry. All through life we’ve been exposed to hogwash (nuclear power will poison us all, industry will bake the planet, refrigeration will sunburn the penguins) and survived mainly through a process of immunization. Cassandras’ declarations are invariably cast in the future tense, as somber predictions. Millerites believed Jesus would end the World 22 October 1844. Since then the  world was supposed to end by freezing in 1998 warming in 2012, and drowning by 2014. The same social “scientists” making these failed predictions also fancy themselves ethicists, when in fact their calling is deontology. Deontology is to ethics as astrology is to astronomy.

The fundamental problem is that most translators’ associations confuse ethics and deontology, and foist the latter on beginners as a substitute for the former.

Deontology seeks to impress its victims with the importance of duty, sacrifice, dependence… altruism. Ethics on the other hand is a code of values to guide your choices and actions. Professors in the time of Aristotle had already observed that students had short attention spans, and came up with virtue ethics as a useful shortcut to values.

Virtues such as rationality and judgment protect us from fronting labor or money to strangers, or relying on someone else’s verbal assurances instead of our own written bids. Virtues such as courage, integrity and independence enable individuals to look out for their own rights instead of signing them away in the form of market allocation and hold-harmless agreements dressed up to look like NDAs.

Nonsense palmed off as ethics is easily recognized for its lack of value. One large interpreters’ association worships secrecy and collusion as though that were a rational standard of value. Ask yourself whether that standard is better suited to a criminal conspiracy or to honest dealings among free and independent economic actors.

Translators whose code of ethics equips them for success write their own agreements and produce websites–not excuses for inaction. (The virtue is productivity, or industriousness). Thus you bid on jobs and customers hire you based on the credentials you show them. While it is true that the world is full of large corporations eager to rob you with a fountain pen, it is also full of honest customers eager to deal directly with qualified professionals–if they can only find them.

All of the miserable translators I have ever met show clear symptoms of poisoning by deontology. To provide valuable guidance a code of ethics must have at its foundation a standard of value consistent with the pursuit of happiness. Virtue ethics help us to better choose the company we keep.

To see how prohibitionism crushed the U.S. economy and brought on the Great Depression, why not download Prohibition and The Crash–Cause and Effect in 1929? The book is live on Amazon Kindle and you can read it on a cellphone for the cost of a craft pint at a pub.

cause and effect