In 30 years of working within the classical liberal movement I’ve come across some daft statements by people; frequently from our opponents, but often from our allies.
I’ve heard opponents try to dismantle liberal ideas by asking hypothetical questions such as: “If socialism produced the goods would you be a socialist?” The assumption is that an affirmative answer would mean that market principles aren’t principles at all.
Some of our more cultic-like allies have dismissed other classical liberals as being unprincipled with silly comments like: “They’d support concentration camps if it increased economic efficiency.”
Both statements are fundamentally absurd. Both require that the universe in which we live be different from what it actually is.
Reality determines what has to be done if we are to succeed at life. Ideology has nothing to do with it. We have philosophy to help us understand how to live. But one cannot merely pick and choose which philosophy one wants to follow since its success—as indicated in day-to-day living—is determined by the facts of reality.
Positing a theory that arsenic, in large quantities, is good for the digestive system won’t make it so. Imbibe that arsenic and you’ll die regardless of what principles you hold. What works, and what does not work in the world is not separate from reality, but intricately and intrinsically linked with it.
Newton’s apple fell, not because he thought that gravity might exist, but because gravity did exist. Had he dropped that apple while holding a different theory it would have fallen just as quickly. His thoughts did not determine the world around him. The world around him determined his thoughts.
I’ve heard compatriots make statements like: “I’d support freedom as a moral virtue even if it meant starvation, disease and disaster.”
What a stupid thing to say. First, it sounds as if they don’t care one iota about the type of world in which we live. This makes them sound more like a religious cult than anything else. The Leftist, who commits the same error, uses such statements to “prove” that advocates of liberty are heartless and cruel.
The nonsense in the statement ought to be clear. Freedom is a moral virtue precisely because it does NOT lead to starvation, disease and disaster.
There is no conflict between the moral and the practical. The reason for this is not that difficult to understand. Everything in the universe has a specific nature. That means that all things act in certain ways, have certain qualities, or require certain things. Those are givens. They are facts, not moral principles.
If human beings desire to live they have to breath oxygen, not carbon monoxide. One sustains human life, one doesn’t, and we don’t get to pick which is which. Call it unfair if you want, but there is an objective reality that imposes restrictions on us. And if we are to thrive we have to act in ways that are in accordance with that reality.
To attempt to insult an ally by saying: “They’d support concentration camps if it lead to economic efficiency” is pure nonsense. It’s nonsense because concentration camps don’t lead to economic efficiency and can’t. The facts of reality, not our whims, determine what works and what doesn’t.
Now, if you argue that humans don’t have a nature and that reality is whatever you want it to be—as many on the Left do—you might accept the false idea that all things are equally good for humans. No one economic or political system would necessarily be better than all the others. It would be merely a matter of personal preferences.
Of course, nature isn’t like that. A thing is what it is. Consider momentarily what this means. If we live in universe A (UA) then the facts of that universe, or its nature, determines what entities in that universe need to do in order to survive. The nature of UA determines what ethical values have to be followed to survive. So universe A requires ethical system A (EA). In a formula we might say UA requires EA. Change the nature of the universe—which you can’t do—and you’d change the nature of the ethical system required to survive. Universe B would require ethics B. UC would require EC, ad infinitum.
Newton let go of his apple and it fell. It fell because of the nature of the planet and the nature of the apple. No matter how many times Newton repeats the experiment the apple doesn’t fall up. If Newton were floating in space and let go of the apple it would float. A different nature leads to a different result. Change the facts of the universe in which you operate and you change the requirements for survival and prosperity.
Fundamentally the Marxists know this. It is for that very reason that they advocate social engineering. They hope that human nature can be changed. They do everything humanly possible to manipulate and mould people. Still they fail.
They fail because they can’t change the facts of nature but can only work with them. What is required for humanity to prosper is set by the world around us and by human nature.
Concentration camps don’t lead to economic efficiency because humans have specific natures. Every attempt to engineer prosperity with concentration camps has failed. Every attempt to undermine the market reduces human satisfaction and happiness. It happens because we live in universe A but are attempting to live with ethics B.
When people posit fictional universes, to make political points, I tune them out. They aren’t engaging in philosophy. Nor are they really engaged in logic. They might be fiction writers, but they aren’t philosophers.
Many have tried to undermine this fundamental fact by arguing that you can’t determine an ought, or an ethical value, from an is, or from what exists. But what other option is there? The requirements of a life, or the ethical values of it, must be determined by its nature. Nothing else can do it. And if we want to pretend that life has no such requirements.... well the thought is too horrible to really take seriously. Life itself is a hard taskmaster. It kicks you in teeth, good and hard, when you ignore it. Disregard the nature of reality and reality punishes you.
For proof look around at the academics that want to pretend that there is no objective reality. They posit one theory but they live as if a thing is what it is. They don’t act as if that chair on which they are sitting may suddenly turn into a cobra. Nor do they act as if arsenic could be as lovely to consume as sugar. They act as if arsenic is arsenic, a cobra is a cobra, sugar is sugar and a chair is a chair. They say A is not necessarily A but live as if A is A and can only be A. To act in accordance with the philosophy they espouse would be deadly. And they know it.
If the facts of the universe were different then perhaps socialism would work. Perhaps, in some bizarre world with an entirely different set of facts, socialism would lead to prosperity and increase human happiness. I know of no such world and I suspect that no such world is possible.
So the universe we have is what we have. And what that means is that only an ethics compatible with this reality can lead to human prosperity and happiness. When someone says to me: “If socialism lead to prosperity what would you do?” My answer is: “If pigs could fly....”