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My struggle with libertarianism

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Ultima Posted: Sat, May 1 2010 2:23 PM

In my search for an objective truth about the world, I came across libertarianism. It satisfied me at first, but something seemed wrong: In the end, what made it objectively morally better than other philosophies? To this day I cannot answer this question.

Here are the problems that I have:

  • There is nothing objective or natural about "natural rights".
  • Although I am not religious, I don't see how there can be an objective system of morals without a supreme being for them to be judged by.

Otherwise, we come down to moral relativism. Now, before the trolls come out of the woodworks, I am not saying that it is OK to murder, rape, etc... I am most certainly against such things. However, in the absence of an objective ruler, I can only say that my objections to such behavior are relative to my moral compass. I can quantify them in certain ways; i.e. "people are happier when they are not aggressed against" or "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" but that still does not make it objective. I cannot pretend that my moral compass is the objectively "correct" one and that all others are inferior to my own.

I guess the overlying issue is that at the most, I can argue that libertarianism is superior to other philosophies and political systems because I can say that I value freedom above other goods. However, this moral superiority is only true when measured against the yardstick of "freedom", so therefore can only be measured subjectively. I cannot say that it is "better simply because it is morally superior" without such a qualification which relies on a subjective judgment.

I guess this means I am not a libertarian, but in general, I still value many of its tenets. So, in the end, is this a problem? Does this mean I need to keep searching, or should I realise that it is a futile search, kick back, relax a little bit, and enjoy the scenery? :)

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Cue Wilderness, lol

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There is nothing actually "objective" or objectively demonstrable about any ethical system, and if that's what is meant by "libertarianism" it is weak and should fail. However libertarianism is not objectivist ethics , it is a political position that can be and is most competently argued, logically and empirically, by its consequences (lower poverty, more innovation, etc.) as well as the intuitive value felt by "freedom" itself.

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Layano replied on Sat, May 1 2010 2:54 PM

It satisfied me at first, but something seemed wrong: In the end, what made it objectively morally better than other philosophies?

You mean, what make saying that humans being own themselves, their own their life, that nobody can do anything to them or to their property that they don't want, better than other philosophies ?

Well, it works better. Socialism and interventionism, which are denying the right to people to own themselves and their property, doesn't work and can cause the death of millions of people... I think that's what make it "objectively morally better". Liberterianism value freedom, progress, and as the post just above mine said, it make strandard of living better anywhere it's applicated :)

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Josh replied on Sat, May 1 2010 2:54 PM

Libertarianism is not a moral code.

 

/thread

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Cork replied on Sat, May 1 2010 2:55 PM

I'm a utilitarian and couldn't care less about natural rights.  You don't have to believe in natural rights to know that tariffs, price controls, farm subsidies, Keynesian "job creation" programs, etc have never worked and never will.

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Nielsio replied on Sat, May 1 2010 3:03 PM

1. A supreme being doesn't make ethics objective. His edicts are either good because (1) they are objectively good. This means they are independent of the ruler. Or they are good because (2) they are his edicts. This would simply be a statement about power, and would not render those edicts good in an ethical sense.

 

2. The libertarian morality of cooperation can be objectively discovered in reality. Trade is beneficial. If someone hurts any of our trading partners, then they are hurting the rest of civil society. This doesn't mean they HAVE to choose cooperation. Beings in nature are free to choose aggression, but then likewise civil society is free to punish them or kick them out.

IF you want a prosperous and safe society, then you ought to hold and spread the libertarian morality of cooperation.

 

3. Some people call this natural rights or natural law, because human beings have evolved a strong sense of empathy (the strongest of all animals) and a powerful rational mind (the most intelligent and rational of all animals). Children can be raised for social cooperation easily and pleasantly. The lengths that socialism has to go through to get people to accept it is quite staggering (decades of public school and a multitude of other indoctrination).

Human society has historically also chosen social cooperation as it's main vehicle. If it hadn't then we would have never gotten as far as computers, the internet, and the growth towards 6 billion people with a massive increase of standards of living over the last millenia.

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nandnor replied on Sat, May 1 2010 3:04 PM

my struggle.. mein kampf

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Sage replied on Sat, May 1 2010 3:13 PM

Ultima:

  • There is nothing objective or natural about "natural rights".
  • Although I am not religious, I don't see how there can be an objective system of morals without a supreme being for them to be judged by.

What's wrong with moral realism?

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Yep, no objective morals... Do what you want, just hope that your neighbors are keen.

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  • There is nothing objective or natural about "natural rights".
  • Duh.

     

  • Although I am not religious, I don't see how there can be an objective system of morals without a supreme being for them to be judged by.
  • How would the existence of a (nonsensical) supernatural entity in any way provide a grounding for morality? Value remains entirely subjective regardless of whether Superman exists; at best 'god' provides an argument for obedience due to his inescapable power; but this in no way demonstrates 'morality'.

    I agree with Knott on this issue, that it is moral absolutism and not moral relatavism that is to blame for most of the insane social strife that we see in existence. Egalitarian democratism gave us two world wars and an American empire; I have yet to see pluralism generate any of this.

    The notion that social order is provided by moral continguity is both counter-historical and non-sensical, since there must be a non-moral and possible jurisprudential structure which can be produced based on peoples actual interests and capacities, otherwise any 'moral' society would collapse regardless of its 'morality'; and if such a structure is possible 'morality' is unneeded.

    The fact is that, outside of tiny bands of ignorant savages, morality is far more likely to become a tool for tyrannizing and political radicalization than it ever is to create social harmony. Even in localistic social relations, people get into heated arguments over things which (outside of 'moral' considerations) are total non-issues, such as sexual preference or dating habits.

    I seriously recommend reading this THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD TRUTH ABOUT
    MORALITY AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
    by Joshua David Greene.

    “Socialism is a fraud, a comedy, a phantom, a blackmail.” - Benito Mussolini
    "Toute nation a le gouvernemente qu'il mérite." - Joseph de Maistre

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    MaikU replied on Sat, May 1 2010 4:29 PM

    Why you need a supreme being for there to be an objective morality? This is pure nonsense and I would say non-sequitur. It doesn't matter if you are moralist or nihilist, there is no need supreme being in human relationships. Supreme beings are fantasy. They don't interfer in our lives, they can't even talk and are invisible. End of story.

    "Dude... Roderick Long is the most anarchisty anarchist that has ever anarchisted!" - Evilsceptic

    (english is not my native language, sorry for grammar.)

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    William replied on Sat, May 1 2010 5:00 PM

    The fact is that, outside of tiny bands of ignorant savages, morality is far more likely to become a tool for tyrannizing and political radicalization than it ever is to create social harmony.

    It is sad that this has not become painfully obvious.  It seems though a significant enough amount of the population can't help but want to subsidize their aesthetics at great lengths and justify them, and there is no evidence this can be stopped.  Hell, even under the pretense of "moral nihilism"  how many nihilists can come out looking like left wing moralizers?

    On top of that it should seem obvious that all morality can do is calculate what is good for it's moral system; it can not rationaly calculate what is good for me.

    "I am not an ego along with other egos, but the sole ego: I am unique. Hence my wants too are unique, and my deeds; in short, everything about me is unique" Max Stirner
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    Ultima replied on Sat, May 1 2010 9:52 PM

    Hmm... Quote function doesn't seem to work anymore.

    "You mean, what make saying that humans being own themselves, their own their life, that nobody can do anything to them or to their property that they don't want, better than other philosophies ?"

    I agree with many tenets of libertarianism, but if you hold too strictly to the ideology you are forced to accept some absurd conclusions. Such as, it's perfectly ok for anyone to store chemical and biological weapons in their home. If something bad happens, then oops, I guess we'll just clean up the damages later and find out who to sue, if they're still alive. That's one; number two is that a lot of these things are open to gray zones.

    I own my own life? Alright, but what happens if I sell myself to someone else? What if I sign a contract, and in fine print on page #3 it says something to the effect that "we own your future labour in perpetuity"?  How do we deal with children? At what age do parents lose authority over their children? Is it an abrupt switch or a general cutoff?

    What defines my property? Is it a cone extending down to the center of the earth and upwards to infinity? Is it only that area which I actively "mix my labour" with? Oops, I guess that means I can't own a patch of forest then, cause I don't do anything except gaze at its beauty. How far do my property rights extend? If someone builds a tall building next to my house and obstructs my view, are my property rights violated? What if someone builds a bridge over my home? At what point are my rights violated?

    What if there is a private road system and one road owner decides to be a dick and states that only Hondas are allowed to drive on his roads from now on. What happens to the land owners who have no other means of leaving their property?

    A libertarian's answer to many of these questions is either "I don't know" or "tough luck". For the gray zones even within libertarianism, there are differring spheres of thought that deal with these issues, and they are mutually incompatible.

    So yes, in general, freedom, liberty, and property = good, but I don't think they are absolutes. I certainly prefer them over communism and socialism.

    ===

    "How would the existence of a (nonsensical) supernatural entity in any way provide a grounding for morality? Value remains entirely subjective regardless of whether Superman exists; at best 'god' provides an argument for obedience due to his inescapable power; but this in no way demonstrates 'morality'."

    Good point; what "Superman" wants and what you want are still two different things and you will value them differently, even if he can make you pay for your decision.

    "

    The fact is that, outside of tiny bands of ignorant savages, morality is far more likely to become a tool for tyrannizing and political radicalization than it ever is to create social harmony. Even in localistic social relations, people get into heated arguments over things which (outside of 'moral' considerations) are total non-issues, such as sexual preference or dating habits.

    I seriously recommend reading this THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD TRUTH ABOUT
    MORALITY AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
    by Joshua David Greene."

    I see heated arguments on these forums over what some people from outside this sphere would consider nitpicking over tiny points. Those who say they fight in the name of freedom still seem to find so much room to disagree with each other, and it is more about the philosophical points rather than the economic points, which the community seems to be more in agreement about.

    That is quite a long read; gonna have to devote some time to reading that. Thanks for sharing!

     

     

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    To summarize a post I made today on another forum, it is precisely the moralising character of much of libertarianism which pushes it away not only from those who disagree with its moral premises (such as egalitarians) but also from many theorists of customary, propertarian social organization who have developed highly sophisticated arguments against government and about the panarchical alternatives. These philosophers and economists, such as the still value-free Austrians and people like Jeffrey Friedman and Anthony de Jasay tend to distance themselves from 'libertarians' precisely because libertarianism is seen as a combination of various religious factions and cranks. Moralism is precisely why so much crankery goes on, and precisely why economic disagreements are never so frequent or heated among libertarians (this is also aided by the fact that economics is a science, and morality is a theological contest).

    “Socialism is a fraud, a comedy, a phantom, a blackmail.” - Benito Mussolini
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    Congratulations, you've broken away from mysticism.

    There are not objective rights, everything is down to a matter of value preference. I value the idea of a voluntaryist society, I value the idea that, with few exceptions, only voluntary behaviors are promoted and allowed, this is my morality, this is MY ETHIC, the question for you is, what do you value, what is your ethic? As Nietzche would have put it, what is your virtue?

    "Lo! I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that hath gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it." -Thus Spake Zarathustra
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    'There are not objective rights, everything is down to a matter of value preference. I value the idea of a voluntaryist society, I value the idea that, with few exceptions, only voluntary behaviors are promoted and allowed, this is my morality, this is MY ETHIC, the question for you is, what do you value, what is your ethic? As Nietzche would have put it, what is your virtue?'

    And what if I value a non-voluntaryist society? Why should your value trump my value or vice versa? 

    'Men do not change, they unmask themselves' - Germaine de Stael

     

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    Sage replied on Sun, May 2 2010 9:28 AM

    The Late Andrew Ryan:
    There are not objective rights, everything is down to a matter of value preference.

    What makes you think this is true?

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    Arvin replied on Sun, May 2 2010 11:33 AM

    my struggle.. mein kampf

    Maybe he's one of those LIBERTARYANS?

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    LeeO replied on Sun, May 2 2010 12:13 PM

    In his book The Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard makes a systematic, logical argument in favor of the concepts of natural law and natural rights as the basis for libertarianism. Every physical being or object has a specific "nature" - it will always behave a certain way depending on what it interacts with. People who believe in natural law simply think that it is possible for man to discover his own nature through reason and intellect, just like we can discover the charecteristics of water or copper or bacteria or whales.

    Using objective reasoning we can reach several axioms, or objective truths:

    1. Every man owns his own body. The only alternatives would be that one group of people owns everyone else, or everybody owns an equal share of everybody else. Rothbard shows that these two alternatives are illogical and absurd.

    2. Man must apply his faculties (reason, physical abilities) to nature in order to survive. In other words, he must "mix his labor with the soil" in order to produce usable goods that will sustain him. In a Robinson Crusoe setting, this could mean picking berries or making a net to catch fish.

    3. Once a companion is introduced on Crusoe's island, both people benefit by exchanging the fruits of their labor. For example, Crusoe might trade his berries for Friday's fish in order that they may both eat better.

    Rothbard demonstrates that any invasion into person or property contradicts man's nature. Man is different from all other creatures because of our ability to reason and make decisions based on free will. So while it is perfectly natural for a lion to eat a gazelle or a racoon to steal chicken eggs, these acts of murder or theft contradict the objective truth of the natural law that governs man.

    So, according to Rothbard and many other libertarians, natural rights are objective and libertarianism is superior to other philosophies and political systems because it is the only one that is compatible with the true nature of man.

    The Mises Institute has The Ethics of Liberty available to read online. The first part deals with natural law and natural rights.

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    Marko replied on Sun, May 2 2010 3:04 PM

    So if I say you have an obligation (by the virtue of your birth lets say) to give me $100, and you say that you do not. Then our statements are equivalent. Since you deny existence of truth in any part of ethics there is no inherent truth in your statement, or inherent untruth in mine. Your view that you do not owe me $100 is nothing more than your unsubstantiable personal opinion, and you can take no non-arbitrary moral high ground over me if I take that amount of money from you.

    Brilliant. Enjoy your revolt against sense.

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    And what if I value a non-voluntaryist society? Why should your value trump my value or vice versa?

    The natural law of most beliefs sold makes it right. 

    That I am selling a logical belief that appeals to peoples common sense just makes the sales pitch easier.

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    "What makes you think this is true?"

    The fact that it's all down to what people consider to be true. You can consider that I have rights and I can consider that you have rights but this does not necissarily mean that either of us have rights. Furthermore rights, as nothing more than a human concept, depends upon the individual in question believing or disbelieving the fact that the other person has rights. It's like all relationships between men, whether or not I consider someone to be my "friend" or not depends upon what either of us think independently. To me person X may be my friend and I am his friend, to person X I may not be his friend. Even if someone does have "rights" there is nothing to compell anyone to value anything. Even if I considered that you had rights, if I valued your death more than I did the concept of rights then I would kill you given the opportunity.

    "And what if I value a non-voluntaryist society? Why should your value trump my value or vice versa?" 

    I could use your own value preferences to prove why it is that you should value a voluntaryist society, I could show inherent flaws in your reasoning, or I could convince you to value the same things which I do. However if all these things fail or I am not given the opportunity to exploit them then the simple fact is that there IS NO "SHOULD". Should simply means what someone believes should happen, there is no inherent should with these types of matters. The scenario you are giving me is that two men are sitting at the table, on the table there is a dollar. Each man values the dollar and wants the dollar, the two men have several different ways they can resolve this problem, they can negotiate where each gives something, one could convince the other that he should have the dollar, one could allow the other to have the dollar just because its not worth arguing about, or if all of these methods fail or if one of the parties doesn't wish to take part then the simple answer is that a physical conflict is going to happen.

    I want voluntaryism to become the system employed, for me this is the system which "should" be used, for a statist it is not the system which should be used and if both us us activly pursue it dogedly enough a conflict will ensue. I have a should, as does he, neither is superior except by a standard which differs with every individual. I have a preference that everyone eat icecream and no one eats cake, you have a preference that no one eats icecream and everyone eats cake, whose preference is superior?

    "Lo! I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that hath gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it." -Thus Spake Zarathustra
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    Don't you love all the assertions and non-arguments they like to throw around about 'nachural rites'?

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    Since natural law operates in fantasyland it shouldn't bother you at all if a collaberation of people acted upon a particular belief to impose a few cumbersome legal fictions upon you using force.  What objection could you possibly have?

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    "Don't you love all the assertions and non-arguments they like to throw around about 'nachural rites'?"

    I do actually... Especially because people who accept NR are so close to understanding it, and indeed natural law can stand on its own even without morality, but they still can't make the last big leap and give up the final of the great 3 mysticism (god, the state, and morality)

    Good video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKJLiu6xlNw

     

    "Lo! I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that hath gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it." -Thus Spake Zarathustra
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    Conza88 replied on Sun, May 2 2010 9:06 PM

    "Don't you love all the assertions and non-arguments they like to throw around"

    Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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    I. Ryan replied on Sun, May 2 2010 9:19 PM

    Live_Free_Or_Die:

    Since natural law operates in fantasyland it shouldn't bother you at all if a collaberation of people acted upon a particular belief to impose a few cumbersome legal fictions upon you using force.  What objection could you possibly have?

    Such is society.

    If I wrote it more than a few weeks ago, I probably hate it by now.

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    Your inability to comprehend ontological individualism or the subjective value theory is your problem.

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    Fortunately for the ignorant little people customer comprehension is not a prerequisite to selling.

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    Liberte, how much for that green beanie?

    This is apparently a Man Talk Forum:  No Women Allowed!

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    nandnor replied on Mon, May 3 2010 6:10 AM

    Maybe he's one of those LIBERTARYANS?
    good one :p

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    Liberte, how much for that green beanie

    I hardly wear it, I prefer my 50 Cent hat, usually. Doesn't interfere so much with pigtails.

    “Socialism is a fraud, a comedy, a phantom, a blackmail.” - Benito Mussolini
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    Jackson replied on Mon, May 3 2010 11:20 PM

    • There is nothing objective or natural about "natural rights".
    • Although I am not religious, I don't see how there can be an objective system of morals without a supreme being for them to be judged by.

    so do you disagree with Rothbard (ethics of liberty/libertarian manifesto) and Hoppe (argumentation ethics)?

    as to the second point...euthyphro already dealt with that. it's not a biggie.

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    I think Robert P. Murphy said it best in Chaos Theory.

    Some readers may wonder how I can propose a replacement for the State’s “justice” system when I haven’t first offered a rational theory of the source and nature of legitimate property rights. The answer is simple: I don’t have such a theory. Nonetheless, I can still say that a market system of private law would work far more effectively than the State alternative, and that the standard objections to anarchy are unfounded.
     
    Whatever (if any) the abstract or metaphysical nature of]Whatever (if any) the abstract or metaphysical nature of
    Whatever (if any) the abstract or metaphysical nature of property law, the purpose of public titles is quite utilitarian; they are necessary to allow individuals to effectively plan and coordinate their interactions with each other.
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    "I guess the overlying issue is that at the most, I can argue that libertarianism is superior to other philosophies and political systems because I can say that I value freedom above other goods."

     

    And what's wrong with that? That's a very civil way to start a dialogue.

    "I guess this means I am not a libertarian"

    Hey don't close the door and lock yourself out...or me! There has to be some room for those of us who reject both religion and Randian objectivism in the libertarian movement. 

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    Ultima replied on Wed, May 5 2010 11:29 PM

    "

    I think Robert P. Murphy said it best in Chaos Theory.

    Some readers may wonder how I can propose a replacement for the State’s “justice” system when I haven’t first offered a rational theory of the source and nature of legitimate property rights. The answer is simple: I don’t have such a theory. Nonetheless, I can still say that a market system of private law would work far more effectively than the State alternative, and that the standard objections to anarchy are unfounded.
     
    Whatever (if any) the abstract or metaphysical nature of]Whatever (if any) the abstract or metaphysical nature of
    Whatever (if any) the abstract or metaphysical nature of property law, the purpose of public titles is quite utilitarian; they are necessary to allow individuals to effectively plan and coordinate their interactions with each other.
    "
     
    "

    "I guess the overlying issue is that at the most, I can argue that libertarianism is superior to other philosophies and political systems because I can say that I value freedom above other goods."

     

    And what's wrong with that? That's a very civil way to start a dialogue.

    "I guess this means I am not a libertarian"

    Hey don't close the door and lock yourself out...or me! There has to be some room for those of us who reject both religion and Randian objectivism in the libertarian movement."

    It makes me feel good to read responses like this, as I felt that I might have needed to turn my Mises card in. Why? I've been alluded to as supporting rape, murder, and the killing of the jews, all because of my views on "natural" rights and the like. It is this kind of ideologically-driven behavior that makes me prefer a word other than "libertarian".

    This ideological, black and white thinking turns friends of freedom into virulent foes, and all over assumptions and semantics. For me, the most important point is improving the conditions of our world; I don't necessarily see government as "evil", but I see problems with the statist-driven ideology spoon-fed to us by the politicians and by the mass media. I think it is a road which leads to a dead-end and that there are better alternatives.

    My current points of interest are seasteading, which I hope becomes viable in the near future, and city-states. I would love to see more sovereign competition in north america. I don't know if the U.S. is going to move toward this, but I really would prefer to see the states "scale down" rather than implode. When states implode, it sows seeds for the worst kind of radicalism (just look at what all the people in Greece are demonstrating for and about).

    You guys are right; it's not about the labels and it doesn't have to be about the dogma; the Austrian school has a lot of relevant things to say about the world today and this is probably one of the smartest and most motivated communities i've ever come across (when you guys aren't nitpicking and fighting each other over molehills!) :) I am slowly spreading the ideas to friends and coworkers and while it takes time to open up brains, including my own (I am still not very convinced that anarcho-capitalism can work, but it doesn't matter; what matters is bringing our ideas into the real world), the change is happening. That is one good thing that's come out of the 2008 crisis!

     
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    I am still not very convinced that anarcho-capitalism can work, but it doesn't matter; what matters is bringing our ideas into the real world

    I'm assuming by can work, you mean will work (and by work, you mean improving life faster than a state would). Because if not, we can point you to a number of times in history that it has worked before.

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