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Nelson Hultberg on 'The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values'
With Anthony Wile - June 30, 2013
The Daily Bell is pleased to present this exclusive interview with Nelson Hultberg
Introduction: Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas and the Executive Director of Americans for a Free Republic. His articles have appeared in such publications as The Dallas Morning News, the San Antonio Express-News, The American Conservative, Insight, The Freeman, and Liberty, as well as numerous Internet sites. He is the author of Why We Must Abolish The Income Tax And The IRS. In addition, his major work on political philosophy, The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values, has just been released.
Daily Bell: You have a new book out entitled The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values. Can you explain briefly what your book is about?
Nelson Hultberg: When it first began in the early 1940s, the freedom movement in America was not split between libertarians and conservatives. It was one coalition unified in rebellion against FDR's welfare state. By 1970, however, the movement had become tragically bifurcated. Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard took libertarians off into anarchy, while the Burkean philosopher Russell Kirk drove conservatives into the complacency of welfare-statism. This split has created two incomplete visions (contemporary libertarianism and conservatism) that are, in their singularity, incapable of effectively challenging the authoritarian mega-state.
What must be done is to reunite these two divisions as they were in the beginning. This will require a rational theory of politics that can bring together the two philosophical streams of John Locke and Edmund Burke so as to restore the original "republic of states" that Jefferson and the Founders envisioned. It is the purpose of The Golden Mean to bring this about.
Only in this way can the forces of freedom become strong enough to check the relentless advance of modern day statism. This unity between libertarians and conservatives is the crucial missing ingredient in our fight to restore America. The Golden Mean lays the philosophical groundwork for its reinstillation.
This unity means a merging of libertarians with TRUE conservatives who believe in limited government, not with today's NEO conservatives who advocate the relentless expansion of government. Libertarians have a common ground with the "Old Republic" thinking of the 1940s, conservative minds like Richard Weaver, Robert Nisbet, and Frank Meyer.
The Golden Mean is much more, though, than a paean to the history of libertarianism and conservatism. It is a paradigm shifting book that will dramatically change the way one looks at political theory and the idea of a free society. It is meant for both the scholar and the educated layman.
Daily Bell: Tell us about your book's title, The Golden Mean, what it refers to and why it is so important for freedom.
Nelson Hultberg: The Golden Mean is Aristotle's famous "doctrine of the mean" in philosophy discovered over 2300 years ago. It is one of the most powerful natural laws that govern existence, demonstrating what is virtue and what is vice in human affairs. It states that virtue consists of the rational course that lies between two opposite and natural extremes, i.e., the Golden Mean.
For example, Aristotle tells us in his Nicomachean Ethics that if a man is confronted with danger, he meets it in one of three ways. He succumbs to the extreme of cowardice or to the opposite extreme of rashness; or he chooses the middle course of "courage," which is contrary to both. In like fashion, a man can choose "liberality," which is midway between the opposite extremes of stinginess and extravagance, "self-control" between drunkenness and abstemiousness, and "ambition" between sloth and greed.
Aristotle's theory was based upon the fact that in most human action, there is a wide range of intensity, all the way from too little (defect) to too much (excess). In between such defect and excess, there lies an appropriate mean – a golden mean – which would be the good, with the two opposites of defect and excess being evils.
There are, of course, numerous values of life (other than the ones Aristotle put forth) that can also be placed on a spectrum to determine a mean. Human life entails a wide array of desires, actions, and needs, many of which can be portrayed in terms of a vice-virtue-vice relationship. Listed below are a few examples that I have put together:
Thus, midway between the defect of apathy and the excess of zealotry, there lies the rational balance of concern. Between vulgarity and prudery, there is the mean of decency. Between treason and fanaticism, there is loyalty. Between strife and humdrum, there is peace. And between tyranny and anarchy, there is a thing called freedom. Precisely how concern, decency, loyalty, peace and freedom are to be defined is often times in dispute, but what is important is that there is infused in reality a spectrum upon which such values can be placed, a spectrum where at some point men's actions become defective, excessive, or proper.
What is so beautiful about Aristotle's doctrine is that it shows all the noblest and most desired values of our existence – such as loyalty, faith, love, peace, order and freedom – to be means. All of the things we value most in life are "means" between two opposite vices. This is the way reality is constructed. Almost always there is a mean between two evils.
Daily Bell: You write extensively about the "Political Spectrum Con" in your book. What do you mean by this?
Nelson Hultberg: The "political spectrum con" is what takes place in our universities and colleges in teaching what reality's spectrum of political systems looks like. The collectivists have distorted the idea of a political spectrum over the years in order to make their political bias toward a statist system look proper and virtuous. For example, here is what passes as political reality to most academics today:
With this picture, students are taught that both ends of the spectrum are dictatorships (communism on the left and fascism on the right), and that the democratic welfare state of contemporary America is the only possible good, for it is the Golden Mean between two opposite vices.
There are several fallacies in this portrayal, but the main one is that communism, socialism, and fascism are NOT different fundamental systems deserving separate places on the spectrum. They are all variants of the same dictatorial philosophy (which is collectivism) and belong together on the same side of the spectrum. Each one advocates total state control and/or ownership of all property through a centralized government and severe economic and social regimentation. None of them recognize the concept of individual rights. And they all declare that man exists to serve the state. Fascism and socialism are merely variants of the same system, which is collectivism. Declaring them to be opposites is inexcusable.
Daily Bell: What would the true political spectrum look like?
Nelson Hultberg: It would look like this:
The far left of the spectrum is the vice of total government (whether it calls itself socialism, communism, or fascism). The far right is its exact opposite, the vice of no government. The middle is the virtue of limited government (and its economic corollary of capitalism), with welfarism a semi-capitalist, semi-socialist mixture and the anarcho-capitalism of the radical libertarians a semi-capitalist, semi-anarchist mixture.
There have to be two opposite poles beyond which one cannot go and then a virtuous middle, or it's simply not a spectrum. It's then just an arbitrary display of various political − economic systems with no rhyme or reason to it and no capacity to judge any of the systems as right or wrong, workable or unworkable. Another way to portray the true political spectrum would be as follows:
Our conclusion is that the political mean is limited Constitutional government with its economic corollary of capitalism. It is what is called in philosophy, "the political good" or "the political ideal." The more government a system utilizes, the further to the left it would be placed, and the less government a system utilizes, the further to the right it would be placed. We thus have a "rational mean" that lies between the two vices of excess (totalitarianism) and defect (anarchy).
Daily Bell: There are scholars who put forth various criticisms of Aristotle's doctrine of the mean saying that the idea of a mean between two extremes is just not appropriate for determining right and wrong in reality. What are these criticisms, and what do you say in response?
Nelson Hultberg: The various criticisms are that Aristotle's concept is relative, it is a form of circular reasoning, there is too much of life that it doesn't apply to for it to be meaningful, etc. On the contrary, every one of these claims is demonstrably false and explained in the book.
For starters, the mean is definitely not relative; it applies to everyone. Nor is it a form of circular reasoning. Contemporary philosopher, J. Budziszewski, has demonstrated this masterfully. All modern criticisms are examples of very flawed thinking. But to explain why requires too much space for this interview. I answer all the objections to the Law of the Mean in an Appendix at the end of the book. Rest assured that Aristotle is right and history's antagonists to his doctrine are wrong.
There is one objection, though, made primarily by anarchists that can be taken up here. It goes like this: Trying to formulate right and wrong by use of a virtuous middle ground between extremes is senseless, they say. One cannot just take any spectrum and declare that Aristotelian ethics shows that the midpoint is the right place to be. For example, the mean between going on a murderous rampage and committing no murders is to murder only a moderate amount of people. The mean between telling the truth all the time and lying constantly is to lie just half the time. This is ridiculous and certainly no virtuous mean.
The answer to this is that Aristotle does not claim that the doctrine of the mean is applicable to all of life's situations and values. He only states that it applies to many of the aspects of our lives. Where it does apply, it should be utilized. Where it does not, it obviously should be ignored. This is quite clearly gleaned from a reading of Aristotle, yet in every generation there are new opponents to the mean that ritualistically raise this pseudo issue as if it is some kind of profound refutation of the doctrine.
This form of rebuttal is an example of "strawmanism." The opponent of the Aristotelian mean is setting up a straw man, knocking him down, and then claiming to have demonstrated the foolishness of Aristotle's doctrine. By using a clearly nonsensical example of the doctrine that one has no trouble refuting, the opponent avoids the real essence of the mean to concentrate on a very weak example of it. In this case, he uses "murderous rampages" and "lying constantly," which are obvious examples where the doctrine of the mean would not be applicable. Knocking down a straw man is not a legitimate argument.
It should be noted that opponents to the Law of the Mean are always subscribers to some form of extremism (e.g., statism or anarchism). Therefore in order to continue subscribing to their extremist beliefs, the mean itself must be attacked as bogus. This is equivalent to attacking the Law of Gravity as somehow bogus because it doesn't allow men to flap their arms like wings and fly.
What's important to conclude here is that the doctrine of the mean is applicable to a great part of existence. It governs much of human action, social systems, and ideological constructs. But it does not apply to all of life. Where it is of use, however, it is a powerful magnetic truth. Thus we need to discern where it is applicable and where it is not, and then accept its verdict rather than try to evade it through churlish sophistry. This can be done if we will employ reason and think clearly.
Daily Bell: You place great emphasis on "special privilege" and "objective law" and the roles they play in today's explosion of government growth. How do they relate to the Golden Mean?
Nelson Hultberg: When properly understood, the doctrine of the mean demonstrates convincingly that the true political ideal is what the Founding Fathers attempted to establish – which is a system of limited government based upon objective law. This means law that is applied equally to everyone. No special privileges. To understand this better, let's take another look at the spectrum from a different perspective:
As we see with this portrayal of the spectrum, all ideological systems, other than laissez-faire capitalism, are either excessive or defective because they evolve into some level of arbitrary law and special privileges. Therefore, capitalism (with its corollary of limited government) is the system that all men should strive for because it is the only system that can maintain objective law – in other words, equal rights for everyone, which is what objective law is.
For example, the very act of moving leftward on the spectrum, away from laissez-faire capitalism into a welfare state system requires the progressive destruction of equal rights. This is because all welfare state policies require that special privileges be granted to one group of people at the expense of another group – all policies whether they be cash grants to individuals, quotas to minorities, price controls for corporations, or legislative favoritism to unions – all policies require the violation of equal rights in order to convey special privileges by government.
Every time the privilege of a subsidy is granted to a certain individual or group, someone else's right to their income is destroyed to pay for it. Every time the privilege of an affirmative action quota is granted to a minority group, someone else's right to free association is destroyed to implement it. Every time the privilege of price controls is established for certain corporations, someone else's right to trade freely is destroyed in the process.
In other words, privileges and rights cannot be mixed in the same society. They are mutually exclusive. Just as locusts will destroy wheat when they are mixed in the same field, so also will privileges destroy rights when they are mixed in the same society. Thus the conveyance of privileges destroys the concept of objective law upon which freedom is based. And the extent of this destruction is determined by how far to the left one goes on the spectrum. This is why all statist systems are both immoral and impractical. They are based upon the violation of equal rights, i.e., objective law, in order to convey privileges.
What anarchist-libertarians miss is that any movement on the spectrum to the right of the Golden Mean will also bring about the destruction of objective law. Instead of the government conveying privileges to its favored factions, though, it will be ruthless warlords seizing privileges for themselves. There will not be one government guided by a Constitution; there will be thousands of private defense agencies throughout America guided by arbitrary rules and private stockpiles of weapons. These private defense agencies will become the warlords. And it will be a horrendous kind of society.
Daily Bell: How did libertarians come to embrace anarchism so fervently? What is the source of this philosophical misdirection, as you would say?
Nelson Hultberg: There are two sources of this problem. Number one is Ayn Rand's philosophical "non-aggression principle" that she articulated so forcefully through John Galt in Atlas Shrugged ("So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate...the use of physical force against others.") This launched the libertarian movement in 1957 and defined government's only justifiable function as provider of the "retaliatory agencies of force," i.e., military, police and courts of law. But this principle, which was the fundamental axiom of her politics, leads philosophically to anarchy if one is to remain consistent.
Roy Childs identified this flaw in his "Open Letter to Ayn Rand: Objectivism and the State," published in The Rational Individualist, August 1969. He showed that even a government limited strictly to "retaliatory" agencies of force still has to "initiate" force in order to maintain itself. First, it has to form a monopoly and prohibit private competitors, which is initiatory force. Second, it has to tax citizens, which is initiatory force. And third, it has to capture and imprison suspected criminals, which is initiatory force against those who are innocent.
Thus, Rand's fundamental axiom of her politics breaks down; it is a fallacy. Rothbard seized upon this and wrote his For a New Liberty (1973) in response to Childs' revelation. In his book, Rothbard fully embraced anarchism, and the great bulk of the libertarian movement followed him. It was the death-knell of Rand's Objectivist circle in New York – in my opinion every bit as much as the Rand-Branden romantic involvement.
The other source of the anarchism that plagues libertarianism is Rand's and Rothbard's misunderstanding of the "Either-Or Principle." They misconstrued this principle, which is a fundamental theme accepted by many philosophers down through history. It states that there can be no middle ground philosophically and practically between a fundamental good and a fundamental evil. Thus it is either freedom or slavery; the two cannot exist together in the same society. If a nation attempts to compromise between these two opposite values, it will ultimately evolve into some form of the evil it is trying to avoid by its compromise.
All well and good. There can be no compromise between opposite fundamental values, and any attempt at such will merely cause an evolution into evil. But such a philosophical outlook has made most libertarians think in terms of good and evil being a two-poled spectrum, and that one must then choose between one of the two extremes. With such a conception of good and evil, one must inevitably evolve into anarchy in order to remain logically consistent, for anarchy is the opposite extreme to totalitarianism.
The error here is that the concept of good and evil is seldom a two-poled spectrum in reality. It is almost always a three-poled spectrum as Aristotle showed, with the ideal (or good) lying in the middle of the spectrum and the evil being the two opposite extremes beyond which one cannot go. This does not invalidate the "Either-Or Principle" on fundamental values. Remember, it states that there can be no compromise between two opposite fundamental values, i.e., between good and evil values. This means there can be no compromise between the Golden Mean (which is the good) and either of the extremes (which are the evils). Thus there can be no compromise between a limited government and totalitarianism on the left, and there can be no compromise between a limited government and anarchism on the right. To strike a mean between totalitarianism and anarchism is not compromising between good and evil because both of these are evils.
Anarcho-capitalists readily see that moving to the left on the spectrum toward socialism is an attempt to compromise the good with the evil. But they cannot see that they are doing the same thing by moving to the right on the spectrum. They also are trying to compromise the good with the evil, and thus they are also violating the "Either-Or Principle" – which will ultimately bring evolution into the very evil that they are trying to compromise with.
One must always keep in mind the difference between the "mean" and the "middle-of-the-road." The former is the establishment of the good; the latter is an attempt to establish a halfway point between the good and one of the extremes. Welfarism is a middle-of-the-road position on the spectrum and so is anarcho-capitalism, for they attempt to combine aspects of both the mean and the extreme (i.e., compromise the good with the evil).
Daily Bell: Is the Law of the Mean a natural law?
Nelson Hultberg: Absolutely. It is like the Law of Gravity, only on the intellectual level. The Law of the Mean is an eternal truth of existence that is one of the great philosophical insights discovered about man and his condition. Like the Law of Gravity, it is something we must abide by. It is an imperishable compass that has been instilled into the nature of life that will lead men to much of what they yearn for. When it is ignored or abandoned, destruction, chaos, and misery will ensue. When it is abided by, justice, balance, and happiness will be achieved.
Daily Bell: You claim that the egoism vs. altruism clash in ethics is falsely perceived by libertarians because of Ayn Rand. Please explain.
Nelson Hultberg: Here again, we must incorporate Aristotelian wisdom into our thinking on ethics. Rand's denunciation of altruism is correct; it is the ethic of slavery and has been used thusly for thousands of years. But her contention that liberty and capitalism must have an undergirding moral base of egoism is totally wrong.
To demonstrate how Rand misconstrued the egoism-altruism clash, we need to refer again to her misunderstanding of the "Either-Or Principle." Remember, she saw good and evil as a two-poled spectrum, and since she also saw capitalism as based solely upon self-interest, she reasoned that egoism was the natural answer to altruism. It was the true opposite to altruism. Since it was also ingrained into man's nature, she felt it was the ethical ideal. But Aristotle's Golden Mean shows why she is wrong because good and evil do not form a "two-poled spectrum."
For example, to apply the Golden Mean idea to the field of social ethics, the first thing to do is establish the two polar opposites of "defect" and "excess," which would be total self-sacrifice (altruism) on one end of the spectrum and total self-concern (egoism) on the other end.
According to Aristotle's conception of the ideal, the proper social ethics would be a midpoint between these two opposite extremes. It would be something wholly different: concern for yourself combined with concern for others, or what is known throughout the West as the Golden Rule or the Judeo-Christian ethic. Here is what Aristotelian wisdom would advocate as the ethical ideal:
The far left of the spectrum is the servility of altruism, which is the total lack of concern for oneself that would be found in a pure communist society. The far right of the spectrum is the abrasiveness of egoism, or the excessive concern for oneself that would be found in perhaps a Nietzschean anarchical society. These are the two extremes of opposite vice beyond which one cannot go. The Golden Mean would be the Judeo-Christian ethic as it was practiced in early America and throughout the nineteenth century, for it taught men through the wisdom of the ages what was necessary to maintain their own personal good and also to be compassionate and concerned with the welfare of others. It is what an Aristotelian would call "the doctrine of equal concern."
Thus egoism is not the answer to altruism at all, but merely an over-compensation from defective concern for oneself to excessive concern for oneself. Rand merely replaced one evil with another evil. This was her great mistake! In exposing the impossibility of altruism as a moral code, she has replaced it with the equally impossible code of egoism. But then this is always the problem whenever one strays away from the Golden Mean. Destruction, impracticality, and evil are the results.
Naturally there is much more to discerning proper ethics than just placement of doctrines on a spectrum derived from Aristotelian philosophy. We must study history, psychology, biology, anthropology, religion, and numerous other arenas of existence.
But one thing all great thinkers conclude from any serious contemplation of these matters is that man's ego cannot be enshrined as the fount of ethics as Rand postulated. The adulation of one's ego as the end in life contradicts natural law. It contradicts reason, science, tradition, and plain, ordinary common sense. Nowhere in history, in logic, or in the intuitive beliefs of all higher religions is there any evidence to justify the notion that humans would be happy and society honorable under an egoistic ethic.
The desire to ceaselessly advance one's social position, to wallow in pomp and degradation, to possess power over others, to manipulate millions, to unrestrainedly gratify one's appetites and passions, to gain unending wealth, to puff up one's prestige, and to aggrandize oneself at the expense of the community, the nation, and the world are vices that have afflicted all men, from politicians and peasants to soldiers and seers, since the beginning of time. The root of such iniquity is the dominating and perplexing enigma in all of us called ego, which Rand glorifies as the motor of the world, "the fountainhead" of man's progress. And to a certain extent she is right, but this motor is explosive, deceptive, crude, and impervious by nature. Its constant counsel is self-deception, and thus it must be governed not glorified. No man's ego needs encouragement to seek its enhancement; there is already a deeply-seated urge in men to do that, waiting only for the reins of culture and morality to be slackened by sloth, seething under such restraints like a caged beast. In some the beast is merely a sly fox while in others a raging wildcat, but in all men it is a beast.
The entire gamut of human history is saturated with endlessly recurring examples of man's tendency to ruthlessness and greed? To unlock such a drive with glorious odes to egoism would be incalculable folly that would incur monstrous consequences and sweep our society into an orgy of inhumanness and materialism.
Ludwig von Mises, throughout his works, stresses that the entrepreneur's need is to serve the consumer. This is because, in doing so, the entrepreneur also serves himself. This is the ideal social approach for humans to adopt – the "morality of equal concern." I go into this in much more detail in the book, explaining how reason, experience, intuition, and science all dictate Aristotelian wisdom in the matter of social ethics.
Daily Bell: If man's ego is to be governed, how then is this to be achieved? Is the state to be involved in the governing of our personalities and our moral choices?
Nelson Hultberg: No. The state must not be in the business of forming personalities and determining morality. This must be done voluntarily via persuasion and teaching through the family, the schools, churches, and community. But objective morality must definitely be taught and preached. Genuine freedom can only work amidst a nation of people who have been reared upon ethical absolutes. There must be a blend of objective moral values with political-economic freedom. The Founding Fathers understood this, and we need to recapture their wisdom.
Where it gets a little sticky, however, is in the implementation. Too many conservatives make the mistake of advocating state coercion in the implementation process. The linking of society's moral guardians to the coercive arm of the state during the Middle Ages created enough evil and cruelty that we should be cured forever of such a temptation. State bureaucrats cannot be our moral guardians with the power to bludgeon society's sinners into obedience.
Objective moral values are crucial to a decent and free society, but they must be established via persuasion by the vast streams of reason, religion, and experience that emanate from society's ablest minds building upon the shoulders of those giants who have come before us. Morality is not, as the modern mind thinks, relative to the person and the culture. There are fundamental rights and wrongs that can be agreed upon and upheld. But in order for society to be just and for men to be truly moral, their virtue must be freely chosen, not legally mandated.
Daily Bell: What is your overall opinion of Ayn Rand? Is she good or bad for the freedom movement?
Nelson Hultberg: For the past 50 years, Rand has been a shining inspiration to millions of readers, yet a bombastic misanthrope to millions of others. What I came to believe after reading through her works was that the woman had one fireball of a mind, but a mind that suffered more than a few misunderstandings about the kaleidoscope of complexities that comprises life. Rand thought titanically and wrote eloquently, but she was so insulated in the moral-ideological ivory tower she created for herself that enormous gaps developed in her grasp of what makes up human existence.
Her philosophy of Objectivism still appeals to thousands of thinking men and women and is rallied to by new converts every year through her muscular, heroic novels. But what is damaging about the Rand phenomenon is the fact that libertarians, in their embrace of Rand's primary premises (several of which are flawed), have created a philosophical movement that cannot get successfully launched as it is presently constructed. They have built a rocket ship with a faulty engine that, upon every takeoff, propels them only a short distance into the sky and then plummets back to earth. I explain in my book the major weaknesses in Rand's ethical thinking that have prohibited libertarianism from becoming a countervailing force to statism. And I also show how to restructure the libertarian ship to give it the strength to truly take flight.
Because I disagree with Rand's ethical ideas, however, doesn't mean I consider her to be a waste of time. Far from it; there is much of benefit to learn from her works – e.g., her understanding of individual rights and how they are being destroyed, her identification of altruism as the moral fount of tyranny, her formulation of the "sanction of the victim" and the "hatred of the good for being the good," her insistence that ideology is the prime mover of history, etc. But one must read her for her wisdom and dismiss her folly, which requires a certain perspective that comes from experience in life.
Rand had incredibly trenchant things to say to us about capitalism, tyranny, individualism, the entrepreneur, the powers of reason and morality, the need for heroism, etc. But she floundered with the primary goal of her writing – her attempt to launch a new egoistic ethical system for man. To the extent that libertarians and objectivists embrace her "new ethical system," they undercut the real strength of capitalism as a way of life. If America and capitalism are to be saved for future centuries, it will not be on the iconoclastic wings of egoism, but upon a new rendition of the ancient wisdom that has guided man ethically for thousands of years.
Daily Bell: Analyze for us Rand's characters in her novels.
Nelson Hultberg: It is my contention that both egoism and altruism are highly undesirable as ethical guides. The man of genuine strength is the one who can be both independent and compassionate with his life's energies and aspirations – to be equally concerned with himself and his fellow humans. No one ever respects the altruist extreme, the servile Milquetoast who glorifies pacifism and perpetual sacrifice to others. Likewise, no one ever respects the egoist extreme, the preening, callous Peacock who struts through life insufferably consumed with his own image, accomplishments and well-being.
Rand's bodacious heroes such as Roark and Galt are certainly not Peacocks. They are, in fact, quite admirable characters possessed of numerous noble virtues; but they are still concerned solely with self, even in their charitable ventures, which gives a sort of unbalanced distastefulness to their personalities. As a result, they move on the spectrum toward the egoist extreme and become cold and unfulfilling, bereft of that crucial magnanimity found in history's traditional heroes. Rand's protagonists, so intransigent, so robust, so brave, yet so devoted only to themselves, come off in one's mind like Mona Lisa with a wart on her nose, or Winston Churchill with a high squeaky voice, or Secretariat with donkey legs. Their incessant egoism is an incongruity that mars their potential sublimity. Even if the reader does not identify it consciously, he certainly senses subconsciously that something is wrong with these dynamic adventurers.
For example, in The Fountainhead, Rand portrays Roark as totally oblivious to everyone around him, totally wrapped up in himself and his own concerns. And she portrays this aspect of Roark – this fact that he does not see other humans around him – as idealistic. This kind of persona is certainly never going to launch a world revolution for the restoration of a free-market society. Capitalists need to adopt this kind of social approach like the New York Philharmonic needs to adopt the cacophonous noise of Metallica.
Rand, of course, purposely created her heroes in this way, because she felt that such an "egoistic ideal man" was necessary to counter the "altruistic ideal man" that the socialists promoted. But sadly, she could not see that egoism was merely the opposite side of the same evil coin of extremism on the Aristotelian spectrum. It was not the answer to altruism at all, but merely an overcompensation from excessive concern for one's fellows to defective concern.
Don't get the wrong idea; I believe Roark's kind represents one of the founts of human progress. But I always wondered why does his idealization as a heroic character need to be built upon a combination of brilliance, courage, originality, and independence along with contemptuous indifference to other humans? Why did Rand feel greatness could only come from antisocial recalcitrants? The fact that many times in the past greatness has come from such humans does not make cold indifference a requisite for the ideal man. Why should not the "ideal man" possess the fundamental attributes of brilliance, courage, originality, and independence along with a benevolent concern for other humans?
Daily Bell: What is your opinion of Murray Rothbard and his concept of libertarianism? And why?
Nelson Hultberg: Rothbard was a brilliant, incredibly prolific thinker who could write insightfully and passionately on a multitude of subjects. His grasp of history was staggering. He had a powerful, spirited intellect that drew converts into his circle of influence like a magnet draws iron filings. But as with many notable thinkers, the potency of his mind often ran out of control, and he adopted positions that were flawed to say the least. Rothbard made a terrible miscalculation early in his career when he fully embraced Rand's non-aggression principle. He, like Childs, clearly saw that if "initiatory force" was immoral, then government itself could not be justified, which mandated an anarchical philosophy of politics for him.
Herein lies the major flaw of Rothbard's libertarianism. Liberty, via the non-aggression principle, has become the fundamental value from which culture is to evolve in an anarcho-capitalist world. This puts the cart before the horse so to speak, for liberty is not a fundamental axiom. Right metaphysical values come first, out of which then evolves a culture of liberty. Liberty is a result of a specific type of culture that stems from certain metaphysical views that have been handed down through the centuries via the Judeo-Graeco-Christian worldview.
This framework of metaphysical views and moral values must be inculcated into the youth of society from a universalist perspective. Freedom cannot be the fundamental value out of which will then somehow spring a benign cultural quilt of egoists, altruists, socialists, capitalists, fascists, pragmatists, hedonists, utilitarians, Christians, Muslims, etc. – all peacefully interactive in a do-your-own-thing, anarcho-capitalist civilization.
As Chris M. Sciabarra points out, Rothbard has abstracted liberty out of the context of history and constructed a voluntarist utopia that could never evolve, much less be sustained, outside of the "huge constellation of historical, cultural, economic and ideological forces" that make up human civilization, forces which are basically ignored by Rothbardians in their philosophical and strategic theories. Sciabarra goes on to point out that "the voluntarist society cannot be actualized by merely ordering people to live and let live. It will take more than a Libertarian Law Code to convince a fanatical Islamic fundamentalist that Salman Rushdie has a right to life."
What it will take (as I explain in the book) is a restoration of the moral values that spring from the fundamental metaphysics that built Western civilization and ignited the American Revolution. A free social order is inconceivable without those values being taught from a universalist perspective. Rothbard certainly realized this and was not "personally opposed to a comprehensive ethical system." But because he preached anarchism and the segmenting of libertarianism into strictly a political movement, he stifled integration of the necessary moral dictums and cultural values into libertarianism's body of thought that would give it the strength to successfully combat collectivism. This is why the traditional (i.e., conservative) cultural value structure must be incorporated into the libertarian political movement. This is why my book's subtitle is: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values.
Thus, as with Rand, we must read Rothbard for his wisdom and dismiss his folly. This will require that we carefully and selectively analyze the product of his thinking, rather than idolize it as a manifesto upon which to hang our entire raison d'etre.
Anarcho-capitalism was his major folly. It stemmed from his hatred of any and all state activity, which stemmed from his adoption of Rand's flawed non-aggression principle. This is the power of first principles. If we are wrong in our formulation of them, then everything we extrapolate afterwards as a consequence is also wrong. I devote an entire chapter in the book to exposing the immense flaws of anarcho-capitalism.
Daily Bell: Can you elaborate on your view of anarcho-capitalism? Why is it so dangerous to the libertarian movement?
Nelson Hultberg: Libertarians don't understand how much damage they are doing to the cause of freedom because big league academics are able to use their anarchist irrationality to discredit the idea of capitalism in the minds of the best and the brightest of every generation.
Anarchism in defense of capitalism is music to statist ears. It corroborates their socialist worldview that says capitalism is a ruthless, anarchistic system that allows the strong to dominate everyone else. It, therefore, must be replaced with a state-run economy to bring stability to the anarchistic ruthlessness of free life. Statists have been saying this for over a century – that capitalism is anarchistic and primitive. What do Rothbardians say in response? "Yes, indeed, we advocate a combine of anarchism and capitalism. We are anarcho-capitalists, for capitalism is only workable in a no-government society. The choice is between statism and anarchism. Take your pick. Good and evil form a two-poled spectrum. It is either-or: tyranny or anarchy." But as we have seen the logic and wisdom of Aristotle show that good and evil form a three-poled spectrum.
In face of such anarcho-capitalist espousals, it is child's play for statist academics to continue conning young intellectuals into accepting authoritarian statism as the only workable means of political-economic organization. The statist academics merely teach their students that the fundamental political choice is between a Rothbardian capitalist jungle and a Rawlsian statist stability. And Rothbardians have, in their own words and books, verified this smear job done on the great visions of Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises. But anarchists are oblivious to this terrible consequence of their ideology because they are obsessed with the flawed "non-aggression principle." The battle for freedom is being lost because its libertarian defenders have chosen Rand's anarchist "fundamental premise" upon which to build their castle.
Thus, the anarchist philosophical approach is suffocating the true growth and maturation of thought that can make libertarianism a meaningful force in history, rather than just a footnote to it. Anarchism violates the "Either-Or Principle" between a fundamental good and a fundamental evil and also the "Doctrine of the Mean" that Aristotle discovered over 2300 years ago. Anarchism also has been tried thoroughly in human history and has been found severely wanting. It was tried for 500 years in Anglo-Saxon England (500 A.D. to 1000 A.D.).
Bruce Benson (The Enterprise of Law, 1990) is the anarchist theorist who tried to make the Anglo-Saxon concept of "custom law," i.e., voluntary law, into a socio-legal ideal and thus the basis for abolishing "legislated law" and organized government. His book is a masterful piece of scholarship, but unfortunately he has misread history rather severely. The Anglo-Saxon experiment of "voluntary courts of law, armies, and police" led to a warlord society in which all people were raised to be combatants, everyone lived behind castle walls and moats, women were not able to travel openly on the roads for fear of being attacked, ruthless outlaws roamed the countryside impervious to the "voluntary courts," commerce and trade were minimal and sparse, tribal customs were arbitrary, equal rights were nowhere. Life was indeed as Hobbs predicted: mean, nasty, brutish, and short. I cover Benson's treatise quite extensively in my book and back up my analysis with views from several of the great historical and legal scholars (like Pollock and Maitland) showing that Anglo-Saxon society was not any kind of "ideal."
Most damaging of all, however, to anarchist ideology is that the Anglo-Saxon warlord society only used bows and arrows and spears to do their fighting. Imagine what such a no-government philosophy would bring about today with modern weaponry openly available to all market participants. We would have Hatfield and McCoy clans armed to the teeth with nuclear bombs and stinger missiles fighting among each other. America would be a land of bombed-out Beiruts in no time, with mushroom clouds of radiation everywhere.
Anarchism fails both theoretically and practically. Reason and experience are profound testaments to this. But unfortunately the myth prevails that men can somehow become angels and thrust off all need for government. The myth will always prevail among those who don't like the messiness of reality and don't believe there are inborn evils of human nature. I expose all this in The Golden Mean and put forth a philosophy of politics that will lead to a genuinely limited government that can be contained.
Daily Bell: How does Aristotle's doctrine of the mean apply to foreign policy?
Nelson Hultberg: There are fundamentally five different foreign policies possible to a country. They are: imperialism, interventionism, defensive nationalism, isolationism, and pacifism. On a spectrum, they would lie as follows:
Imperialism is the vice of "excess." Interventionism is merely a modified variant of it. Pacifism is the vice of "defect," with isolationism a modified variant of it. Defensive nationalism is the rational mean lying midway between the opposite extremes. I go into much more detail to explain each of these foreign policies in the book.
Daily Bell: Is Islam a threat to America? If so, how should we defend ourselves against it?
Nelson Hultberg: Islam itself is not, but the fundamentalist groups termed "Islamism" are indeed a dangerous threat. They are the jihadists who wish to attack the West with terrorism and restore the glory of Islam of centuries ago. Our problem is that the neoconservatives are trying to confront these radicals by fighting guerrilla wars in the radicals' territory. Islamism's evil is that of "deranged philosophy" as Robert Reilly points out in his brilliant, The Closing of the Muslim Mind. And deranged ideas cannot be fought by killing the advocates of those ideas. It is such embarrassing ignorance to believe guns and force can meaningfully alter Islamic cultures.
Change in a culture's fundamental views is not generated by the butt end of a rifle. It stems from the metaphysical conclusions that a culture's intellectuals draw over long periods of time. It comes from the light of example and the lessons of history. The Islamic crisis is the product of wrong ideas disseminated over the centuries. It will not be resolved by the naïve preachments of neoconservative militarism.
Thus we do not need to be invading Mideast countries; we need to be avoiding them. Spending trillions of dollars and the blood of our youth to fight Islamist guerrillas in their territory (while kowtowing to liberal multi-culturalism at home) is not what military paragons like Douglas MacArthur and George Washington would advocate regarding defense of America. Both these generals understood the danger of attempting to fight a guerrilla war in the enemy's home territory. And both knew the importance of defending that most crucial of perimeters – one's own national borders.
This is where our fight against Islamic radicalism must be concentrated. Defending our nation's borders is what is necessary. If this means shutting large numbers of Muslims out as immigrants, so be it. Return to the pre-1965 Immigration Accords as Peter Brimelow and Alien Nation call for. Then set an example to the world by building a free country here at home. Eventually modernist Muslims would follow our lead and emulate our system economically over the decades. The fundamentalist Muslims would be left to stagnate in their own ignorance.
As Patrick Buchanan tells us: "Time is on our side in this struggle, for Islamic radicals cannot build great nations nor solve the problems of modernity. The only problem of Islamic peoples these extremists can help them solve is the problem of America's massive presence. Remove that root cause of this war, and Arab and Islamic peoples will see no longer through a glass darkly, but face to face, who their true enemies are."
Daily Bell: Explain the concept of "elutheromania" and its connection to libertarianism? Is it a benefit or detriment?
Nelson Hultberg: To answer that question, let me preface it a bit. In a 1979 article for Modern Age on the decline of today's culture and the role that literature has played, social critic Thomas H. Landess explains our modern crisis as stemming from the early twentieth century dissolution of the reason-faith merger upon which civilization had been built. Influential in literature's role in the destruction was James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
In the novel which is autobiographical, the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus (Joyce), becomes a sort of modern secularized St. Paul and his life's purpose the forging of a New Testament for the upcoming millennia that will purge all the old theological loyalties. But his rebellion is not just a rebellion against religion; it is a malevolent smashing of human reverence and the vital humility needed to wrap life in sanity. It is a tantrum revolt of the ignorant iconoclast unaware of the painstaking centuries of metaphysical discovery that have gone into constructing the requisite cultural foundation for ordered freedom to flourish.
Joyce wrote between 1905 and 1940, and thus his egoism slightly preceded that of Rand (who probably was influenced by him). His sense of life has become the intellectual guide of many libertarians who preach an anarchistic glorification of self and denigration of church, community, and nation. It is a sense of life that worships what the Greeks called the sin of "eleutheromania" (freedom without limits). It is relentless gratification of personal desires rather than a combination of self-interest and communal concern. American individualism was indubitably the latter, not the former, and it will not survive a culture of egoism and "do your own thing."
As the great libertarian journalist, Edith Efron, put it back in the 1970s: "Without a serious metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical base, a commitment to individual self-interest must necessarily degenerate into a slovenly rationalization for 'doing your own thing.' It is no great surprise, under the circumstances, that the counter-culture gutter movements, celebrating the most irrational manifestations of self-assertiveness, have been attractive to many libertarians."
This again is why my book is subtitled, Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values. The two go hand in hand; they cannot exist without each other. If the Founders were alive today, they would term themselves "libertarian-conservatives" because only with a blend of the two philosophies can a free civilization be maintained.
Daily Bell: What do you foresee in the upcoming years regarding freedom in America?
Nelson Hultberg: We are in danger of descending into a thousand-year Dark Ages. It will be high-tech, but it will be a ruthless and demoralizing way of life for humans. None of the values that we cherish will prevail. Power lust will permeate the motives of men. Justice will be a sham of relativism and sophistry that guides the power elites. Freedom will be outlawed and unknown in the councils of learning. We are well on our way to this type of world judging by today's political travesties and educational fallacies.
Must we continue the descent? Of course not. Men and women are rational creatures. They can choose to abide by "natural law" and fight for a rational concept of freedom rather than the sophistic concept of the collectivists. But they must choose, and this takes courage.
As I write in the book, it "will require that we be willing to cast off modernity's obsession with the material for the triumph of truth. Merrill Root's 'unchained glory of American life' demands far more than just a surfeit of productive goods. It calls for the kind of men and women who fought Burgoyne and rode with Bridger, who staked out claims in the wildcat fields of tomorrow's gold, yet lived by a higher law and raised their young to cherish it. It is a way of living that will demand from us the deepest and most resilient sinews of strength we can muster and the bravest and most brilliant deeds we can dare."
Daily Bell: You challenge the libertarian taboo on the "initiation of force" as a valid principle to base one's politics on because it leads to anarchy, which violates the Law of the Mean. But if we cannot use Rand's moral limiting principle of "no initiatory force" for government, what then are we to replace it with? Is there some new moral limiting principle that we can adopt to use as a replacement?
Nelson Hultberg: Yes, there certainly is. It is equally as powerful, and it leads to a rational concept of limited government as the Founders envisioned – not just for the nineteenth century, but for all of time. Most importantly it is equally as appealing morally as any taboo on "initiatory force," but minus the impractical anarchist baggage. However, I will let the reader discover it for himself when he reads the book.
Daily Bell: Where can our readers buy your book?
Nelson Hultberg: They can purchase it from our website AFR.org with a credit card, or through PayPal. We don't intend to put it on Amazon until the first 1,000 copies are sold. They discount so heavily that most of the profit is taken out of the book. We would like to get our investment back before we turn it over to those sharks.
The Daily Bell
Only a very few people are actually grappling directly with the philosophical issues raised by Austrian economics in the 21st century. Nelson Hultberg is one of them. He is becoming a very important advocate of a certain perspective, in our humble view.
In fact, this interview encapsulates and confronts many of the animating issues of The Daily Bell over the years. Natural and private (voluntary) law and anarcho-capitalism are dealt with at length − and obviously, readers will make up their own minds about Nelson's perspective.
Our larger question remains the one we began with many years ago. If one abandons the more muscular viewpoints regarding the implementation of freedom, does this in some way vitiate the larger argument?
One reason to set forth a fairly uncompromising viewpoint is to ensure the parameters of the dialectic are as broadly spaced as possible. If one begins a discussion by granting various forms of government control, then perhaps a good deal of rhetorical ground has already been ceded.
For various reasons, obvious to those who have read this interview, Nelson would object to this characterization. But certainly this question is one that occurs while reading this unique and provocative viewpoint.
Nonetheless, Nelson Hultberg's views combine high seriousness of purpose with philosophical and economic literacy. We've always found him to be a significant and serious thinker, and this interview merely reinforces our perspective. It's how argumentation is supposed to sound.