Man, Family and State
Exclusive to STR
May 25, 2007
a year and a half ago, I started recording libertarian podcasts in my
car during my drive to and from work. It seemed like a fun way to kill
the time in traffic, and it also gave me a chance to help clarify my
thoughts with regards to various issues that people had written to me
about after my first articles were published on Lew Rockwell. At first,
my podcasts were largely concerned with the economics of anarcho-capitalism,
and details regarding the implementation of my theory of Dispute
Resolution Organizations (DROs), and how they could replace existing
was impressed at how quickly this turned into a very involved
philosophical conversation. At first, a few thousand podcasts a month
were downloaded then, this figure began to rise inexorably. In March
of 2007, over 200,000 Freedomain Radio podcasts were downloaded, and
tens of thousands of videos were viewed.
Internet is a wonderful medium for philosophy, because it can instantly
distribute ideas to hundreds of thousands of people, and through message
boards, can stimulate fascinating discussions on the resulting topics.
Plus, philosophy was originally an oral art form, designed to be spoken
and discussed, not just read.
because of the amount of time people spend doing things which preclude
reading, but which do not preclude listening, such as going to the gym,
doing groceries, doing laundry, going for a walk, or driving, podcasts
can reach interested parties in a way that books never can.
rigor of this new philosophical conversation was far beyond anything I
had experienced before. As a community, we certainly talked about
economics, politics and contemporary events, but it quickly became
evident to me that where there is disagreement on fundamentals, there
can be no real agreement on details and that, relative to
metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, politics is a mere detail.
with the help of the listeners, I began to define the methodologies that
we could use to help determine truth from falsehood largely based on
the scientific method, empirical observations and rigorous logic. And we
made great progress, or so it seemed . . . .
then, my wife got involved.
wife, a practicing psychotherapist, said something extraordinary to me
after reading one of my tracts on moral philosophy and the evils of the
state. Looking up, she said, "It all starts with the family."
all starts with the family.
mulled this over for some weeks, and then I decided to expand the
conversation from philosophy to psychology and, in conjunction with my
wife, began to trace our susceptibility to statism from our very first
experiences of family life. In a series of podcasts, I put forth the
proposition that the state is merely an effect of the family, and
thus in order for libertarianism to really take root and flourish within
society, what was required was not only a reevaluation of man, state and
society, but a rigorous moral examination of the most essential social
unit: the family.
is when the conversation really
began to take
received hundreds of e-mails from people about their experiences of
authority within their own families, within the school system, within
churches and other cultural institutions, which in general supported the
role that our personal experiences with authority plays in our later
susceptibility to impersonal authority, in the form of the state.
far, this new direction seems to be really bearing fruit. If our adult
susceptibilities to political hegemonies are rooted in our childhood
experiences of authority, this helps explain why decades of talking
about the evils of the state has done precious little to prevent the
growth of the state. If statism is primarily an emotional reaction,
or psychological defense mechanism, rather than a rational deduction,
then it cannot be opposed with logical argument alone, but rather must
be patiently undone through empathy and introspection.
to many this all sounds too ridiculous to be believable! Responding to
the statement "I believe that the state is both moral and
necessary," with the question "Tell me about your
parents," seems like a blinding non sequitur. However, it can be a
very powerful approach, since it is based on a simple and empirical
rational examination of the evidence would lead any sane man to statism
yet statism is the default position in society. Since statism is so
blatantly irrational, it cannot have become so widespread through
rational argument. Thus, there must be another source to the pervasive
belief in the virtues of governments.
many libertarians, the answer seems clear: Children are turned into
statists in public schools, where conformity and a deep, fearful
"respect" for arbitrary authority is instilled day after day.
this cannot be the full extent of the story. Anyone who has spent any
time around toddlers during the "terrible twos" knows that the
willpower and independence of very young children is a near-superhuman
force. It strains credibility to imagine that a single kindergarten
teacher can restrain in 30 children the force that two parents find
difficult to deal with in one child.
it must be that many children are delivered into the public school
system with their independence already undermined, and filled with
unease in the face of arbitrary authority.
lesson can only have come from their parents.
does not mean that all parents are malevolent beasts out to destroy
their children, but rather that the virtue of subjugating oneself to
arbitrary authority which is another way of saying that arbitrary
authority is always virtuous tends to reproduce itself generation by
generation. Children who are subjugated to the mere authority of their
parents without reference to objective values tend to grow up
with a blind spot about the dangers of arbitrary power, and to assume
its virtue in the absence of evidence.
approach also helps explain another baffling aspect of libertarianism
why people take political arguments so personally. How many times
have you been involved in political or economic discussions with someone
who gets irrationally offended by your arguments? Unless you are
Condoleeza Rice, if you and I are discussing foreign policy, it has
about as much relevance to our daily decisions as the existence of a gas
planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. People rarely get offended about
mathematics, but economics and politics seems to light an enormous fuse
in far too many people.
At Freedomain Radio, the theory which may explain this goes something like this:
most people are talking about the government, they are really talking
about their parents.
you criticize the government, most people unconsciously interpret that
as you criticizing their parents.
you equate government power with immorality, most people unconsciously
hear you saying that their parents are evil.
theory, while it might seem outlandish, has proven to be remarkably
accurate in practice but there is no reason to take my word for it!
One of the amazing things about philosophy is that we get to work with
empirical data from our own lives. Both I and hundreds of board members
at Freedomain Radio have found this to be a very powerful and effective
way of figuring out whether it is possible to have a rational discussion
with someone about philosophy, economics, or politics but you can
easily determine for yourself whether this approach has any value. Just
ask about the personal history of those you debate with, and see if any
we talk about the state, we are really talking about authority, which is
nothing more or less than the power that one person has over another.
When children are young, each family operates as a kind of "mini
state." Just as, in the democratic ideal, states exists to serve
and protect their citizens, in the familial ideal, parents exist to
serve and protect their children. Just as citizens are considered
participatory members of the state though ultimately subject to its
authority so children are considered to be participatory members in
the family though ultimately subject to the authority of the
parents. The ideal within the democratic paradigm is that the more
virtuous the citizens are, the less authority the state is justified in
wielding. The same is true in the familial ideal parental authority
should only be exercised when children are acting badly. From Socrates
onwards, the goal of an ideal state has always been considered the same
to inculcate virtue in its citizens, and thus reduce or eliminate
the need to exercise authority over them. The same is true in ideal
parenting, which has always been considered the process of inculcating
virtue in children, so that parental controls and authority can be
relaxed and ideally, eliminated.
libertarians understand that the modern state does not follow the
democratic ideal in fact, it acts in direct contradiction to it. If
the power of the state is inversely proportional to the virtue of its
citizens in other words, the more moral people are, the less state
power is required then clearly there is one sure method to
increasing the power of the state, which is to make citizens more and
more immoral either within their own minds, or in reality. If
citizens can be convinced that immorality is on the rise, and the power
of the state can be "legitimately expanded, under the illusion
that an increase in state power will reverse the trend towards
course, as libertarians well know, quite the reverse is true. Increases
in state power banning drugs, the welfare state etc. always lead
to increases in immorality both real and imagined and thus a
vicious circle is created wherein the state feeds its own increase, a
process which can only end in bankruptcy and collapse.
where is it that people get the idea that power is legitimized by the
immorality of those it controls? This idea must already have been
absorbed by the time the children go to public school, since
public-school teachers merely capitalize on this belief.
must come from parents and this is primarily not the fault of
parents, but rather of philosophers.
which do not have an objective and commonly understood methodology for
determining truth and falsehood, good and evil, inevitably have to end
up substituting authority for virtue. Statism leads to
war, science leads to conferences. If, to educate children in what they
should and should not do, parents have to end up invoking authority
rather than objective values, then the best that they can do is to teach
their children to be obedient, not to be moral. To conform, not to
think. To bully or be bullied, but not to approach others as equals.
many times do children hear these clichιs of parenthood? Don't be
selfish. Share. Be Nice. Be Polite. Be
Considerate. Think of others. "Don't push." And so on
and so on and so on. All of these injunctions to children are mere
orders, empty of meaning, thought or reasoning. The silent expression at
the end of all of these orders to children is because I'm telling
you to. Children cannot ask "why," because there is no
answer. Parents cloak these orders in the moral authority of objective
values, but cannot explain how they came about, and so strenuously
resist being questioned.
the greatest sin for children becomes disobedience, not irrationality.
The worst thing that they can do is not fail to think or examine
evidence, but to defy the will of those in authority.
what is the will of their parents based on? Objective reality? Rational
values? Of course not. The will of their parents is based on the
expectations of everyone else. Conformity with social norms becomes the
eternal absolute, a dog chasing its own tail.
children have this experience with their parents, how will they
experience the state when they become adults? Will they be able to say
that values exist independent of authority, which authority itself must
be subject to? It seems unlikely almost impossible given their
own experiences with their parents. Most people do not have the
willpower or intellectual strength to create values independent of their
personal histories. In the realm of values, most of us just blindly
reproduce what came before. Great philosophers are as rare as great
scientists, and expecting the average population to reach such heights
is like asking everyone to be a movie star.
children learn that morality is conformity with the will of those in
authority, this allegiance is easily transferred to the State through
the public school system.
then, when some libertarian comes along, equating the state with evil,
unconscious defenses rear their ugly heads, since what is really
happening is that the original and irrational authority of the parents
is being questioned. This is why people react to arguments about the
immorality of the state as if you were waving a hot poker in their face.
my wife said, "It's not about the state. It all starts with the
come to this realization, we have spent the last year or so in the
Freedomain Radio conversation attempting to find ways to get through
these psychological defenses, so that we can have rational debates about
the nature of authority and virtue without provoking aggressive or
defensive reactions in people. We've had some good successes, though
there is always further to go!
invite you to join in this conversation, because I think it is
essential. I am as passionate and committed an anti-statist as I was
when I was 16, but I think that now I have some new and powerful tools,
both for understanding why this conversation has been so difficult in
the past, and how to make it far, far easier in the future. If we
understand the emotional and personal sensitivity of these issues for
others, we can design our conversation to get to the real root of the
issues, rather than dealing with the mere symptoms, and focus on
personal freedom first.
We cannot make men free by getting rid of the state. But we can get rid of the state by making men free.