15A049 Dogma vs. Reason by Jim Davies, 8/29/2015    


Shortly after becoming a Libertarian, I founded a religion (doesn't everyone?) After the Greek for "freedom" I called it "Elephtherianism" and became its first and only minister, and promulgated its single doctrinal belief, or dogma, that "coercion is wrong." This was a serious matter; I donated half my salary to this church, and in grateful response the members (there were two of us) equipped the Reverend Jim with a manse and a car. Nothing extraordinary in any of that; if Methodists can do it, and be properly tax-free, so could I.

My position at the time was that the belief (that coercion is wrong, morally) is not a proposition one can prove to be objectively true. I believed it, and still do, but considered it a transcendental or subjective insight, and therefore religious. Hence Elephtherianism, hence the tax exempt status of the minister and his home etc.

I was subsequently shocked to discover that the IRS keeps a book of religions it has approved for tax purposes, thereby grossly violating Amendment One (that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion") for if no such law can be made, the FedGov cannot possibly define X as a religion but Y as a non-religion. In those days I still imagined that government has some respect for its own laws. Silly me. So we had my first drawn-out battle with the Infernal Robbery Syndicate, which ended in a draw.

Since those days, I've realized I was mistaken to suppose that non-aggression ("coercion is wrong") is non-rational, or transcendental or religious. On the contrary it can be proven rationally to be true, and ought always to be presented that way, as part of a rational ethic. It's quite simple: self-ownership is an undeniable premise (an "axiom") and so to aggress against anyone is to violate his self-ownership, and hence is morally wrong, Q.E.D. There's no need for any religious content there, so it's not a dogma, it's reason. A dogma is something handed down authoritatively, as by a supposed revelation from an alleged superior being, but this ethical position is derived right here, from a fixed premise and by strict logic. This is true of all anarcho-libertarian thought. It's not a matter of holding a viewpoint or belief, one among others, it's a matter of accepting what objectively exists. Dogma has no place.

So I was disturbed when a regular contributor to LewRockwell.com produced recently an article called The Dogmatic Mosquito. He goes by the name "Bionic Mosquito", presumably because he wants to annoy and infect the statist body politick, and often writes well and in a thoughtful and pleasingly self-deprecating style. But this was an exception. He wrote: "Dogma is an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc.; a settled or established opinion, belief, or principle." But then he lists six dogma that are "part of this mosquito" and the first two are fine: the non-aggression principle and the free market, with Murray Rothbard as the guide. Properly, though, these are not dogma, they are principles to which there is no rational alternative. It may seem a fine distinction, but it's vital; we don't favor a free market because it's an "official system" but because rationality allows no other.

Then Bionic continues with his third dogmatic belief, and there he goes clean off the rails: "I believe that for a society to thrive – even survive – that governance (not government as it is known today) is required. The concept of a society without hierarchy is bankrupt."

Wrong! Governance is not required, and still less, hierarchy. Individual freedom alone is required. Why? - because every individual owns his own life, by axiom. He is a self-ruler. Therefore he must not be governed, in any shape, way, form or degree. The only obligations in a free society will be those undertaken voluntarily by contract, and the only time his will will be over-ruled will be by a court whose authority he has accepted, which enforces the terms of that contract (or by restoring the rights of the other party, if he is found to have damaged them without contract.)

Who is to provide Bionic's "governance"? - he says, "family and kin, thereafter extended to church, community, social and benevolent organizations and the like." Wrong again! It's true that dependent children are a special case, and their rights are discussed in a page of The Anarchist Alternative, but otherwise the only obligations applying to a free person will be those he chooses to undertake, by contract.

Bionic continues with his #5: "Voluntary governance is further extended via contract." Ha! "Voluntary governance" - what's that when it's at home? Looks to me like a first class oxymoron, and scarily similar to the IRS' infamous "voluntary compliance" fiction. What he writes about contracts is fine, but they are by no means an "extension" to other forms of "governance" - or even any form of governance at all, except in the sense above.

The vast superiority of reason over dogma is further illustrated in Bionic's article; he gives Murray Rothbard a little too much respect: "The political philosophy that best fits my view is anarchy as described by Murray Rothbard." I'd almost agree there, because Murray was such a brilliant thinker and apologist. I admire him as a guide, but not as an authority, a source of dogma! I think that very occasionally, he was mistaken. He was wrong to plunge into politics as the primary way to bring about a free society; I don't blame him, for he was pioneering and that was the obvious thing to try. He was wrong about punishment, and there I think was more culpable. Maybe he was wrong about a few other things. So he's a wonderful source of clear thinking, but not infallible. Not an authority, handing down dogma. Never ignore Murray, but reason things out for yourself, from first principles.

There's a remarkable book to recommend, in closing: L K Samuels' In Defense of Chaos. He shows that while we might expect hierarchical governance to produce order, its opposite actually does a better job, so nicely demolishing the theory that "The concept of a society without hierarchy is bankrupt."

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