How To Survive Deplatforming

Free speech and freedom of expression are often assumed to be inherent qualities of being a modern human being. However, modern life is also very much aligned with technology, where freedom has very limited currency, because it gets in the way of the larger project of the entire Internet which is the establishment of vast communities that, hive-like, depend upon like-mindedness. Such conformity is termed, “community standards,” which are policed by various rules and regulations. Transgression of these “laws” brings punishment. either mild or severe.

But the Internet is also a marketplace, where things are bought and sold, and where thousands, if not millions, of people have established flourishing careers. Here, the question of freedom seems entirely irrelevant, since all manner of things can be bought and sold – even the most heinous (like pornography of the worst sort and human trafficking). There is no internal policing here, and thus no limit to what can be bought and sold.

Access to the Internet, whether for information, communication or commerce, is controlled by platforms and their owners. And those who own and control these platforms also own and control communities and the “standards” which govern them. At the same time, these platforms provide the means for effective commerce. For example, most people use the platform known as, Facebook, for communication – while most other people use Facebook to sell things. This dual function makes Facebook both a communications company and a service-provider for commerce.

But notice what takes place in this dynamic – suddenly, Facebook is both a policing agency which cannot allow any sort of disruption of the harmony that it is trying to establish within its community of the like-minded – while also being an open marketplace, in which it also profitably participates by selling ads. Thus, where does Facebook’s allegiance lie? To the community, or to the marketplace? This question, in fact, burdens all other platform owners also, such as, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Instagram, and so forth.

What happens when the community feels disrupted and complains to the platform owner to do something about the disrupter who happens to be using the platform for commerce? As has been happening rather regularly, the platform heeds the community and exiles the disrupter who has no recourse for appeal and everything that he/she has built is immediately shut down.

This is known as a “deplatforming campaign,” where the outraged bombard service platforms with complaining emails and messages asking that the disrupter’s very presence be entirely removed. Does the platform owner do nothing and continue to profit from the disrupter’s commerce? Or, does the platform obey the will of the outraged community – and drive the disrupter from the platform forever?

Welcome to the Cancel Culture – where what you say may not just get you banned from using the largest services on the Internet, but may also get you banned from using essential services like banking and credit cards – just because someone did not like what you said online. This modern-day version of exile is known as, “deplatforming.”

It is a dire problem, affecting thousands of people, many of whom have lost all ability to earn a living. Suddenly, the question of freedom takes on a far grimmer aspect, in that it starkly shows that for some, being deprived of freedom means not only the inability to speak online – but even being deprived of money. In the great juggernaut of mega tech-companies that own the Internet, the deplatformed individual instantly becomes a non-entity, a non-person, who is also denied financial services, such as, banking and credit cards.

Given the fact that cancel culture is only growing, in which outrage is the new morality, it is indeed timely that Mark E. Jeftovic has written, Unassailable. Defend Yourself From Deplatform Attacks, Cancel Culture & Other Online Disasters. Jeftovic is certainly the right person to be writing this book, as he runs a technology company himself, in Toronto, Canada, and is a current Director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. So, the wisdom that he imparts is not theoretical, but solid and practical.

Therefore, this book is filled with valuable insights about the problem of deplatforming – but more importantly it also offers real and viable solutions to arm the ordinary individual with strategies to survive and thrive online. This is especially crucial for people who make a living online. Jeftovic lays out his plan clearly: “This book is for anybody who earns their living online. While primarily it is for content creators, many of the principles in this book can be used by any business that relies heavily on their internet presence, and as such must take measures to remain online at all times.”

For those who might imagine that this all some tempest in a teapot and far beyond their own interaction with the world online, Jeftovic has this to say: “Even if you are a content creator who assumes nothing you say is controversial enough to attract a deplatforming campaign, bear in mind that what seems reasonable today may be considered beyond the pale tomorrow.”

The book begins with a Foreward by Charles Hugh Smith, which is a chilling but spirited summary of what is truly at stake: “Societies around the world are experiencing unprecedented cultural purges of ideas and narratives that challenge the status quo. In some nations, this purge is managed by the central government, China being a leading example. In the developed Western nations, this purge is being conducted by private for-profit technology platforms that function as quasi-monopolies in Internet search, video and advertising (Google) and social media (Facebook and Twitter).”

These tech giants are now all-powerful kingdoms who control their realms and their borders very effectively; and their decisions are final and without any due recourse: “A content creator banned by a tech platform has no rights or recourse: the platform is not obligated to identify the “crime” that supposedly violated their User Agreement or present evidence in support of this accusation. The banned user has no means to contest the ‘conviction’ or the ‘sentence.’” Thought criminals are therefore made invisible instantly.

This silencing, or rather erasure, of people is now on-going and persistent practice because these “tech platforms wield extra-legal powers that are impervious to conventional government protections of civil liberties. (Those who attempt to sue these corporations face legal teams larger than those serving government agencies.) Users agree to open-ended Terms of Service that the corporations can interpret however they please, without any transparent process of appeal or redress.”

In effect, if people do not know how to protect themselves, they will always be victims online. It is this protection through knowledge that Jeftovic offers – and his book is the very blueprint for being empowered online in the years ahead.

The book itself is divided into two parts. The first is historical in nature and is therefore entitled, “The Battle for Narrative Control.” Here, Jeftovic provides context for the “culture war” currently being fought on all fronts by those who want to make sure that people only have access to a certain kind of “truth;” that the harmony of like-mindedness is rigorously maintained; and that freedom means absolute conformity. Such hive-mindedness can only result in a society that is “less intolerant and more inclusive with each successive generation.”

In fact, all of us are now used to the conditions of groupthink, because we respond in the prescribed manner whenever we encounter certain “trigger-words.” Jeftovic warns: “The real threats today have names like “the greater good”, “the science is settled”, “that’s a conspiracy theory” and any other variation on a theme that some people feel it’s within their purview to decide what ideas are acceptable for everybody else, and more perniciously, that any disagreement is illegitimate and not permissible.”

Part II is entitled, “What You Do About It,” and it is an honest and highly useful blueprint to entirely and fully own your own means of production (to use a convenient Marxist phrase). If you rely solely on the means of production provided by the platforms of the tech-giants, you will always be in danger of being silenced, unpersoned, and financially destroyed.

Jeftovic then proceeds a give step-by-step, and easy-to-follow methodology, through which you can “own the race-course,” as he puts it. He covers all the essentials that are necessary to ensure your financial and even ideological survival on the Internet. These include: owning and promoting your own brand; the best webhosting; how to do blogs the right way; how to engage with discussion forums; how to get the right kind of email service; how to podcast; how to buy and sell online; avoiding bad revenue models and using good revenue models; how to get on alternative platforms, and much else besides.

Since, Part II is really a how-to instruction manual, it would be unfair to summarize what Jeftovic teaches, for most of it is proprietorial information that will be available to those who purchase this book. To do otherwise would be stealing his commercial thunder, as it were. For those that truly want to use the Internet as a means to exchange ideas and to enter into profitable commerce, then Unassailable truly is an essential and necessary vademecum.

In one of his thought-pieces at the very end of the book, Jeftovic has this to say: “Do you really want to live in a world where people sever business and personal relationships because a literal flash mob demands it? Where mobs get to pick and choose who you are allowed to associate with?”

How will you answer these crucial questions in this society where outrage is a valuable commodity? Perhaps, the greatest way to thumb one’s nose at tech-tyranny is to survive and to prosper, no matter what the tech-giants throw our way. Jeftovic has likely written a revolutionary manifesto about winning freedom in this tech Dark Age.

The image shows, “The Gathering” by the Swedish illustrator Simon Stålenhag, painted in 2015.

Wilhelm Röpke And The Third “Neo-Liberal” Path

World history has not become a long, tranquil river as some had hoped. Various tragic events tell us otherwise – September 11, 2001, the economic crisis of 2008 and finally the identity crisis of the 2010s (crisis of conscience or perception of cultural and historical roots that affects the countries of Europe and, likely perhaps to a lesser extent, the rest of the West).

Since the 2008 crisis, many have expressed the strongest reservations about the evolution of Western economies and societies. Economic reductionism, the cult of the market, the capitalist logic of interest have never been so denounced in the media.

Combined with liberalization, deregulation (especially the financial markets), the withdrawal of the state, the disproportionate power of the “giants” of business and finance, the concentration of wealth, the explosion of inequality and wild competition, the word “neoliberalism,” ubiquitous in the vocabulary of the general public, has become a kind of synonym for “hypercapitalism,” “market fundamentalism,” an absolute repellent. A label so overused and depreciated in Europe that it can no longer be used openly by neo-liberal or social-liberal political leaders, but only surreptitiously, the French presidential election of 2017 being, in this respect, a real case in point.

A plethora of philosophers and ideologues, a minority of whom seem to want more or less consciously the return of wage and price control, state leadership, and even the resurgence of “sweet collectivism,” also support the thesis of the fundamental unity of liberalism. At the root of political and economic liberalism, they believe, there should be, above all, individualism and universalism.

The neo-liberalism of the turn of the 21st century would only be the logical and inevitable culmination of the individualistic and universalist philosophical project, defined since the 17th century in particular by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Even the most radical of these philosophers and ideologues, risk prophesying that liberalism and neo-liberalism are coming to an end. But for the historian of ideas and facts things are not so simple.

Contrary to what some have suggested, liberalism and neo-liberalism are not univocal or monolithic currents. Their stories are diverse and plural, made up of ruptures and disagreements, as well as continuity and convergence. There is a political liberalism and an economic liberalism, with concomitances, and no doubt, simultaneity, but both of which are far from absolute and permanent.

On the political level alone, we can distinguish five liberalisms: first, a legal-economic liberalism based on a minimum state or “gendarme” (as per David Hume, Frédéric Bastiat, Friedrich Hayek, or even the Chicago School).

Second, there is libertarian liberalism, which regards the state or political power as useless (as per the Austrian School, Murray Rothbard, Walter Block, etc.).

Third, there is the liberalism which wants a state whose mission is to foster a level playing field, and which is close to redistributive and bureaucratic social democracy (as per John Stuart Mill, John Rawls, Keynes, etc.).

Fourthly, there is a Jacobin, centralist, egalitarian, statolatry, or even totalitarian liberalism (as per Jean-Jacques Rousseau).

And, finally, there is a realistic or skeptical liberalism, which recognizes the existence and necessity of power as the inevitable component of social and political life – in other words that which considers “the “political (i.e. the essence of politics and not the “policy that it is contingent,” to use Julien Freund’s distinction) as the sociological articulation of the “polemos,” that is, as the inevitable theatre of recurrent conflicts and struggles (as per Tocqueville, Isaiah Berlin, Mosca, Pareto, Ortega y Gasset, Unamuno, Max Weber, Croce, Wilhelm Röpke, Raymond Aron, Julien Freund, etc.).

With regard to economic liberalism, the differences between the Vienna School (Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek), or the Chicago School (Milton Friedman and George Stigler) at the Fribourg-en-Brisgau School (Walter Eucken and Wilhelm Röpke) are blatant and profound.

Forged to oppose the older liberalism (or paleo-liberalism), the term neo-liberalism is not new. It appeared in the late 1930s; the updated version of the book by the German economist Franz Oppenheimer, Der Staat (1929), undoubtedly played a pioneering role in this field. But at that time, the meaning of the word neo-liberalism was very different. It was almost the opposite of the one it took in the 1970s, following the experience of the “Chicago Boys,” Friedman’s ultra-liberal disciples, who were much under the influence of English and American think-tanks that supported a minimal state, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs (London), or the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education (Atlanta).

In the emergence of neo-liberal thought, an important first step must be pointed out: the Walter Lippmann Symposium, convened in Paris in 1938 at the initiative of Louis Rougier. For the twenty-six participants, it was a question of defining a neo-liberalism conceived as a third way between the “laisser-faire” of old liberalism (“the providentialism of the invisible hand”), and the dirigisme of Marxist communism, National socialism, fascism, and the various forms of Keynesianism, Planists and Neo-Socialists.

The economists, political scientists and sociologists of the time had largely aligned themselves with Lippmann, Rougier, Jacques Rueff, Alexander Rüstow or Wilhelm Röpke. The “old or paleo-liberals” such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek were in the minority at the time. For the majority of participants, it was clear that neo-liberalism had to accept a good deal of interventionism and integrate a political, social and moral dimension. Their neo-liberalism – ordo-liberalism or “rule liberalism” – was defined by four points: priority to the price mechanism, free enterprise, a competitive system, and a strong, impartial state.

The second major stage was the birth of the Mont Pèlerin Society (Vevey, Switzerland), in April 1947. Founded, among others, by Hayek, Albert Hunold and Röpke, this organization was to bring together, at its first conference, thirty-seven members, fifty percent of whom were American. Significantly, the final statement stressed the “need for a legal and institutional framework to preserve the proper functioning of competition” (point 5), and “the need and presupposition of a free society,” namely, “a moral code widely accepted which would govern public and private actions” (point 8). Hayek served as president from 1948 to 1960, and Wilhelm Röpke succeeded him from 1961 to 1962. But it is well known that there were significant disputes within the “Society” over how to understand liberalism.

At the first regular meeting, held in Seelisberg (Switzerland) in 1949, the ordo-liberal, Walter Eucken, opposed the utilitarian, Ludwig von Mises. Dissension broke out again at the Turin assembly in 1961, which saw Friedrich Hayek and Wilhelm Röpke oppose each other. Severe lamenting of the “tragedy and crisis of historical or Manchesterian capitalism,” German ordo-liberals and more generally European economists who favored third-way neoliberalism (such as, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Rueff, Rougier or Maurice Allais), were all-too-often considered “too socialist,” at times labeled as “reactionary utopians,” and even occasionally accused, perfidiously, of “hidden connivance with fascism.” They were soon relegated to the background by the supporters of the Austrian and Anglo-Saxon schools, all of which favored the return of classical liberalism.

The Mont Pèlerin Society evolved, got radicalized, and became, in the late 1970s, a kind of ultra-liberal think tank. In view of the history and political and economic debates of the turn of the 21st century, the thought of Wilhelm Röpke, a great rival and loser to Friedrich Hayek, takes on an unexpected dimension. Forgotten and unknown for nearly forty years, his intellectual figure deserves all the more to be rediscovered.

Röpke was born in Schwarmstedt, Lower Saxony (near Hanover) on October 10, 1899, and died on February 12, 1966 in Coligny (in the canton of Geneva). His thinking is an interesting synthesis of the defense of market economy and that of political-ethical-religious conservatism.

His respect for traditional life forms, his hostility to the gigantism and cult of the colossal, his denunciation of the consumer society and commercial advertising, his criticism of the catastrophic destruction of urban landscapes and the natural environment, his opposition to globalization and the homogenization of political communities that he considered incompatible with the cultural heterogeneity of European civilization, and finally, his deploring the loss of the sense of community, made him a leading neo-liberal economist who advocated the “third way,” beyond liberalism and socialism. Röpke also used the terms “constructive liberalism” and “economic humanism, but he preferred the designation the “third way” (der dritte Weg).

During his lifetime, Röpke held a prominent position. His prestige even eclipsed that of other ordo-liberal economists and political writers such as Walter Eucken, Franz Boehm, Alexander Rüstow or Alfred Müller-Armack.

Mobilized in September 1917, a year before the end of the First World War, he was wounded in 1918 at the Battle of Cambrai. Decorated with the Iron Cross Second-Class and demobilized, he resumed his studies in law and economics, which he had begun at the University of Göttingen. He then joined the University of Tübingen, and finally the University of Marburg, where he defended his doctoral thesis, under the direction of the economist, Walter Troeltsch, in January 1921.

He was not only a professor and an economic theorist, but also an advisor to the prince. He first worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin as a consultant in charge of payments for war reparations. Between 1924 and 1928, he taught at the University of Jena.

Then, on a Rockefeller Foundation grant, he visited the United States where he studied agrarian economics. In 1928, he gave courses in political economy at the University of Graz (Austria) and, barely a year later, obtained a chair at the University of Marburg. In 1930-31, he was part of a commission of experts charged with proposing counter-cyclical policies against unemployment to the government.

On the eve of the elections of September 14, 1930, which would see a breakthrough by the National Socialist Party, he clearly opposed the NSDAP. A controversy pitted him against the intellectuals of the Die Tat group, which was the emblematic reference-point of the Conservative Revolution up to 1937. He published three articles on anti-capitalism in the magazine, which he considered “catastrophic;” and, in particular, attacked Ferdinand Fried (Friedrich Zimmermann), the outspoken propagator of National Socialist theories about the end of capitalism and the need for autarky.

Once again, in a speech in Frankfurt on February 8, 1933, he criticized the demagoguery of National Socialist rhetoric. His university career ended three weeks later, on February 27, 1933, the day of the Reichstag fire. As Dean of the faculty, and given the responsibility of giving the funeral oration for his teacher, Walter Troeltsch, at the cemetery of Ockershauser (Marburg), Röpke denounced: “an era that likes to convert the garden of civilization into a primitive forest.”

Declared an enemy of the people and expelled from the university on April 25, 1933, he refused to publicly recant and join the NSDAP. He had to leave Germany with his wife, son and two daughters. After a brief exile in England and Holland, the family sailed for Turkey, where the regime of President Ataturk, then considered in the West to be “a good dictator,” welcomed university exiles of the Reich.

At the University of Istanbul, he was reunited with his colleague and friend, Professor Alexander Rüstow. He held the chair of political economy until September 1937, when he joined the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. During the war, he wrote a famous trilogy: Die Gesellschaftskrisis der Gegenwart, 1942 (The Social Crisis of Our Time), Civitas Humana, 1944 (Civitas Humana or the fundamental questions of economic and social reform), and International Ordnung, (The International Community). This trilogy was translated into several languages and helped establish his reputation.

At the end of the Second World War, he published a more polemical essay, Die deutsche Frage, 1945 (The German Question), which earned him the hatred of both the right and the left, because for Röpke the tragedy of Germany was a consequence of the Prussian spirit, romanticism, and a certain fundamentalism in the realization of ideas.

According to him, the solution for Germany could only come from a moral revolution, a re-education of the values of Western civilization, a deproletarization, and a confederation of autonomous states. More specifically, he wanted the absolute prevention of Russian collectivism, which also explained his desire for Germany to join the Atlantic community.

His thinking and rhetoric very soon informed the speeches of Minister Ludwig Erhard, who had obtained allies as early as 1945 to be appointed Economic Minister in the Bavarian government. Röpke was a first-time ministerial and then presidential adviser in Konrad Adenauer’s government. He defended the “social market economy,” a term already used by Muller-Armack and supported in France, Italy and Spain by Jacques Rueff, Luigi Einaudi and Alberto Ullastres.

But he eventually broke with the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) because of his opposition to German integration into the European Communities. The supranational path, which opened in the 1950s, seemed dangerous to the future of the homelands and cultures, spiritually, and damaging to the market, economically.

Röpke’s thinking is marked by the doctrinal criticism of totalitarianism, the welfare state, and Keynesian policies, but also by a stated sympathy for political-moral neo-conservatism. He drew the various strands of his doctrine from Sismondi, Proudhon, Le Play, Kropotkin, Chesterton or Belloc, but his school of thought is that of Ortega y Gasset, Lippmann, Johan Huizinga, Guglielmo Ferrero, Jouvenel, Halévy, Benda or Hazard.

The experience of the crisis of the late 1920s was proof to him that the economy cannot organize itself. Collectivist responses to capitalism are reactions he regarded as understandable in the face of misery, but he also thought that they reinforced the miserable condition of the proletariat and that they inevitably lead to tyranny.

Just as forcefully he rejected the welfare state as “an expression of the emotion and passion of the masses,” which “institutionalizes the proletariat and disempowers the citizen.” But he nevertheless very harshly denounced the blindness of classical liberalism, the so-called liberal apoliticism, which he considered a mystification. His economic liberalism was associated with political realism.

He recognized the social irrationality of capitalism, in particular the inevitable concentration of ownership, the expansion of wage-earning and proletarianization, which were fatal steps on the path of collectivism, and proposed ways to avoid them, in order to restore the entrepreneurial vitality of workers.

The real cause of the discontent of the working class was the devitalization of existence which could not be cured by higher wages, holidays or games. Instead of locking workers in the Welfare State, he said that it was necessary to promote their freedom and responsibility, to make them want to be owner-occupiers.

The ordo-liberalism of Röpke held that markets need an ethico-legal-political framework to ensure the survival of liberal values. For him, competition was essential and the deproletarization of social relations, such as the fight against capitalist concentration and in favor of the promotion of free enterprise, were the duties of the state.

The neo-liberalism of Röpke did not identify with a weak state, at the mercy of economic forces, but rather with a strong state; a state capable of restricting competition and ensuring the social and ideological conditions of a free economy. Economic freedom and political authority are two sides of the same coin for him. There is interdependence of the two; the economy does not have an independent existence.

The free market is unable to provide an integrated society on its own. The tendency towards proletarianization is inherent in capitalist social relations; and when it is not controlled, it results in social crises and disorder. This containment is the responsibility of the state; so, it is a political responsibility.

The market economy cannot survive without moral capital, without the support of tradition, religion and civic sense. The state must intervene in the economic and non-economic spheres to ensure the ethical and social conditions on which effective competition is based.

Röpke wanted economic activity on a human scale, based on the social fabric of small and medium-sized enterprises. He wanted legislation against monopolies, the widest possible dissemination of ownership, market control to ensure healthy competition, state intervention limited to indispensable sectors only, and strict application of the principle of subsidiarity.

Warning of the danger of extreme inequality, he accepted income redistribution and subsidies when they did not interfere with the market economy. He refused to exalt the private sector at the expense of legitimate functions of the state. He deplored the uncritical adoption of all technological advances and concerns, the consequences of the destruction of the traditional family, demographic decline and unlimited immigration.

Hedonism, selfishness, idol pleasure, psychological atomism, naturalism and determinism were values and ideas that were entirely foreign to him. The quarrels over the comparative importance of identity and sovereignty were, in his view, specious, illusory and dissolving.

Identity (linked to the historical-cultural community) and sovereignty (the political power associated with the consent community) could not be opposed. They are two complementary and inseparable aspects of the unity of destiny in the universal. Demassification, deproletarization, decollectivization and social decentralization are the key words of his thinking.

He was a Protestant, but he held in high esteem the social doctrine of the Church with which he sought to build a bridge from liberalism. His concern for the deterioration of the Western Christian tradition and the irreligiousness of contemporary man continued to grow during his life. “Europe’s decadence is not only moral or political,” he wrote, “it is also religious.” And again: “Everything is held together and toppled by religion” (Civitas Humana).

The neo-liberalism of Röpke is, in fact, the perfect alternative to the neo-liberalism of the turn of the 21st century. While the latter defends capitalism against the state, the neo-liberalism of Röpke defends the state against capitalism. The theorist of American conservatism, Russell Kirk, bête noire of present-day neoconservatives and neo-liberals but a fine connoisseur of the disagreements between the utilitarian Mises and the ordo-liberal Röpke, liked to tell the following anecdote.

A professor at the University Institute of Advanced International Studies, Röpke welcomed the success of the workers’ gardens, the plots of land made available to the inhabitants by the municipality of Geneva.

One day he showed Mises, workers digging away in their plots. At this sight, Mises pouted, sadly shook his head and lamented, “A really very inefficient way of producing food.” To which Röpke replied, “Perhaps, yes, but perhaps not, because it is also a very effective way of producing human happiness.”

A pioneer, though pessimistic, as were his most prestigious ordo-liberal and neo-liberal colleagues of the 1930s and 1970s, Röpke had the reasoned conviction that a society obsessed with GNP, exclusively concerned with so-called efficiency and profitability, regardless of the consequences on human beings, inevitably runs out of steam.

Having said that, it is clear that at the beginning of the 21st century the conditions of a democratic, entrenched community, respectful of the human freedom of civic sense and of small and medium-sized property, are no longer compatible with the requirements of a model grossly disfigured free trade economy.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.

The image shows Wilhelm Röpke, ca. 1951.

Corporate Christianity And Conservative Inc.

“In the market economy the individual is free to act within the orbit of private property and the market. His choices are final” (Ludwig von Mises, Human Action).

When we read this text from the grandfather of modern Neo-Liberalism (hich manifests itself, in the United States, in the movements called Libertarianism and Neo-Conservatism), we are not surprised. Von Mises, culturally Polish and politically Austrian, but a practical atheist in his political philosophy, is concerned to render absolute, the only absolute (other than “market forces”) he seems to acknowledge as having any relevance for the affairs of mankind, the volitional determination of individuals. Nor are we surprised when he unfolds his basic conception of reality and applies it to the public actions of individuals.

Referring to the entire doctrinal and moral activity of Christian civilization and comparing it to his idea of the autonomous, self-interested, and willful individual, von Mises states, “In urging people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit, one does not create a working and satisfactory social order [emphasis mine].”

In one sweeping statement, von Mises has negated Christendom and every social, economic, and moral teaching of the Catholic Church; this statement, also, renders “inoperative” the entire Classical moral and philosophical tradition.

Such statements by the hero of contemporary Libertarianism and Neo-Conservatism (read, Neo-Jacobinism), need not disquiet us at all if we understand it exactly as he meant it to be, a statement by one who upheld the modern Liberal, anti-Christendom world-view and denigrated the civilization, overall and in its detail, built by the Catholic Church.

This civilization, of course, was constructed in a certain way, on account of the Church’s attempt to conform the circumstances and the means of man’s life to the Eternal Law, which includes within itself the Providential Plan by which each created being is brought to a state of perfect fulfillment and satisfaction.

Christendom, unlike the “market forces,” presupposes real freedom; if man was not free and meant to be fulfilled in his freedom, Christendom would not be needed. “Freedom,” of course, is meaningless, and soon becomes bizarre (as in our own commercialist culture), if it is not directed towards a true “good” that fulfills human nature. If freedom does not achieve a true satisfaction of human nature, why is freedom “good?”

If, however, freedom is “good” because it genuinely fulfills human nature, economic “freedom” or the ability to sell goods made and to purchase goods made by others, must be subordinated to over-arching considerations of the “good.” Since we are speaking about a public “good,” we must speak about the “common good,” in which every private good is included.

The common good entails the fulfillment of human nature at large. If all of the above reasoning is valid, economic freedom to buy and sell must be ordered to the achievement of a truly fulfilled human nature, both individually and commonly.

Only those with the most animalistic conception of man would think that the ability to buy and sell things is the pivot around which should turn an individual life, a political ideology, or the efforts of the State. That “man does not live by bread alone” is not only a religious truth, but is, also, a bit of wisdom testified to by universal human experience.

It is the religious devotion of man, his virtuous moral actions, and his aesthetic and emotional appreciation and expression, which are the higher aspects of man’s being that mercantile trade is meant to facilitate and sustain.

In light of this, it is perfectly rational that the normal and traditional (i.e., non-Liberal) societies and governments of the past have tried to ensure that the buying and selling that went on amongst men, truly facilitated the genuine end of all economic relationships, the full and complete good of men, both individually and as, necessarily, living within a civic body. It was for this reason that such notions as “the just price” and the “the just wage” were normative, and limitations on the use and procurement of private property were instituted.

One point in favor of Ludwig von Mises, however, one not shared in by a number his disciples, is that he recognized that the whole bulk, theoretical and practical, of historical Christendom was against his understanding of the proper order of things. He, at least, recognizes that there was a very definite concept of “justice” in “medieval” Christendom.

He simply relativizes it. In pure Nietzschean fashion, he insists that claims about the “justice” of this or that social arrangement or economic condition, are merely an attempt by some to preserve an arbitrarily adopted “utopia:” “They call ‘just’ that mode of conduct that is compatible with the undisturbed preservation of their utopia, and everything else unjust.”

Von Mises, also, does not claim St. Thomas Aquinas as an early advocate of Liberal Capitalism and the “free-market economy.” He understands that St. Thomas, as a Catholic philosopher and theologian, held views profoundly at variance with his own, including in matters of economics.

With regard to the question of the “just price,” von Mises writes: “If Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of the just price had been put into practice, the thirteenth century’s economic conditions would still prevail. Population figures would be much smaller than they are today and the standard of living much lower.”

The sentence following should, also, be of interest to those who would like to see the sharp distinction between von Mises’ Liberalism and the great tradition of the Christian World: “Both varieties of the just-price doctrine, the philosophical and the popular, agree in their condemnation of the prices and wage rates as determined on the unhampered market.”

If Aquinas was a capitalistic Pre-Liberal, von Mises certainly did not see it; in fact, he uses St. Thomas’s teachings as the embodiment of the very mentality and outlook, which he is rejecting.

De Roover’s Libertarian Dream

To base one’s ideas solely on conceptions prevailing in relatively current times, has never been a very attractive option. The American Whigs of 1787 looked to Republican Rome, and the French Democrats of 1789 could look to Democratic Athens.

Looking back 2,000 years for a political model is a genuine example of antiquarianism. At least Napoleon, with his later emulation of Charlemagne, only had to look back 1,000 years to find an example of a situation in which his newly chosen form of government, “worked.”

(We must keep in mind here that the reason people had not, for so long, adopted these first two old systems of government was because they were historically conscious enough to realize that they had not “worked”).

A number of Libertarians have felt the need to trace their ideas back to the established thought of Catholic Christendom. We can only speculate as to their motives. However, what is clear is this, within the second half of the 20th century and, even, into our own, there have been some Libertarians who identify nascent Capitalistic ideas – (I simply identify Capitalism here as the economic form of Liberalism – not to be confused with American Leftism) – as existing within the corporate organism that was Christendom, prior to the “dawning” of the Enlightenment.

There are some more reckless Libertarian thinkers who would even state that, not only are there Liberal anomalies within the paradigm of historical Christendom, but rather, that Liberalism is the Christian civilizational paradigm itself. The recurrent focus of such Libertarian “dreaming” is the late Renaissance Spanish School of Salamanca and Sts. Bernadine of Siena and Antoninus of Florence.

The main issue, although not the only one, is the one of the “just price.” Can it be that the later Scholastics, as represented by the School of Salamanca, along with the two Renaissance saints known for their sermons on economic concerns, should be identified as early advocates of Liberal Capitalism due to their, supposed, insistence that the “just price” which must be upheld by Church, State, and Society at large, is simply the one which is assigned to a product due to the interplay of producer supply and consumer demand?

If economic “justice,” at this most basic and essential level, is simply a matter of adhering, faithfully, to the “laws of supply and demand,” we can say that the view of these Catholic thinkers could, indeed, be characterized as an example of Early Economic Liberalism.

If there were something more to “justice” than the simple end result of the interplay of the free will of producer and the free choice of the consumer, than their thought could not be denominated as a early form of von Misesian Neo-Liberal/Libertarian conceptions.

When looking for an example of a Neo-Liberal who represents this attempt to find roots in the distant past for Liberal doctrines that seem quite modern, we can turn to Raymond de Roover who published an article entitled, “The Concept of the Just Price: Theory and Economic Policy” in Journal of Economic History (December 1958). Here it is interesting to read De Roover’s portrayal of the “typical” view of medieval thought as it relates to the topic of the “just price.”

In this article, we read, “According to a widespread belief – found in nearly all books dealing with the subject – the just price was linked to the medieval conception of a social hierarchy and corresponded to a reasonable charge which would enable the producer to live and to support his family on a scale suitable to his station in life. This doctrine is generally thought to have found its practical application in the guild system. For this purpose the guilds are presented as welfare agencies which prevented unfair competition, protected consumers against deceit and exploitation, created equal opportunities for their members, and secured for them a modest but decent living in keeping with traditional standards [emphasis mine].”

Such was the “idyllic” view of the Middle Ages upheld by the great German economist Max Weber and by the British author, controversialist, and historian, Arthur Penty. According to De Roover, another famous German economist, Werner Sombart, went even further: according to him, not only the medieval craftsmen but even the merchants strove only to gain a livelihood befitting their rank in society and did not seek to accumulate wealth or to climb the social ladder. This attitude, Sombart claimed, was rooted in the concept of the just price “which dominated the entire period of the Middle Ages.”

De Roover, however, has a different understanding of the common mind of the Christian Era as regards prices and economic activity in general.

Amidst the presence of many non sequiturs, confused and, even, contradictory historical claims, we find de Roover throwing out various red herrings such as, “Thomas Aquinas himself recognizes that the just price cannot be determined with precision, but can vary within a certain range, so that minor deviations do not involve any injustice. This…is not in accord with Marxian dialectics; but it agrees with classical and neoclassical economic analysis” [emphasis mine] So an obvious and balanced moral statement about a minor aspect of the just price issue, because it does not agree with the Marxist theory, makes St. Thomas’ economic position into one that “agrees with classical and neoclassical analysis.”

The bizarre and forced logic present in de Roover’s analysis can only be touched upon here. For example, one of the “naïve” economists, Werner Sombart cites Heinrich von Langenstein (1325-1397) to the effect that “if the public authorities fail to fix a price, the producer may set it himself, but he should not charge more for his labor and expenses than would enable him to maintain his status (per quanto res suas vendendo statum suum continuare posit).”

This is fully in accord with the “traditional” understanding of social and economic thinking in the Catholic Middle Ages. Langenstein continues in the same vein, “And if he does charge more in order to enrich himself or to improve his station, he commits the sin of avarice.” This position, of von Langenstein, was “regarded as a characteristic formulation of the scholastic doctrine of the just price,” according to de Roover. Having been cited by Sombart, de Roover insists that it was “copied by one author after another.”

De Roover tries to throw cold water on the enthusiasm, on the part of economic historians, for the writings of Langenstein, by stating that, “Langenstein was not one of the giants in medieval philosophy but a relatively minor figure.” This statement is, of course, totally irrelevant to the topic at hand.

The question was not whether or not Langenstein was one of the “giants” of medieval philosophy, but whether his statement of economic theory and practice can be seen as “characteristic.” Someone need not be a giant in order to be characteristic. “Giants,” of course, are not characteristic at all, but that is another point entirely.

When de Roover does treat a giant, St. Thomas Aquinas, we find contradictory statements interwoven with more than questionable deductions. With regard to St. Thomas, he focuses on the topic that he – de Roover – believes will confirm that the “majority of the [Scholastic] doctors” held that the “just price” did not correspond to cost of production as determined by the producer’s social status, but was “simply the current market price.”

Clearly, de Roover understood that if the just price meant something other than the Capitalistic “just the price,” his attempt to root Neo-Liberal Capitalism in Catholic social tradition and thought would fail. He had to prove that the “justice” of the price charged in the times of Christendom was nothing other than the price that the item could fetch on the open marketplace.

The plan was to portray St. Thomas as an early economic liberal and, then, indicate how later Scholastic thought followed him and, thereby, set the stage for Adam Smith and Capitalistic Manchester Liberalism.

De Roover starts his analysis of the position of St. Thomas on the question of the “just price” by stating that in the works of Aquinas, “the passages relating to price are so scattered and seemingly so conflicting that they have given rise to varying interpretations.” He then goes on to state, unambiguously, what St. Thomas definitely meant by the term “the just price.”

As he goes on “definitively” articulating St. Thomas’ position, he proceeds to contradict his own interpretation of and statements about this position. For example, de Roover states, “By selecting only those passages favorable to their thesis, certain writers even reached the conclusion that Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas had a labor theory of value.”

In a footnote, on the same page, he states, “As a matter of fact, Aquinas comes close to saying that any exchange of two commodities should be based on the ratio between the amounts of labor expended on each.” Isn’t he affirming here that Aquinas had a “labor theory of value,” when he was just one paragraph above, chiding “certain writers” for reaching the conclusion that St. Thomas “had a labor theory of value”?

The Liberal scholar’s reasoning becomes somewhat more convoluted when we find him, at the beginning of a paragraph, stating that St. Thomas “nowhere puts the matter [of the just price] so clearly,” and by the end of the paragraph states that “this [single] passage [which is only a story addressing a very limited moral question] destroys with a single blow the thesis of those who try to make Aquinas into a Marxist, and proves beyond doubt that he considered the market price to be just.”

So, within a single paragraph, made up primarily of an illustrative story about a merchant selling wheat in a town when he knows that more wheat is on the way, we go from Aquinas the Ambiguous to Aquinas the Absolute. When we look for the passage cited by de Roover, in the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologica, we find that the article cited has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the just price. It is from the question dealing with “Cheating” and the specific article is entitled, “Whether the Seller Is Bound to State the Defects of the Thing Sold?”

St. Thomas states here that a seller is acting rightly, from the view point of strict justice, if he merely accepts the amount offered for his wheat by the buyer, without informing the buyer of the greater amount of wheat to come. In other words, it is not unjust to fail to provide information that one could provide about the relative short-term worth of one’s products.

St. Thomas ends by saying, “If however he were to do so, or if he lowered his price, it would be exceedingly virtuous on his part: although he does not seem to be bound to do this as a debt of justice.”

From this short story concerning a very specific moral question, having nothing in itself to do with economic systems or the general topic of the just price, de Roover takes it as proven that “Aquinas upheld market valuation instead of cost,” thus beginning a pre-Capitalist tradition in moral theology, which bore fruit in the late Renaissance Salamanca School and in the economic related sermons preached by St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antoninus of Florence in the 15th century.

Before treating the real attitude of the late Scholastics in Salamanca and the sermons of St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antoninus of Florence, it is worthwhile to look at a simple reply to an objection, present in Question 77, “On Cheating, Which is Committed in Buying and Selling.” In Article 1, the same article from which de Roover draws his conclusions about the “free market” inclinations of St. Thomas, we read, in Reply to Objection 2, a line of reasoning that would, certainly, put St. Thomas outside the boundaries of any form of Liberal Capitalistic sympathies.

Here he cites St. Augustine who says, “th[e] jester, either by looking into himself or by his experience of others, thought that all men are inclined to wish to buy for a song and sell at a premium. But since in reality this is wicked, it is in every man’s power to acquire that justice whereby he may resist and overcome this inclination.

The example, cited by St. Thomas, which St. Augustine uses to illustrate this idea, is one of a man who gave the just price for a book to a man who through ignorance asked a low price for it. Here we see the virtuous buyer, who knows the real value of the book, ignoring the market value of the book (the one which was being asked by the seller of those wishing freely to buy), and, instead, justly compensating the seller for his loss.

St. Thomas concludes from this example that the “capitalistic” drive to buy as cheaply as possible and sell as dearly as possible – expressive, as it is, of an unlimited drive for acquisition and an overriding self-interestedness – can be overcome just like any vice is overcome. He acknowledges, however, that this self-interested attitude – which is, precisely, the attitude assumed by Liberal Capitalism – is “common to many who walk along the broad road of sin.”

Here we see clearly that economic attitude of Christendom contrasted with the economic attitude of Neo-Liberalism. Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas are anything like Neo-Liberals. Clearly the “market price” is not, necessarily, the “just price.” To quote a phrase commonly used by Raymond de Roover, “This text…does not lend itself to a different interpretation.”

The Spanish Fairs and Renaissance Banking

To offer proof that the Scholastics, early or late, did not adhere to Libertarian principles of economic life, it is best to cite the historical works of the Neo-Liberals themselves. The two which draw our attention are, The School of Salamanca: Readings in Spanish Monetary Theory 1544-1605 by Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, and Raymond de Roover’s San Bernadino of Siena and Sant’Antonino of Florence: The Two Great Economic Thinkers of the Middle Ages.

Our task can, also, be simplified if we can demonstrate, using the research of the Neo-Liberal scholars themselves, that the later Spanish Scholastics of Salamanca, along with the two above-mentioned saints, were fully within the great intellectual, social, and economic tradition of Catholic Christendom most particularly concerning the question of the “just price.”

If the “just price” is formulated in a way, which allows for many factors other than the exigencies of “supply and demand” (i.e., whether there is a social and moral aspect of the determination of price) and, especially, if there is a role for the “prince” in the determination of “market prices,” than we can safely reject the notion that these Catholic scholars of the past accepted a paleo-Capitalistic conception of the determination of price and, hence, of the entire economic life of society.

Even though Salamanca University was the most prominent place of higher learning in the European world at the time, it was Spain’s position as master of the New World that set the stage for a concentration on the problems of economics by the Scholastics of Salamanca.

The gold and silver coming from the mines of the Americas made Seville, the homeport of the treasure fleet, the economic center of and primary money market in Continental Europe during the middle of the 16th century. Here we have a place where there was a large circulation of money and a high price level.

Tomás de Mercado (d. 1585), a Dominican from Mexico who was present in Seville and preached on commercial morality, portrays the mercantile and financial situation that grew up in these conditions to us. According to Mercado, when the fleet comes in, every merchant puts into the bank all the treasure that is brought to him from the Indies, the bankers having first given a pledge to the city authorities that they will render good account to the owners.

The bankers served their depositors free of charge and used the money deposited with them to finance their own operations. Most of the gold and silver brought in by the fleet passed in this way through the hands of the bankers and served as a basis for credit. The opening for usury was occasioned, however, by these transactions.

As Mercado complained at the time, “money-changers sweep all the money into their own houses, and when a month later the merchants are short of cash they give them back their own money at an exorbitant rate.” In Spain, concludes Mercado, “a banker bestrides a whole world and embraces more than the Ocean, though sometimes he does not hold tight enough and all comes crashing to the ground.”

The above stricture, on the part of Mercado (who died on a ship in 1585 on his way back to Mexico), against the financial transactions of bankers and merchants, was an articulation of an idea that was of ancient origin. Interest paid simply for the use of money during a certain period of time was considered usurious and universally condemned.

Much of the moral thought about economics coming out of Spain during this period was, specifically, an attempt to grapple with the moral considerations occasioned by certain attempts to avoid the Church and State’s condemnation of usury.

The attempted circumventing of the usury laws occurred in a very subtle way. It originated in a seemingly legitimate attempt to deal with two practical difficulties encountered by merchants at the time.

First, there was there was, generally, a lack of cash available at the time, requiring merchants to set debts against one another at the merchant “fairs” held at various times, in various places, throughout the year.

Second, the merchants of the period, at the various fairs, had to act as money changers since, often, a debt was incurred in one place, say Seville, and paid in another, say Flanders. In this regard, it was generally agreed that the merchant who paid out money in one place and recouped himself in another was entitled to make a reasonable charge for his services.

Even with regard to this type of “financial service,” to charge a similar fee for bills transferring money from one Spanish fair to another was forbidden by a royal decree in 1551.

Clearly the Spanish Catholic Crown was even willing to “dislocate the whole business of the fairs” rather than allow merchants to become involved in unnecessary “financial servicing.”

There, also, developed situations in which borrowed money was not to be paid back at the next fair but at one years later. Due to the “fees” attached to such “financial services,” these became loans camouflaged as fees and involving a high payment of interest. According to Grice-Hutchinson, these met with “fulminations from both Church and State.”

It is when dealing with this question of the transference of funds from one fair to another, that Grice-Hutchinson, as representative of the Neo-Liberal Economic School, focuses on the question of “price” and the factors determining the “prices” of both money and goods.

The Function of Money and the Question of Foreign Exchange

Medieval ideas about the origin and functions of money are largely based on a few short passages in Aristotle’s Politics and Nicomachean Ethics. Here, Aristotle insists that the function of money was its use as a medium for the exchange of goods. Money was first invented to overcome the difficulties of transport and need that are bound to arise in a barter economy.

Money, therefore, is meant to serve as a common denominator that brings into line with each other things diverse in nature: “Making all things commensurable, equalizes them.” Along with rendering commensurable for the seller and buyer what is, by nature, qualitatively different, money can serve as “capital,” or as a store of value to be used at a future time.

Aristotle emphasizes the function of money as a man-made instrument by indicating that its value rests on custom and that it, “rests on us to change its value or make it wholly useless.” Averroes (1126-1198), whose commentary on the Ethics was translated into Latin early in the 13th century, follows Aristotle closely on the origin and functions of money.

Since St. Thomas Aquinas upheld this traditional view that money was invented for purposes of exchange, he held that it was unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury. Here we have a reassertion of Aristotle’s own condemnation of usury.

St. Thomas himself applies this to our issue under discussion, gain on account of the foreign exchange of money, by condemning this practice outright.

Merchants who attempt to make money by lending money where money is plentiful and collecting it where money is scarce for a real financial gain, meet the following statement by St. Thomas, from his Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, I, lvii: “Likewise the art of money or acquisition is natural to all men for the purpose of procuring food, or money with which to buy food, out of natural things such as fruit or animals. But when money is acquired not by means of natural things but out of money itself, this is against nature.”

This teaching concerning making money on the basis of the relative “price” of money in one place or another, appears again in 1532 when the Spanish merchants of Antwerp sent their confessor to Paris to get a ruling on the legitimacy of exchange transactions from the learned doctors of the University. They condemned forthright all exchange business.

The point that the Neo-Liberals, represented by Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, would like to draw out of this incident is that, in this reply, the rate of exchange fluctuates according to the state of supply and demand and is not derived from the labor and costs incurred by the person in whose favor the bill is drawn. The assumption here being that that which all think should determine the “price” of money, is the same as what all think should determine the price of commodities.

This is an arbitrary assumption. Moreover, the doctors of the University of Paris are, apparently, merely speaking of a matter of fact. In itself, it by no means determines what the Scholastic doctors will say about the “just price” of things that ought be sold, namely commodities.

What we are truly left with from this reply is a further verification of a perennial teaching of the Christian Era; money should not be made off money. As St. Thomas states, such activity is justly deserving of blame, because, considered in itself, “it satisfies the greed for gain, which knows no limit and tends to infinity.”

The School of Salamanca and the Just Price

When considering what the, purportedly, innovative School of Salamanca said about this important question of the “just price,” the economic issue extraordinaire in the Middle Ages, I came across a text, included in The School of Salamanca by Grice-Hutchinson, which led me to hesitate for a moment.

Here, in a citation from Domingo de Soto’s book De Justitia et Jure published in 1553, we find the following in answer to the question, “Should prices be determined according to the judgment of the merchants themselves?”: “Firstly….excluding fraud and malice, we should leave merchants to fix the price of their wares. Secondly…. every man is the best judge of his own business. Now, the business of merchants is to understand merchandise. Therefore, we must defer to their opinion in settling prices. Thirdly, that a man may do as he likes with his own property. Consequently, he may ask and receive whatever price he can extort for his wares.”

“Now,” I said to myself, “we have a big problem.” “Domingo de Soto is an important figure in the history of the School of Salamanca. He was a Dominican, a contemporary of the School’s founder Vitoria, and considered to be one of its best writers on economic subjects.

In 1532 Soto was appointed to a chair of theology at Salamanca. His fame was such that, in 1545, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain Charles V appointed de Soto, now regarded as the most eminent of the Spanish theologians after Vitoria, as his own representative at the Council of Trent. He became Charles’ own confessor 2 years later. Surely if this man held for the “free market” approach to commodity pricing, such must be a genuine teaching emanating out of Salamanca.”

After some uncomfortable consternation, it dawned on me what I was reading; rather than being de Soto’s own position and teaching on the matter these were the Objections to Soto’s own position, which always, of course, appear first in any properly organized Scholastic article. De Soto’s own teaching on the matter of the just and proper price is perfectly in line with what you would expect a Catholic theologian of a still flourishing and faithful civilization to say.

De Soto’s first “conclusion” with regards to this issue is to make a distinction that is the common-sense ground work for any discussion of prices: the price of a “good” (or commodity) is not determined by its essence (how the thing fits into the whole hierarchy of creation), but rather, “by the measure in which [it] serve[s] the needs of mankind.”

Here he affirms what was taught during this same period (1554) by another Salamancan scholar Diego de Covarrubias, “The value of an article does not depend on its essential nature but on the estimation of men, even if that estimation be foolish.” The “goods” we are citing here are “goods” which are good insofar as they service human needs.

These things, therefore, have a price insofar as they are valuable in the eyes of the citizens; these goods or commodities would allow the citizens to satisfy their human needs. De Soto concludes this foundational claim about prices by saying, “We have to admit, then, that want is the basis of price.”

Things are, therefore, more desirable, and therefore will go for a higher price, insofar as they more perfectly satisfy man’s desire for fulfillment and sustenance, irrespective of the place which the thing holds in the hierarchy of Creation. As St. Augustine states (City of God, Book 2, chapter 16), “a man would rather have corn than mice in his house”; this, even though mice are ontologically more perfect than grains of wheat.

When speaking of the “want” which is at the basis of all economic life and pricing, de Soto recognizes, in a very balanced way, that when we speak of “want” we must not exclude a recognition of the fact that the city needs “adornment”; even though such things are not necessary for human life, it is something which render life “pleasurable and splendid.”

In de Soto’s second “conclusion,” we find a statement which directly contradicts the Libertarian claims that the later Scholastics of Salamanca thought that nothing should be considered when calculating price, other than “supply and demand.”

De Soto lists supply and demand as one of the elements that go into determining the just price for an item. “Next, we must bear in mind the labor, trouble, and risk which the transaction involves. Finally, we must consider whether the exchange is, for better or worse, to the advantage or disadvantage of the vendor, whether buyers are scarce or numerous, and all other things which a prudent man may properly take into account.”

In other words, much to the consternation of those who would insist that the Salamanca School recognized nothing but the needs of “supply and demand,” we find one of its most prominent scholars asserting that the entire process and situation of production and sale must be considered when the just price is calculated. Social and economic prudence is truly queen here.

We find out in the next paragraph who it is, exactly, who is entitled to make a binding judgment, while employing this social and economic prudence. The answer to this question depends upon another Scholastic distinction. This distinction is between the “legal” price and the “natural” price.

These are, as de Soto states, the “two-fold” aspect of the “just price.” Here we find that “the just legal price” is that which is fixed by the prince. The “discretionary” or “natural price” is that which is current when certain prices are not legally controlled.

De Soto states that this distinction is one drawn by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics (V, chapter 7). Notice, in this regard, de Soto is not making a “value judgment,” saying that the “legal price” is bad and the “natural price” is good. As we will find, the application of these two different types of prices depends upon what type of good or commodity we are speaking of.

The next few paragraphs of the passage we have been citing are very significant and are echoed by other scholars of the Salamanca School. De Soto states, “To understand the [above] Conclusion and to judge its validity, and to see why it is necessary for prices to be controlled, we must realize that the matter is a primary concern of the republic [in the sense of res publica or the commonweal] and its governors, who, in spite of the arguments repeated above [i.e., those “free market” arguments in the Objections], ought really to fix the price of every article.

But since they cannot possibly do so in all cases, the task [of “fixing” the price of those commodities which the prince has not fixed] is left to the discretion of buyers and sellers. The price that results is called the natural price because it reflects the nature of the goods, and the utility and convenience which they bring [emphasis my own].”

In proof that the term “legal price,” entails no negative judgment on this form of pricing, we can cite de Soto as stating, “When a price is fixed by law (for instance, when a measure of wheat or wine, or a length of cloth, is sold for a certain sum) it is not lawful to increase this price by even a farthing. If the excess be great, then it is mortal sin and a matter for restitution.”

Those prices, which are not regulated, especially the prices of commodities extraneous to the basic needs of the citizenry, can “enjoy a certain latitude within the bounds of justice.” Here we find that even the prices allowed to fluctuate, must be kept within the bounds of justice; “justice,” in this case, meaning the requirements of the common good.

The Complexity of the Just Price Reaffirmed

De Soto was, as was every Scholastic, an inheritor of a centuries-old tradition of scholarship and learning. His statements concerning the advisability of “fixing” prices, had antecedents deep in the heart of the Middle Ages. That characteristic, “non-giant,” the Viennese scholar Heinrich von Langenstein was an advocate of a strict system of price controls. He advises the prince, however, to fix prices in accordance with the customary price, which is determined by “the degree of human want.”

Moreover, Langenstein shows a completely balanced approach to the question of the just price. He acknowledges that there is an objective factor, in the sense that it should be fixed by some authority standing outside the market, and yet subjective as being the product of subjective factors. Some of those subjective factors that Langenstein mentions are: supply and demand, utility, cost of production, remuneration of labor, cost of transport, and risk.

All of these are to be taken into account when determining value. Just like St. Thomas Aquinas, Langenstein understood “supply and demand” to play a part in determining price.

Grice-Hutchinson herself recognizes this to be the generally held position of the Scholastic tradition, when she writes, “we have seen that the concepts of utility and rarity were placed high in the traditional list of factors determining value which accompanied scholastic discussions of the ‘just price.’” She, also, admits, “we have seen that our Scholastic writers regarded utility and rarity as the primary, though not the sole, determinants of value” [emphasis mine].

If we should look, specifically, for another member of the School of Salamanca who affirms de Soto’s teaching on the desirability of fixing prices, especially those of “staple” commodities, we come upon one Pedro de Valencia. In his Discurso sobre el precio del trigo, he states that, “those who allege that a thing is worth the price it will fetch must be understood as referring only to things that are not essential to life, such as diamonds, falcons, horses, swords, and also to other commoner things when there is no fraud, compulsion or monopoly, and when vendor and purchaser enjoy equal liberty or suffer equal need [emphasis mine].”

Recognizing, however, that in matters of real need the citizenry is at a distinct disadvantage in any exchange, he states, “in the case of bread, in years when it is dear – the vendor always enjoys liberty and plenty, and the purchaser always suffers urgent need and want.”

Now we come to the question of the just price, “The just price is not whatever a thing will fetch on account of the purchaser’s need, nor can such a price in conscience be demanded. No price is just or should be regarded as current if it is against the public interest, which is the first and principal consideration in justifying the price of things.”

Bernadine of Siena and Antonino of Florence: Saints Misconstrued

We ought to be very much surprised when we find a Neo-Liberal scholar like Raymond de Roover focusing our attention on two great saints, St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antonino of Florence. It is, first of all, surprising to see that they are termed, “The Two Great Economic Thinkers of the Middle Ages,” when they lived their lives square in the heart of the blossoming Italian Renaissance.

That these thinkers are acclaimed as far-sighted prophets of the goodness of Liberal Capitalism is also surprising, since their attitude towards economics itself could not be farther away from the mentality of a von Mises, who would hold the laws of private property and the “free-market” to be adverse to the “heterogeneous” moral claims made by the divine and natural law.

Here it would be useful to recall von Mises statement that, “In urging people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit, one does not create a working and satisfactory social order [emphasis mine].”

The only thing which the two great saints under consideration intended by their preaching and writing on economic issues was to “urg[e] people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit.” They, also, held that only if such things were done, would a just and satisfying civil order be attained.

When we consider the moral teachings of St. Bernadine (1380 – 1444) as these relate to economic issues, what we are analyzing are 14 sermons, which are part of a larger collection of sermons entitled, De Evangelio aeterno (Concerning the Eternal Gospel).

These Latin sermons, as opposed to his Italian ones, were meant to be read rather than preached. Here we can see the continuation of a long tradition, echoed in our own age by men like Heinrich Pesch, S.J., of including economic questions within the larger framework of ethics. In these sermons of St. Bernadine (a Franciscan and the great apostle of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus), we find the general teachings of the Church as regards economic life repeated anew.

As de Roover himself admits, the condemnation of usury was a prominent theme in St. Bernadine’s writings. Just as was the case with the other Scholastics, St. Bernadine was “preoccupied with another set of problems [as opposed to questions of “how the market operates”]: what is just or unjust, licit or illicit? In other words, the stress was on ethics: everything was subordinated to the main theme.”

Both St. Bernadine and St. Antoninus (Archbishop of Florence from 1445 to 1459), both frown upon acquisitiveness as leading to sin and eternal perdition. St. Antoninus deals with the whole topic of market transactions in section of his Summa theologica moralis that deals with the sin of avarice. Moreover, economics was discussed within the framework of contracts, as Roman law understood these.

The virtues that regulated the individual and collective economic actions of men were the virtues of distributive and commutative justice (i.e., the State giving to its citizens “their due” and citizens “giving to each other their due”). Let us face it, the only “due” that the Libertarians allow is the absolute claim that each man has to have the government and his fellow citizens respect his, already demarcated, private property right.

They forget what the Distributists remembered quite well, all men have a certain right to private property. Those who uphold the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, better than their Libertarian antagonists, understand the role of private property in personal and familial fulfillment.

When we study de Roover’s book on these two, putatively, innovative saints, we find ourselves at a loss to find a significant teaching that is not firmly rooted in the wisdom of the Catholic past or one which is not clarified, in a purely traditional way, by the later Scholastics of the School of Salamanca.

As de Roover himself recognizes, St. Bernadine, like the Medieval Scholastics before him, understood price determination to be a social process. Price is not set by the arbitrary decision of individuals but collectively by the community as a whole. St. Bernadine makes this explicit when he states, “the price of goods and services is set for the common good with due consideration to the common valuation or estimation made collectively by the community of citizens [emphasis mine].”

According to de Roover, in the writings of St. Bernadine, there was “only minimal analysis of changes in demand or supply as this affects prices.

With regard to the above question of price, as we found earlier with his analysis of the economic thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, de Roover’s portrayal of the intellectual “innovations” of St. Bernadine is very forced and often involves the use of statements that do not at all prove his point, in fact, they often contradict it.

One example is his citation of a single sentence, from the “sermons” of St. Bernadine, which seems to indicate that the saint held to an idea of the “just price” which was convertible with the idea of “market valuation.”

In support of this view, he cites St. Bernadino as defining the “just price” as, “the one which happens to prevail at a given time according to the estimation of the market, that is, what the commodities for sale are then commonly worth in a certain place.”

As we have seen, however, with regard to this determination of price based upon “supply and demand” and “market conditions,” there was a solid moral tradition, passing into late Scholastic times, in which it was considered perfectly reasonable that prices of certain inessential items were allowed to “float” freely, their value being determined by how much someone, who did not absolutely need the item, was willing to pay.

De Roover himself seems to recognize that the language of “just price” as “prevailing market price” refers to just this situation and to these kinds of goods. And yet, that de Roover wants to insinuate that St. Bernadino equated the “just price” with the “one that happens to prevail at a given time according to the estimation of the market” in all cases, is clear. With his usual hesitant definitiveness, he says, “This statement [about just price and prevailing market price], it seems to me, is so clear that it does not admit any other construction.”

If, as he seems to say, St. Bernadino equated just price with market price, all prices should, for justice’s sake, be subject to the free flow of market forces – any interference would be, according to this view, an interference in the market’s setting of the “just price.”

That this is not St. Bernadine’s view is made clear, again by de Roover himself, when he admits that the Franciscan taught “prices may be fixed for the common good.” Society, then, is in charge of setting prices.

Who does not hear the echo of the entire economic ethos of Christendom in St. Bernadine statement that, prices may be fixed for the common good, “because nothing is more iniquitous than to promote private interests at the expense of general welfare.”

St. Antonino, the Just Price, and the Just Wage

St. Antonino of Florence was explicitly committed to the position that civil authority had the right and, often, the obligation to fix prices for the sake of the common good. Clearly the “common estimation” by which prices ought be determined, included the possibility of the State explicitly setting the price of items.

According to de Roover, “Sant’ Antonino…states that it might be desirable under certain circumstances to have prices of victuals and other necessities fixed by the bishop, or even better, by the civil authorities. If there is such regulation, it is binding and victuallers and other tradesmen may not, without sinning, raise the price above the legal minimum.”

Rather than being anything like a “free market” advocate, the Archbishop of Florence reaffirms the traditional condemnation of usury and monopoly. He, also, insisted upon there being a “just wage.” The calculation of what would constitute a “just wage” was a social and a complex process that would involve the consideration of many different elements. To quote de Roover’s citation of St. Antoninus, “Sant’ Antoninus states that the purpose of wages was not only to compensate the worker for his labor but also to enable him to provide for himself and his family according to his social situation.”

Moreover, “it was as unfair and sinful to pay less than the just wage because a worker had mouths to feed as it was unfair to pay less than the just price because of the seller’s urgent need for cash.” St. Antoninus clearly saw man as a whole, not just as a private property owning (or not owning) unit.

The whole talk about a “just wage” (not to mention a “just price”) means nothing unless we understand man to be a social creature and all of man’s activities and social interactions, including his economic ones, as having an orientation to the higher and more perfect good, at least the true and fulfilling good of human existence.

We see this over-arching teleological (from the Greek word telos or goal) understanding of the human good present in the following statement that de Roover makes concerning the teaching of St. Antoninus: “The purpose of a fair wage was to enable the worker to earn a decent living, the purpose of a decent living was to enable him to lead a virtuous life, and the purpose of a virtuous life was to enable him to achieve salvation and eternal glory.”

As we might expect, from what we have seen from the various Libertarian writers cited in this article, de Roover “summarizes” St. Antoninus’s position by overturning everything he had previously stated concerning the saints’ teaching: “St. Antoninus’s own wage theory according to which the just wage was set by common estimation, that is, by market forces without any reference to individual needs.”

Here he is asserting A and not A simultaneously. Here we have the manipulation of a classical Christian moral text by a Libertarian whose views on economics, logic, politics, society, and, even simple human psychology would be completely inexplicable to our saintly Renaissance bishop.

Restoration Economics

Why does all of this matter? Much of “conservative” and “libertarian” thought, in the United States, in the British Commonwealth, and on the Continent of Europe has attempted to find a way to, as Arthur Penty put it, “stabilize the abnormal.” What is truly needed is a return to the normal.

What we have seen when analyzing the actual statements made by the Medieval and Renaissance moral theologians on economic issues is a balanced portrayal of what the “normal” is. What has been amazing to see is not how innovative they were, in a Liberal direction, but rather, how traditional and deeply Christian they were.

That there was room for discussion on such questions as the worth of money as a result of foreign exchange is a perfectly normal manifestation of the Catholic desire for justice and a deep prudence that understands the multiplicity of situations in which human beings act.

Such prudence cannot be taken as a revolutionary innovation or for an opening to modern economic liberalism.

The basis of our current “abnormal” is an inflated and unnatural understanding of man as an individual, free to “create” his own “value system,” which, to a certain extent, means to “create his own world.” Liberalism, in its economic and political manifestations, has created a situation in which the ancient psychological, social, economic, and political tapestry of human societies has been unraveled.

By upholding an ethereal concept of “choice,” it has robbed us of our honor, our personal security, and our heritage. This entire conception of man and human existence is embedded in the Neo-Liberal equation of the “just price” with the “market price.” That Arthur Penty and many others would present the “just price” and its attainment as the primary purpose of the Medieval Guild System is testimony to the fact that the very social life of Christendom, in a very real way, pivoted upon this reality.

That “justice” should involve more than mere “freedom of choice,” rather including within the very term an idea and concrete historical reality expressive of a higher order and more fundamental and essential obligations, is testimony to the fact that the spiritual psychology of Christendom was profoundly different from the one we find possessed by all those who reject the ancient way, whether they be Socialists, Globalists, or Libertarians.

For those who would, correctly, seek for a life outside of the spiritually suffocating totalitarian Liberalism that we find ourselves immersed in, Penty warns them that any attempt to realize the dream of an independent rural existence without price controls put into place, would result, for most, in economic suicide for families and for individuals.

These are sobering words. Our struggle must then take on a more encompassing religious, moral, and even political dimension if our children and our children’s children are to live a life richer and, hence, more traditional than our own.

Dr. Peter Chojnowski is a professor, writer and currently teaches at Immaculate Conception Academy in Post Falls, Idaho.

The photo shows, “Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality,” by Ludwig von Langenmantel, painted in 1879.

A Journey Without Distance – Reflections of a self-professed Libertarian

Recently, I have been reflecting on my journey as a self-professed Libertarian and the shifts in my thinking that have occurred over the past twelveyears as a Libertarian party member. I have noticed more frequently that some colleagues with whom I have shared common views in the past on policy topics are no longer in alignment with my views. 

I acknowledge that I have changed. I have slid in and out of various “camps” of Libertarian conviction over the years. My experience within the Libertarian movement, which has been responsible for my evolving views, has included: 

I was elected Chairman of the Ontario Libertarian Party (OLP) in 2017 with the mandate to recruit and prepare 124 OLP candidates for the June 2018 Ontario Provincial election (the Conservatives won a majority under Doug Ford and handed a humiliating defeat to the incumbent Liberals under the highly unpopular Kathleen Wynne); 

As the Libertarian candidate for my home riding, I learned much from being a political ‘insider’ as I had in fiveprevious occasions as a Libertarian candidate; 

Proclaimed by the former OLP Leader as the party’s “most prolific writer” (mostly on Facebook), I witnessed and learned from thousands of responses to the Libertarian content about which I wrote. [Note: social media has proved to be the best way to reach the public with our message since all mainstream media outlets consider every other party except for the three top contenders to be irrelevant and non-newsworthy.]

This personal reflection has been partially inspired by Canadian author William D. Gairdner’s book THE GREAT DIVIDE, Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree. It addresses a phenomenon that seems to exist at every point along the left-right continuum of political engagement, and even within political parties. The theme of his book is: “The populations of the democratic world, from Boston to Berlin, Vancouver to Venice, are becoming increasingly divided from within, due to a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism. This is partly due to a complex mutation in the concept of liberal democracy itself, and the resulting divide is now so wide that those holding to either philosophy on a whole range of topics: on democracy, on reason, on abortion, on human nature, on homosexuality and gay marriage, on freedom, on the role of courts … and much more, can barely speak with each other without outrage (the favourite emotional response from all sides). Clearly, civil conversation at the surface has been failing – and that could mean democracy is failing.” 

Mr. Gairdner’s observations hit home to me personally because of my experience with the mini-divides that exist within the Libertarian parties with whom I have been associated. The perspective of time will help to explain my point. 

When I first joined the Ontario Libertarian Party in 2007, the atmosphere within the leadership team and the party’s most enthusiastic supporters was one of rigorous adherence to the body of Libertarian ideas that tended to the extreme: Anarcho-Capitalism. Often abbreviated as “Ancap,” it is considered a faction of libertarian political philosophy that promotes individual freedoms, private property, and free markets through the removal of government. “Removal” implies wholesale privatization of all government institutions so that they must compete with non-government service providers for business without relying on the immense benefit of guaranteed tax funding to support them. 

In those early days, the OLP comprised a small group on members who were mainly greying white men who shared the dream of attaining a virtually (if not entirely) government-less society. After being elected to the Executive Committee as Member at Large (MaL) around 2010, I concluded that the OLP was operating primarily as a men’s club that liked to talk about attaining political success and influencing opinion across broad communities of voters, but their goals were out of reach so long as the organization stumbled along making next to no progress. 

 During those early years, I also began reading extensively to deepen my understanding of Libertarianism and the Austrian School of Economics which was an essential pillar undergirding any possibility of achieving and sustaining a Libertarian society if it was to ever be realized. Authors like Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Frederick Hayek, Hans Herman Hoppe, Tom Woods and others with predominately Ancap leanings all had a profound impact on my outlook as a Libertarian. Their ideas were inspiring to say the least, but eventually I came to the conclusion that they will never be widely accepted in our western democracies. 

In 2012, a new leader of the OLP was elected–Allen Small. I came to know and respect Allen when he had also been a MaL on the Executive Committee. As a former high school teacher, Allen had the attributes and talents that I felt would help the OLP to make progress as a political entity. 

Over the next six years, Allen lead us through two elections. Both of these elections marked record-breaking results unseen since the OLP had been founded in 1975. Allen worked closely with Rob Brooks, an experienced political campaign manager from another party, to shape a new election platform designed to make it appear less extreme and more attractive to a broader community of supporters. Allen was also the driving force behind building a larger social media following which was crucial to our growth. His legacy as the most successful Leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party in modern times is one that has set a high bar for future leaders to surpass.

During Allen’s tenure, I continued to read and gradually took a renewed interest in the OLP. As I held a very demanding job, my time was limited and I was unable to offer much assistance in support of Allen’s efforts. My views on Libertarianism had also begun to shift again, and they can be best described as politically-pragmatic because I came to accept the notion that proven methods of political messaging were essential to improve electability. However, I was still privately sympathetic to Ancap ideas. In retrospect, I was gradually becoming more “minarchist” as I continued to emerge from my earlier Ancap cocoon.

Minarchism is generally viewed as a libertarian political philosophy which advocates for the state to exist in forms that function solely to protect citizens from harm, aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. During the OLP buildup to the June 2018 election, I felt compelled to condense and simplify my personal understanding of what it means to be a Libertarian. Ultimately, I settled on the following statement and I printed it on my business card as OLP Chairman: “Libertarians defend and protect individual persons (their mind, body and efforts) and their property from intentional and unwanted harm and aggression imposed by others including those employed by the state.”

Another shift in my thinking was also taking place as I actively campaigned on our 2018 election platform which featured a new Non-Government Options emphasis in our Libertarian vision. Integral to this vision was the necessity to introduce competition into the “public services” markets. For it to work, it is essential to eliminate all regulations that empower public institutions to operate on a monopoly basis. This will put the power of choice back into the hands of our citizens so that they can be free to patronize their choice of available service providers who best serve their unique needs and preferences. Furthermore, for citizens who prefer that services in health care or education (for example) be provided by the government, they are free to opt in as a “government customer” and pay their share of the taxes needed to sustain government operations. Conversely, for citizens who decide that they are best served by “non-government” service providers who will surely emerge to meet market demand after existing anti-competition regulations are repealed, these people will not be required to remit taxes; they can apply these tax savings to buy private insurance policies or make direct payments to providers. I refer to this form of Libertarianism as “free choice minarchy.”

The reasons why I remain a “free choice minarchist” today is because of the obvious advantages it brings to all voters. First, for citizens who choose “non-government” service providers, payments will not be managed by an inefficient, impersonal, expensive and often inflexible “middle man”–the government bureaucracy that collects our hard-earned money through non-optional taxation.

Second, free markets have a proven history of spawning business model innovations and prudent capital investments in order to control costs and improve the pricing and quality of their products as well as their customer service reputations. All of this is derived in direct response to the ever-present forces of competition.  It’s no mystery that “the customer is king” in competitive businesses, but the same cannot be said within government operations. 

Third, everyone gets what they want by being free to choose from viable alternatives. The thinking goes that it is none of my business what my neighbour wants to buy and it’s none of my neighbour’s business concerning what I prefer, so why should any drama exist between us as to how we meet our needs and preferences. 

Fourth, government expenses are directly proportional to the number of regulations that are “on the books” and must be enforced with expensive resources. By eliminating all pro-monopoly regulations, the government will have lower enforcement costs and thereby require less money from taxation and/or public debt. 

Fifth, this approach eliminates the element of “autocratic rule by one-size-fits-all” policy implementations which have always been the result of every election in our history. People differ in every conceivable way, which is why businesses adapt and adjust constantly to find new ways to serve customers profitably. It stands to reason that when government monopolies eliminate all consumer choices, they take on the same problems for which anti-trust laws were created to break up private sector monopolies. This double standard is hypocrisy at its most obvious. Governments must no longer operate under the protection of biased legislation if we are ever to expect service levels to improve in quality and decrease in cost. 

After running in six elections as a Libertarian candidate, I am asked often why I continue to do it given our history of attaining less than 1% of the popular vote. Recently, I have been asking myself the same question. Here’s why.

Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada (PPC) has achieved impressive success in 5 short months since last September 2018 to build a nation-wide party complete with EDAs (Electoral District Associations) in every riding across Canada. Neither the OLP nor the Libertarian Party of Canada (LPoC) has accomplished anything even close in spite of being in existence for over 4 decades. Bernier’s fund-raising ability is extraordinary. His ability to attract followers and media attention dwarfs ours. He has shown me what can be done under the right leader and the level of highly motivated talent that such a leader can attract. It is a demoralizing comparison to me as a long time OLP and LPoC member. 

I consider the PPC platform shown on its web site as “Libertarian lite” insomuch as it seeks “Less Government” just as a Libertarian minarchist does. In other words, our directions are the same but only the degree of change is different. 

After reading Right Here, Right Nowby former Prime Minister Stephen Harper (for whom I have great respect), I am convinced that Harper’s incremental approach to public policy change is wise. Policy results can be tested from small first steps and evaluated/adjusted before further steps are taken. This is the right approach for any elected Leader who wants Less Government and one that I would hope for if a Libertarian, PPC, or Conservative Party is elected in the upcoming federal election.

For my final, and maybe most significant consideration, I fall back on the reasons why I entered politics in the first place–my daughters. I had come to the conclusion years ago that I could not consider myself a responsible parent if I was not prepared to act to defend and protect my children from threats. To me, the greatest threat to their future has been and continues to be the unopposed and relentless growth of government power, scope, size, and cost at every level of government. The threat is manifest in an enormous set of fiscal, social, and cultural risks that will surely eat away at the quality of Liberty in their lives through no fault of their own. 

Years ago, I reasoned that we do not live in a true democracy unless at least one genuine Less Government option appears on every election ballot at every level of government. Since the only true Less Government option has been the Libertarian ballot choice, I have chosen to be that candidate in my riding when no one else was prepared to do so. I knew that I had no chance to be elected, but I felt that at least there would be one voice in each election to argue the reasons why continued government expansion was dangerous to everyone and why Less Government is the only viable antidote to these risks. 

Sadly, there has never been an election in Canada that featured a Libertarian candidate on every ballot in every election riding. The best effort so far was achieved last June when the OLP ran an Ontario-wide election campaign with 116 candidates for 124 ridings even though we operated on a shoe-string budget of about $40,000. (Note: the campaign budgets for the largest four Ontario parties was subsidized with tax dollars under the Per Vote Subsidy resulting in campaign cash windfalls of $5.1 million (Liberals), $4.1 million (Conservatives), $3.2 million (NDP) and $640,000 (Green Party). The other 22 so-called “fringe” parties that had registered with Elections Ontario for the June election and had complied with all of its campaign rules, required paper filings and fee payments, did not qualify for funding. If you are asking yourself why you were not aware of the 22 parties, you now know part of the story: running elections and reaching the public with campaign messaging is very expensive and “fringe” parties are put at a significant disadvantage to the major parties by tax subsidies.

As you can see from the above, my political path has been meandering even though I have remained a card-carrying Libertarian. As Mr. Gairdner pointed out, politicians and their most ardent supporters generally dig in for the long haul in support of their partisan convictions and are frequently loathe to budge even a smidgeon from their ideological perch. 

There are likely as many Libertarians who hold stubbornly to their views, proportionately speaking, as there are ardent Liberals and Conservatives. Politics is certainly a messy business and it is easy to see why so many people avoid the topic in “polite company.”

The photo shows, “Unveiling the Statue of Liberty,” by Edward Moran, painted in 1886.

Friedrich Hayek On The Individual and Social Controls

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is an attempt to justify the counterintuitive assertion that it’s preferable, in the name of democracy and individual freedom, to live in a society with unconscious rather than conscious social controls.

But one starts to question the logical consistency of this thesis when Hayek writes that while “competition…dispenses with the need for ‘conscious social controls’…it admits of others which sometimes may be very considerable.”

It seems paradoxical, therefore, that Hayek believed one kind of control generates greater individual freedom than another; or, that individualism is more democratic than collectivism. Critically for Hayek, individualism and collectivism are two mutually opposing philosophies, the former based on market competition to decide ends, and the latter using planning.

When Hayek speaks of individual freedom he intends it only in the negative sense, and “democracy” merely as “a utilitarian device,” through which “individual freedom” can be achieved. Thus, one may ask: To what extent can the ideas of individual freedom and democracy be reconciled with necessary unconscious controls in a competitive and individualist social order?

Perhaps the primary justification for why individual freedom and democracy require an individualist system is that, for Hayek, freedom comes from the ability to realise moral ends. But in a collectivist system, the realisation of moral ends ceases to be possible and all that remains is the pursuit of power.

Hayek claims that to believe that freedom can be achieved by a collectivist system is “the confusion of freedom with power carried to the extreme.”

This confusion is generated from the way in which collectivist systems are “destructive of all morals because they undermine … the sense of and the respect for truth.” Consequently, the planners, instead of liberating everyone, in fact, work to destroy all possibility of freedom by destroying truth through their monopoly on power.

Hayek uses the “racial doctrine of the NAZIs” almost as a parable to demonstrate this point, that within the collectivist system the lack of consistency demonstrates the absence of an absolute truth in the moral hierarchy imposed by the collective.

Moreover, the consequence of conscious social controls, is violence, against both the individual and the democratic community. The duality of this violence becomes clear through the allegory of the “rather plain girl” and the “weakly boy.” Hayek uses these two archetypal figures to demonstrate that discrimination and ultimately violence are the inevitable results of social planning in a collectivist system of morality.

These figures who, in an individualist social order could make economic sacrifices to achieve their ambitions, no longer have that option in a society built on conscious social controls. Instead the state assigns them roles based on social needs.

But should they dissent from the decision of the planners, then there is no longer any economic mechanism to discourage them – only force and violence remain. What becomes established, then, is a precedent that no one can defy the social aims of society, which means that they cannot even be challenged. So, within the structure of such logic only the unconscious social controls of the market can be compatible with individual freedom and democracy.

But such arguments only demonstrate the incompatibility between Hayek’s principles and conscious social control. Importantly, what remains unaddressed is the conflict between Hayek’s assertion that the individual should be “the ultimate judge of his own ends” and that “in no state that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing.”

Superficially, this is an insurmountable paradox, whereby planning is both rational and self-destructively irrational. But perhaps the solution lies not in the rational but in “the spontaneous forces of our society.” For Hayek, the ends of society cannot be determined by “frustrated specialists,” using purely rational means; or, as he says, “the happiness of million cannot be measured on a single scale of less and more.”

Only by letting individuals pursue their ambitions, within “appropriate legal systems,” can individual freedom be achieved. This is not because “man is egoistic,” but rather because “the limits of our … imagination” mean that no planner, however learned, can have a complete understanding of people’s needs. Thus, only through an individual and spontaneous process is it possible to achieve freedom.

But despite Hayek’s arguments that spontaneity can provide the key, there remains an admission that “the great majority are rarely capable of thinking independently…and they will be equally content if born…into one set of beliefs or another.”

If the social order makes no difference to the freedom to think, and therefore the ability to act independently and spontaneously, then it would seem unimportant whether the control is conscious or unconscious.

If most people will just conform, then the whole idea of beneficial spontaneity is thrown into disrepute. Hayek makes the argument that this is inconsequential because it doesn’t give a minority the right to absolute power.

However if one accepts that the majority don’t have free thought, then in reality they will inevitably be controlled, not by government, but by private entities, via propaganda, or advertising. The difference is that the market system provides “competing agencies,” who prevent a monopoly on moral authority, and which would inevitably destroy truth which underpins freedom.

Ultimately one realises that Hayek isn’t the caricature he is sometimes painted as being. His argument is not that individuals should be free at the expense of everything else, at the expense of all planning, at the mercy of the market system.

Instead what one realises is that the resolution to the apparent conflict between individual freedom, democracy and unconscious social controls is through the understanding that an individualist and competitive social order both offer the opportunity, but not the guarantee, of independently and freely realising moral ends. Such ends are achieved by aspiring to a spontaneous process and by defending the supreme value of truth.

 

The photo shows, “Storks,” by Józef Chełmoński, painted in 1900.