CJay Engel

October 23, 2019

Response to Bionic Mosquito's Open Letter

It was Bionic Mosquito who first made me question classical liberalism. Some time ago, he wrote an article wondering if the liberal age had a downside. I rose in defense of liberalism. One year later, I’ve come to understand what was actually going on, not what I wanted liberalism to be.

Now, he responds to my previous post with “an open letter.” He is very sympathetic to my developing path. Like me, he does not pretend to have all the answers; we are journeying together, though he is slightly ahead of me. He poses some questions, which I will answer briefly.

1. What do you intend with the phrase “coercively enforced”?  By whom, in what manner, on what conditions?

Answer: I did a search for this phrase in my previous article. It came up with the paragraph where I was describing the typically conceived libertarian society under a modernist model. Under that model, the property owner owns his property absolutely, and is his own "social order" and does not have to adhere to any other set of rules, except the one that says he cannot initiate aggression against anyone else. Thus, I intended it to refer to the modernist model where no one, not government nor neighbor, could aggress against the person in order to compel him to do as the aggressor demands.

This is distinct from the social order being owned by a single proprietor, and therefore where there might be additional rules about one's conduct (no loud noises after 10pm, no publicly visible sexual activities, etc.), backed by just threats of coercion (since the social order is privately owned).

2,. Expand on your idea of “traditionalism”?  What does it look like?  What will guide it, keep it from going off the rails?  As you know, traditionalism can include chopping off hands for stealing or heads for apostacy.

Answer: I have written a new essay since the one that inspired BM's questions. I hope by now, the answer is implied. Here is my approach to that question. What was meant with the word traditionalism was reference to an understanding of society that precedes the modern (post-Hobbes) publicly owned one. That is all. It is not an appeal to adopt a particular tradition, or a particular social order where all power is invested in an absolute deity-king.

My own answer is quite Hoppean: if these social orders arose by families joining with kin, who joined with community, to protect themselves and therefore there was a chartered (covenanted) balance between the rights of the families, the rights of the lesser associations (such as at the church), and the rights of the social order's proprietor... if this was the case and the ideal origin of the social order, as opposed to a conquered people, then there is a mutually beneficial arrangement between the proprietor and the residents and a mutuality of balance between rights and responsibilities. It was precisely this balance that the English constitutionalists appealed to when England saw the rise of monarchical absolutism: the king was inventing new rights that contradicted the "chartered rights" of the English people against the king going back to the eleventh century.

It was this argument on which Edmund Burke's tradition of English liberties, built by John Selden against the absolutists such as Robert Filmer, rested. Appeal to natural law, the agreed upon rights of the covenant community, and the political pressure of local political associations, a frustrated merchant class, and even dissenting church power that provided the check on absolute power. All these being much more powerful than plain appeal to libertarian theory, which, true or not true, cannot, per James Burnham, combat power.*

3, Expand on “chartered rights”?  Contrast these to natural rights as derived from natural law.  Compare methods of appeal, especially as to who – or what – is the final authority.

Chartered rights is a phrase taken from Edmund Burke and it refers to the rights ingrained into an actual legal tradition, developed over centuries; for England, this would be the Common Law. At the dawn of the age of revolutions, the French revolutionaries appealed to the "natural rights of man" in their quest to overthrow the ancien régime. This regime, contra libertarian attempts to read into it, was not merely the state. It was an entire complex, a nexus of legal traditions, definitions, church and religious institutions, guilds, private enterprise, state, hierarchy, associations, international agreements, and so on.

The French revolutionaries wanted to upend the entire thing and start from scratch. They operated on the Rousseu model: man arising from the state of nature. Edmund Burke argued that, while there were universal principles and laws of morality, the idea that society can be scrapped away and begun again on someone's simple understanding of "natural rights" would devastate Europe. While there were indeed "rights" that were natural to man, it was not obvious why these included many of the welfare and positive rights (to food, for instance) that Thomas Paine sought. Thus, it was safer to appeal to the rights as they had developed in actual legal development; it was better, more stable to use these against state overreach, just as the English had done in the Glorious Revolution, and just as the Americans had done in 1776—both efforts Burke supported.

Additionally, in a privately owned society (see my recent article here), "natural rights" only make sense as an application of the logic of private property ownership between owners in dispute with each other. If the social order itself is privately owned, as would be in a just world, then these "natural rights" cannot be taken as absolute "trump cards" ("ultimate trumps," as Thomas Sowell calls them) against the proprietor of the social order. That is, by way of example, if the chartered decision makers of a community determines that selling heroin to ten year olds is against the order's rules, then "natural rights" cannot be appealed to in a way that trumps this. Such is the logic of a Hoppean privately owned social order.

Nevertheless, there are eternal principles that can and must be appealed to in certain settings, especially in a poorly functioning private property owner where there is abuse of power. To this, I would appeal to a natural law that stems not from nature as such (for nature lacks a telos and authority), but from God, the true source of all justice and order and from whom all ultimate principles derive.

4, I understand dumping the label libertarian, but what of the non-aggression principle?  Does it fit somewhere or somehow in your construct?  You seem to suggest as much in your addendum; please clarify.

Answer: I hope I clarified what was going on here in my even more recent piece. My rejection of the label is not a rejection of the libertarian (Hoppean) tradition of the logic of property ownership; it is rather an inquiry into the meaning of libertarianism if one rejects the modernist social construct upon which it developed. Thus, if we take the logic of property ownership as developed by Murray Rothbard and his heirs, and apply it to a pre-modern social order, the answer to this question is now made more clear.

5, What is the practical application of your concept to today’s world?  I understand decentralization as libertarian theory put into practice and I can see the practical application of this.  Please expand on yours.

I will. That comes next. I need some water at the moment.

*James Burnham:

“The Machiavellians are the only ones who have told us the full truth about power. Other writers have at most told the truth only about groups other than the ones for which they themselves speak. The Machiavellian’s present the complete record: the primary objective, and practice, of all rulers is to serve their own interest, to maintain their own power and privilege.
There are no exceptions. No theory, no promises, no morality, no amount of goodwill, no religion will restrain power. Neither priests nor soldiers, neither labor leaders or businessman, neither bureaucrats nor feudal lords will differ from each other in the basic use which they will seek to make of power.
Individual saints, exempt in individual intention from the law of power, will nevertheless be always bound to it through the disciples, associates, and followers to whom they cannot, in organized social life, avoid being tied.
Only power restrains power.  That restraining power is expressed in the existence and activity of oppositions. When all opposition is destroyed, there is no longer any limit to what power may do.”

About the author

C.Jay Engel is the founder and publisher of Bastion Magazine. He has written for, LRC, David Stockman, and related. He owns several consulting business, actively works on the magazine, and lives in Northern CA.

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