Entitlement and resentment



There has been much discussion over the last week about the coalition government’s first 100 days. Some of this analysis has been useful (like that on this blog), whilst much of it has been rather odd. There has been a rush to judgement as if we can state with some certainty what the government is and isn’t going to do after only 14 weeks.

However, the task that the government has set itself – to reduce the size and role of the state – is a long-term task, and what makes it more difficult is that the key change is not merely a matter of economics and politics, but involves a significant cultural shift.

The biggest cultural change that the government needs to make is to eradicate the sense that people are due certain entitlements. Instead of assuming that they are entitled to benefits and services as of right, people need to come to terms with the fact that what they receive comes at the expense of others: welfare benefits can only be granted to some because others pay tax. Calling a benefit an entitlement ignores the fact that the money has to be earned by someone and then taken by government.

Matching the idea of entitlement is the problem of resentment. This is the sense that government does not work for us, does not care and might actually be operating against us. Some who feel this resentment do so because they feel they are paying taxes that are being squandered on others. But the highest level of resentment actually comes from those who benefit most from the entitlement-based system of welfare. It is those who benefit the most from welfare and the professionals who depend on these structures that feel most strongly that the state is against them.

I would argue that this latter form of resentment arises precisely because of the belief that welfare recipients, backed by welfare professionals, are entitled to certain goods and services as of right and without having to make any contribution themselves. What matters now is not what one does but the mere fact that one is. The job of the new government is to change this attitude and make it clear that benefits come with strings attached. This is a task that will take much longer than 100 days.

147 thoughts on “Entitlement and resentment”

  1. Posted 21/08/2010 at 11:42 | Permalink

    Talking about it being a long term project, I always like recalling Herbert Spencer noting that between 1871-1873 3500+ Act of Parliament were wholly or partly repealed. Beat that Cleggeron, we need you to!

  2. Posted 21/08/2010 at 11:51 | Permalink

    It was one of my earliest lessons in life that human nature dictates however good one is to someone, if you give them something (money, help etc) for long enough, they will come to expect it as of right, and get very cross if you attempt to stop it. They (and you) will be much happier if they never had the money/assistance in the first place.

    The only solution is to to give a massive notice period of the withdrawal, long enough that the person can think ‘Thats so far ahead I don’t need to worry about it’. Then when the time arrives, no-one can argue they weren’t told.

    Benefits should (for the vast majority) be time limited. 7 years of adult life perhaps.

  3. Posted 21/08/2010 at 12:27 | Permalink

    I suppose you could argue that, since everyone has a duty to stay alive, it follows that they’re entitled to a job. If the state fails to see that they are given one by someone who can reasonably bear the burden, then they’re owed compensation during unemployment.

  4. Posted 21/08/2010 at 12:47 | Permalink

    A duty to whom, Michael? Only one’s self and, if there are any, one’s dependents. Certainly not a duty to me, or some random employer, or the state (unless one assumes the state needs us all alive in order to “farm” our labour for their benefit!)

    So you have a right not to have the means of survival (labour and property) taken from you by force, but a duty, to yourself, to use those means. If that means retreating from the city to an unused acre of ground on which you can grow your own life’s sustenance then perhaps that is the limit of the state’s obligation, given it protects the rights of landowners not making use of theirs? Then, idle labour would become scarce, and valuable.

  5. Posted 21/08/2010 at 14:33 | Permalink

    In answer to Michael and Jock, I think we can argue that we have duties to others and to society in general – if you like you can follow Robert Nozick and define them as side constraints on our behaviour – but that does not imply we have a duty to the state or that the state has responsibility to provide us with anything. The automatic link between duties and state provision is what needs questioning not whether duties exist between us. And to pre-empt the question of where these duties arise from, I would suggest that they are largely conventional.

  6. Posted 21/08/2010 at 16:14 | Permalink

    The duty to stay alive is mentioned in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, in which context it appears a duty to God. In the world we actually live in, there is no cultivable land I know of which is not under ownership and from which I would be ousted as a trespasser if I were to enter it.

    So, in the way of my ability to earn my living stands someone else’s property rights. Employers decide who works and who doesn’t.

    There are two ways of dealing with this. In the ancient world it was the razzia. In a more civilised world, you have an ordered legal system which takes money from some to give to others.

  7. Posted 21/08/2010 at 17:07 | Permalink

    How on earth, Michael Petek, does it follow that since everyone has a ‘duty’ to stay alive (do they? a duty to whom?) then everyone is entitled to a job? By what system of logic do you propose this? Why does simply being alive entitle one to have a job? And further, why does this then require the state to compensate for not having one? It’s not up to the state to ensure the individual is employed, it’s up to the individual! People can’t be compensated simply for existing. By your rationale, everyone should simply be paid money by the state (and where would it get its money from?) no matter what. This is not only practical unworkable, but it’s logical nonsense. You’re quite insane.

  8. Posted 21/08/2010 at 19:56 | Permalink

    The answer, Whig, as I have already given, is that one has a duty to God to preserve his life and not implicate himself in his own death by any culpable act. In order to gain the necessities of life, one must produce them oneself on one’s own property. Alternatively, one must work on the property of another to obtain them, or other things exchangeable for them. Exceptionally, one may be rich enough to not have to work for a living, to which extent he has no title to a job.

    Is it the responsibility of the individual to see that he is employed? There are two possible answers. Either it is the responsibility for the individual to apply for jobs. The alternative is in the next posting.

  9. Posted 21/08/2010 at 20:00 | Permalink

    For a man to get a job, the concurrence of his contractual counterparty is necessary. If an individual who needs to work for a living applies for a job but is refused, then his responsibility is discharged. He has an assertable claim that the employer is harming him. That is the same as saying that the State might have a legitimate title to coerce the employer into hiring him.

  10. Posted 21/08/2010 at 22:29 | Permalink

    I was just wondering which benefits your were referring to?

  11. Posted 22/08/2010 at 05:51 | Permalink

    I agreed with what Michael right up until his last sentence, which seemed a non-sequitur: why is the state presumed to be the guardian of the self?

    In answer to Michelle, there is certainly a need to differentiate between types of benefit – or more properly types of cases, and this should be based on capability as distinct from simple entitlement. We also need to appreciate that the notion of entitlement is a separate one from the provision of support for certain individuals and households.

  12. Posted 22/08/2010 at 14:58 | Permalink

    Peter, the starting point is that one who needs a job and applies for one has an assertable claim that the employer who refuses him is harming him. At that point he can reasonably hold that employer to be his enemy. Part of the purpose of the state is to uphold social peace, and that entails making arrangements for the resolution of disputes such as this.

  13. Posted 22/08/2010 at 19:27 | Permalink

    Michael, I’m afraid I don’t see why the need for a job places an assertable claim against anyone. Are you really saying it is the duty of an employer to provide with me a job if I feel I need it, and that if that employer refuses to honour this ‘duty’ then I am in dispute with him and can turn to the state for restitution?

    Who defines the need?: I need a job and so demand Goldman Sachs employ me on a six figure salary and if not I can turn to the state to punish my new ‘enemy’ and fund my lifestyle into the bargain.

    I’m sure you cannot seriously be arguing for this, but I’m not sure what else you might mean.

  14. Posted 22/08/2010 at 20:04 | Permalink

    An ‘assertable’ claim is not the same as a claim which is entitled to succeed. It is a moral claim which deserves a hearing. I need a job if I would starve or be reduced to destitution without one. If I apply to an employer for a job and he refuses, then either the state (1) must seize itself of the matter for the sake of public peace, or (2) it leaves me to be judge in my own cause. In the second alternative I am entitled to treat that employer as a personal enemy if I so choose.

    But I don’t have a right to a six-figure salary. I have a claim to a job which delivers a decent standard of living.

    Who decides? Either I do, or the state does.

  15. Posted 23/08/2010 at 07:23 | Permalink

    Michael, but what if the employer cannot afford to employ an extra employee or you are not in any way suitable? Your argument is a means to generate the very from of resentment I mention in my blog entry. I still cannot see why the state must step here – you haven’t explained why the state has a role to force one person, who has acted perfectly properly, to bend to the will of another. You seem to be advocating a rather crude mix of Marx and Nietzsche.

  16. Posted 23/08/2010 at 17:13 | Permalink

    Peter, it all depends on one’s judgement of what is affordable and whether or not I am suitable for a job. The employer can afford to employ an extra employee if he could do so and still remain solvent. His profits might fall within that limit to a lower positive value, but if he refuses on that ground to hire me, then he is acting immorally. Specifically, he is greedy and therefore (according to the New Testamant) an idolater and, as such, an evildoer.

    Further, my assessment that I am suitable for the job might be correct, and his assessment to the contrary might be incorrect.

    The point is that I am judge in my own cause as long as the state does not intervene to arbitrate.

  17. Posted 24/08/2010 at 12:15 | Permalink

    Michael, the problem here is that everyone else will assume that ‘God is on their side’ and act accordingly. In terms of judgement, how can you in practice gainsay the employer and why should your view be more important than his?

    Are you really saying that you may take the law into your own hands unless and until the state intervenes to do your bidding? This is a rather strange theology you are peddling.

  18. Posted 24/08/2010 at 22:15 | Permalink

    Peter, state intervention is precisely the point. Everyone on this earth is here to work to gain their living, and if someone gets in their way and stops them from doing so there is potential for conflict. That is why the state has to intervene to ensure social peace, the orderly resolution of disputes and the protection of the poor. Otherwise civilised social life breaks down and becomes a Darwinian and barbaric struggle of all against all.

    If the state withdraws its protection, then it leaves my survival in my own hands for me to secure it as I will by fair means or foul.

  19. Posted 25/08/2010 at 09:39 | Permalink

    Michael, your scenario *might* be valid if there were only one job on the planet (even then I would say the applicant is in no way *entitled* to it) but it is just not right to say that being rejected for a job is “stopping” the applicant from earning a living.

    In fact, in so far as a situation might arise where there was only one job in the market, it is far more likely that this is due to government intervention, preventing the jobless setting up for themselves through barriers to entry like regulation.

    The state basically causes and maintains joblessness in its own interests as well as those of its corporate cronies who ant to keep the cost of labour down.

  20. Posted 25/08/2010 at 09:49 | Permalink

    Michael, your starting position was one of Christian morality and you argued that this was the basis of human dignity and hence the need for the state to protect it. However, you now seem to be stating that unless there is a state we will act in a selfish and self-motivated manner at the expense of all others. Where has the sense of a Christian self gone in the face of the ‘barbaric struggle of all against all’. I’m still struggling to find any coherence here.

  21. Posted 25/08/2010 at 11:17 | Permalink

    Being rejected for a job – or a business loan – is indeed “stopping” the applicant from earning a living, at least for today, because in the normal course of things the property rights of others stand in the way of his access to the means of doing so.

    Peter, your point about the state is anwered by the fact that the state is an exigency of man’s social nature, and it has the care of the common good. It must create the conditions which enable everyone to attain their legitimate goals relatively thoroughly and easily. It would have to do so even in the absence of greed and evil.

  22. Posted 26/08/2010 at 15:54 | Permalink

    Michael, it is not “stopping”. You are exhibiting classic Leftist inversion.

    “His profits might fall within that limit to a lower positive value, but if he refuses on that ground to hire me, then he is acting immorally. ”

    In a word, codswallop.

    The employer must have freedom of association and as such the right to DISassociate, i.e. to not employ. Who is to be this judge of what profit the employer can afford? The employer, of course.

    “It must create the conditions which enable everyone to attain their legitimate goals relatively thoroughly and easily”

    The problem here is must+enable. No. The state must remove others from preventing them attempting to attain goals

  23. Posted 26/08/2010 at 16:17 | Permalink

    Tim Carpenter, it’s clear that as a Libertarian you don’t believe that man has a social nature, which is demonstrated by the fact that he can communicate and comes into the world as the offspring of a mother and a father.

    Now, as long as I am refused employment or a business loan and have no productive property of my own, how am I supposed to earn a living?

    And yes, the employer is acting immorrally because he is being greedy.
    Let him and me be each the sovereign judge of his ability to afford to hire me.

    If he doesn’t, then he’s in my way, and I see no reason why I should not treat him as hostile.

  24. Posted 26/08/2010 at 17:23 | Permalink

    Michael, your argument here is entirely arbitrary and based on personal ego. Where is the morality in your argument? You seem to be suggesting that just because you want something you should have it and if no one let you they are greedy, selfish and your enemy.

  25. Posted 26/08/2010 at 19:51 | Permalink

    This is an interesting esoteric debate.

    However, the reality of government is that the fiscal position requires real cuts to services currently provided by government to improve the finances.

    A philosophical debate sums up the quandry: it is easier as it avoids the tough decisions and it is difficult in that it requires the necessary academic study of the references to quote and interpret.

    The current reality is that there are millions of unemployed who struggle making ends meet with social security and millions more of “unfit” unable to get jobs, due to the way that selection of the fittest through recruitment works. Many would love to contribute to positively to the economy.

  26. Posted 27/08/2010 at 10:46 | Permalink

    I completely disagree that the debate is in anyway esoteric. We need to have reasons for how and why we act. Of course, cuts have to be made but they have to be justified and we need to appreciate that they will have long term consequences. The ‘current reality’ has arisen because of past decisions based on particular principles. Sorting things out means we first have to understand them.

    ‘Philosophical debate’, as you call it, does not avoid it anything, rather it serves as a necessary prerequisite for action, otherwise you will tend to end up with the pointless and directionless government we suffered under Heath and Brown.

  27. Posted 27/08/2010 at 11:45 | Permalink

    Peter, it’s not a question of “wanting something”. Everyone not abundantly propertied has a need to work for their living, and that need is legitimate. Are you telling me that, if a person who must either work or starve is reckoned to be surplus to economic requirements, he ought to grit his teeth, set his will in opposition to his instinct for survival and count the sixty days or so it will take him to die?

  28. Posted 27/08/2010 at 11:50 | Permalink

    A philosophical debate is useful, for in that I would include Freedom of Association, the non-aggression axiom, consent and property rights.

    @Michael Petek,

    You are incorrect about myself and other Libertarians, but it is a common, convenient falsehood used by many.

    As for your living, others may assist VOLUNTARILY, you learn new things, lower your price, work for subsistence, try elsewhere.

    The employer is acting Amorally. Who are you or anyone else to declare how much profit they are “allowed”? The conceit. He is not stealing, he is using no force, but you want to and you call them “immoral”?

  29. Posted 27/08/2010 at 12:43 | Permalink

    Michael, I return to my initial point: basing systems on entitlement – and need for that matter – ignores that all resources are currently owned, and so must be taken from someone to aid another. The state has no resources other than those it takes from its citizens.

    Of course, I do not expect people just to sit down and die and why would anyone want that to occur? However, I do not accept your view which seems to be akin to the spoilt child refusing to breathe unless they are indulged. As Tim states, there are many options an individual has before they face the fate you describe.

  30. Posted 27/08/2010 at 16:15 | Permalink

    Ownership of the means of production, whether in industry or agriculture, is just and legitimate if it serves useful work. It becomes illegitimate, however, when it is not utilized or when it serves to impede the work of others, in an effort to gain a profit which is not the result of the overall expansion of work and the wealth of society, but rather is the result of curbing them or of illicit exploitation, speculation or the breaking of solidarity among working people. Ownership of this kind has no justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.”

    (Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 1991, paragraph 43)

  31. Posted 27/08/2010 at 16:16 | Permalink

    “The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace.”

    (Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 1991, paragraph 43, continued).

  32. Posted 27/08/2010 at 16:53 | Permalink

    Michael, thanks for the quotes, but these should not be taken as knock-down arguments any more than any pronouncements Hayek might have made on theology.

    I think most libertarians could agree with the first quote; indeed it could be interpreted as supporting most non-Marxist positions. Your use of the second quote to justify your argument is somewhat weakened by the first 6 words and the idea of an obligation to work. You now need to tell us what this means and at what point the state is obliged to step in because a person cannot fulfil their obligation. Doesn’t the idea of an obligation justify Tim Carpenter’s point about a worker being flexible?

  33. Posted 28/08/2010 at 12:25 | Permalink

    Peter, you raise moral issues and the Pope is as capable as anyone else of addressing them. The moral obligation to work means the obligation to engage in any meritorious and purposeful activity according to conscience. It cannot be socially enforced save where there is a job available which pays a wage realistically capable of supporting a family at a level comfortably in excess of bare subsistence. This is another point of Catholic moral teaching.

    If you don’t ensure that men can readily find work which will enable them to support families, then very many of them will resile from marrying and the community will be less able to reproduce itself and survive.

  34. Posted 28/08/2010 at 15:34 | Permalink

    Michael, yes, Popes are good on morality, but not even takes a quote from them as an authority without question. Your point about moral obligation begs several questions, several of which I have asked you before. In particular who decides what is realistic, comfortable and purposeful? You have consistently refused to engage these questions.

    Your last sentence implies that morality is determined by economic considerations which I don’t think forms part of Catholic moral teaching. Doesn’t the Church argue that marriage has an intrinsic value?

    Forgive me for saying so, but your only consistency is in the confused nature of your arguments.

  35. Posted 28/08/2010 at 20:17 | Permalink

    Moral principles alone are not specific enough to give a conclusive answer to what is realistic and comfortable in every time and place. Evidence-based research can and must supplement these.

    Yes,the Church does teach that marriage has an intrinsic value, and that the bond of marriage is indissoluble save by death. That is why human work must serve and support it. The trouble with secularist capitalism is that it treats human labour as a commodity, which in Catholic teaching it is not.

  36. Posted 28/08/2010 at 20:28 | Permalink


    People have an obligation to survive, but TO THEMSELVES. You cannot bootstrap in obligations upon others off the back of it via extrapolating “rights” from presuming society imposes the obligation. No, the person who needs to furnish the work is the entity obligating them, i.e. themselves. It is called self-responsibility.

    Having a “right to work” is irrational, as are most “rights”. People bandy them instead of “freedoms”. People should have the freedom to seek work or be employed and not be prevented by a third party from doing so, but the “right to work” implies an obligation upon another to furnish it, and that is coercion, and how is coercion moral?

  37. Posted 29/08/2010 at 05:58 | Permalink

    The distinction between a right and a mere freedom is that the legislature may take away a mere liberty at will, by enacting a law useful to the common good. A right is something the legislature cannot take away at all, or else only by a law necessary to some common good, usually any of set of enumerated common goods such as public health, public order, public morals etc.

    The right to work, like any right, is a moral claim which is justifiably translated into a legal one because it belongs to the common good of civil society. The state can impose that duty on an employer, or it can tax the public to discharge that duty itself directly. If you don’t obey a just law you justly get coerced.

  38. Posted 29/08/2010 at 13:27 | Permalink

    A freedom is taken away only by force (”law” or not), while a right is only granted when some law is passed. As the State gives, so it can take away, but if it takes away freedoms from non-aggressive people, even for the “common good”, it is fundamentally illegitimate.

    If “common good” is in conflict with a core freedom, then that “common good” is in error or a fraud. Thus, “freedom of association” trumps “right to work” hands down, no matter how many illegitimate “laws” a corrupt, dysfunctional, authoritarian bunch of gangsters posing as a government enact. Moral claims are subjective, not objective, derived from more fundamental freedoms. Religious morals came later and distorted them.

  39. Posted 29/08/2010 at 13:32 | Permalink

    Michael, what you appear to have just said is that a liberty can be taken away by a legislature to further the common good, but a right cannot unless the legislature passes a law to further the common good, i.e in practical terms there is no difference. In any case, all legislatures can act at will, otherwise they are not, properly speaking able to legislate.

    In our previous posts you have explicitly defined the right to work in individualist terms but now it is a common good, which can be used to override individual rights (as you say in our first paragraph).

    Back to Thomism for beginners I think.

  40. Posted 29/08/2010 at 14:03 | Permalink

    Michael, Rerum Novarum was a political polemic against the threat of socialism. It practically speaking ignores the propensity of the state itself to erect barriers to people working for themselves, which were but little understood and frankly, at the time, a “fringe” pursuit.

    Those barriers continue to exist today, and in many ways have been exacerbated, nor only by the corporate world’s influence over the state and its policies but also through its universal benefits systems that can and do affect peoples’ willingness to work.

    Eradicate those barriers, then we’ll talk about whether we still need to confiscate the property or freedom of employers, which RN also holds sacred.

  41. Posted 29/08/2010 at 16:52 | Permalink

    No, Peter, I said that a mere liberty can be taken away by a law which is useful to the common good. A liberty which is also the object of a right can be taken away only by a law which meets the higher standard of being necessary to the common good. The common good is the ensemble of social conditions which enable individuals, groups and families to attain their legitimate goals relatively thoroughly and easily. The right to work is individually enjoyed, but its protection is a matter of the common good. So is the right to life, otherwise there could be no just law against homicide.

    Jock, Rerum Novarum was about the conditions of the working classes, and the Pope held them to be inhuman.

  42. Posted 29/08/2010 at 18:38 | Permalink

    “Jock, Rerum Novarum was about the conditions of the working classes”

    …in the face of calls for it to be ameliorated by socialist revolution.

  43. Posted 29/08/2010 at 18:47 | Permalink

    Michael, it would be interesting for you to define the distinguish between useful and necessary in any practical sense. In addition, I would question how you can distinguish between a liberty and a right: if the latter is not a freedom to something then what is it?

    And again you refuse to deal with the issue of who makes decisions: just who decides what is the common good? Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and many others thought they were very good at deciding?

  44. Posted 29/08/2010 at 19:53 | Permalink

    Rerum Novarum was the first of what have become known as the ’social encyclicals’. It was a treatment of how the working classes were faring under liberal capitalism. Pope Leo XIII notably declared that a small number of rich men had imposed on the labouring poor a burden scarcely less heavy than that of slavery itself. But he also declared that socialism was of no use to the workers.

    In Divini Redemptoris (1937) Pope Pius XI stated that the State must take every measure necessary to supply employment, particularly for the heads of families and for the young. He had already repeated his condemnation of socialism in Quadragesimo Anno (1931), in terms I shall set out in my next posting.

  45. Posted 29/08/2010 at 19:56 | Permalink

    The Pope’s definition of socialism was set out in Divini Redemptoris, in words to this effect: socialism posits as the chief end of man not the service of God, but the production for public ownership of as much material wealth as possible, as efficiently as possible. It holds that society is not natural to man, but is an artefact of human will and design for the sake of the advantages it brings.

  46. Posted 29/08/2010 at 20:10 | Permalink

    Now, thou who art Peter, for your question. ‘Necessary’ supposes that a legislator would be politically imprudent if he did not legislate for the protection of a public interest opposable to a human right and under clear and present danger of harm. ‘Useful’ does not.

    The distinction between a liberty and a right is that the former is a factual condition of not being under physical, legal or moral constraint. A right is a claim which ought normally to be allowed to succeed in law. Some liberties are the object of right, others not. Some things other than liberties can also be the object of right.

    Next posting . .

  47. Posted 29/08/2010 at 20:13 | Permalink

    Who decides what is the common good? The legitimate authorities in political society. If you cannot live in political society, or you are sufficient for yourself so that you do not have to, you are no part of the city and must therefore be either a beast or a god.

    Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot ran fiefdoms of totalitarian parties and their regimes were essentially lawless and unworthy of being referred to as states.

  48. Posted 30/08/2010 at 09:05 | Permalink


    “So is the right to life, otherwise there could be no just law against homicide”

    This is non-sequitur.

    The Freedom from force or fraud is the basis of laws against homicide. If you have a “right to life”, this bootstraps in a right to be fed, housed, clothed and provided healthcare regardless.

    Also, you cannot base things on subjective terms like “just” or “common good”, let alone trample on freedoms.

    p.s. IIRC Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes had laws and “rights” aplenty, but precious few freedoms.

  49. Posted 30/08/2010 at 09:45 | Permalink

    Michael, my point about the distinction between useful and necessary is that it is absurd to believe that any politician would wish to create such a difference: political action becomes necessary because it is useful, as thinkers such as Schmitt and Strauss would argue. This is important because, as you rightly argue, it is precisely the ‘legitimate authorities’ who determine the common good Incidentally, this contradicts what you argued about the individual’s right to work above).

    And we really ought to remember that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were the legitimate authorities for as long as they survived, and gainsaying that saved no lives.

  50. Posted 30/08/2010 at 13:24 | Permalink

    Tim Carpenter, the basis of the right to life is in the Ten Commandments, and it reads: “Thou shalt not murder.”

    And yes, it can bootstrap in the right to obtain the necessities of life. If a man needs to work in order to do so, then it is murder for a person to cause his death by refusing to employ him, either meaning to cause his death or knowing that it will occur in the ordinary course of events.

    There is nothing subjective about ‘justice’ and ‘commmon good’. These are based on objective morality. If there is no such thing as objective morality, then there is no reason for anyone to respect your liberty or anyone else’s.

  51. Posted 30/08/2010 at 13:30 | Permalink

    Peter, the legitimate authorities in political society determine what is the material common good. This is the judgement which emerges from the application of the formal common good to the facts of a particular case. The formal common good means: ‘the ensemble of social conditions which enable individuals, groups and families to attain their legitimate goals relatively thoroughly and easily.’

    Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were the legitimate authorities in their time, but that doesn’t mean it was wrong to try to overthrow them. They committed crimes of genocide, and the first two also committed aggression. Hy maternal grandfather set out to assassinate Hitler in 1943 or 1944, and rightly.

  52. Posted 30/08/2010 at 18:22 | Permalink

    Michael, I agree with your last point, but it does not detract from the point of legitimacy.

    Interestingly, though, you use the same term – legitimacy – with regard to the common good. What you haven’t done, as tim rightly points out and as I have asked you to several times, if get beyond the subjectivity of your key concepts: for instance, I imagine that many would come up with conflicting ensembles of social condition to adjudicate on what the common good is. Unless, that is, you believe that one particular view should dominate over all others.

  53. Posted 30/08/2010 at 18:23 | Permalink

    Michael, on your use of the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, surely you have cause and effect the wrong way round: we should not kill because of the right to life. Otherwise it would have not moral force or purpose.

  54. Posted 30/08/2010 at 18:48 | Permalink

    Your point is correct, in that there are several different ways in which to realise the common good. And there is nothing merely subjective about my key concepts, because they are based on objective truth. They are subjective to the extent that they are given over to human judgement.

    The commandment “Thou shalt not murder” (Hebrew: “Lo tirtzakh”) is a divine commandment. It means that my duty to God is to refrain from killing you. That duty entails a right of yours in relation to me.

  55. Posted 31/08/2010 at 07:32 | Permalink

    Michael – too much assertion and too little thought. You skip between necessity, utility and divine injunction in an arbitrary manner, seemingly to form an answer to the last response and without any heed for self-contradiction.

    On your last comment, you commit the same error as before: how, when all we have is human judgement, do we distinguish in any practical sense between objective and subjective? Who decides on what is objective truth and how do you decide without the mediation of personal judgement?

  56. Posted 31/08/2010 at 08:31 | Permalink

    All those commandments did is codify and extrapolate existing moral stances, not form their source. As Peter says, you have it the wrong way around.

    I know it bootstraps – my point is that the bootstrapping is illegitimate, as is your irrational extrapolation to say it was murder to not employ someone. The obligation to live is upon the very same individual, not upon others.

    “justice” and “common good” are highly subjective. Some think enforcing the Hijab with violence is for the common good, or the killing of homosexuals or the imprisoning of drug users. Subjective. I do not see much in the way of “objective truth” forming the basis of your assertions.

  57. Posted 31/08/2010 at 10:48 | Permalink

    First, you have to admit that there is such a thing as objective truth, and that reason can discover it by observing things and extrapolating their natures – their essences considered as principles of activity. If you deny that there is any such thing as objective truth, then there can only be what is true for you, which might be different from what is true for me, both irreconcilable with each other and with what is true for one who thinks enforcing the hijab with violence is for the common good.

  58. Posted 31/08/2010 at 11:33 | Permalink

    I am sure there are objective truths, but that does not mean I must accept your version of how they are discovered or established.

  59. Posted 31/08/2010 at 12:45 | Permalink

    If we can’t even agree on method, or even that a simple faculty like observing things can elicit objective truths about things, then we really are in trouble.

    If I observe how human teeth work, I discover that they will usually break if used to chew stones, but rarely if used to chew food. So it follows that teeth are for chewing food, but not for chewing stones.

  60. Posted 31/08/2010 at 13:20 | Permalink


    Observing things MIGHT elicit truths, but is no guarantee, as it is down to interpretation and reasoning. Further, you mention “extrapolate natures – their essences considered as principles of activity” which is quite a different kettle of fish. Your example shows a lack of critical reasoning. Just because teeth do not break in activity X, does not mean they were intended for that purpose. Observing things would mean one sees what is done with teeth in practice. If one is not careful or thorough, one could deduce that teeth were there to smile at people.

  61. Posted 31/08/2010 at 15:18 | Permalink

    Michael, forgive me for saying so, but it really is a bit much for you to criticise Tim on method; you have changed the basis of your argument consistently throughout this thread and have refused to acknowledge any inconsistency. Merely stating something as categorically as possible and then closing one’s eyes to other views is not a methodology. Your last post, for instance, makes the simple error of assuming that normative laws operate in the same way as scientific one, when they clearly do not. All you have done so far is to make a series of (often contradictory) assertions and then refused to engage with criticism.

  62. Posted 31/08/2010 at 16:15 | Permalink

    Peter, you say that normative laws operate in the same way as scientific ones. That sounds like ‘no ought from an is’. Karl H Peschke himself gives the example of teeth and stones and observes that Hume objects that from these facts no definite conclusions can be drawn as to what me morally ought to do. Peschke answers in three steps: (1) The use of things according to their intrinsic laws and purposes guarantees their serviceable and efficient use; (2) The realisation of man’s existential ends is the reason why a purposeful use of beings is demanded – a contrary use will impair these ends; (3) The final answer is the ultimate end of man.

  63. Posted 31/08/2010 at 18:22 | Permalink

    And back round we go again Michael, with you seemingly unable to comprehend how arbitrary your concepts are. I argued that normative laws do not operate like scientific ones: breaking a scientific law disproves it, whilst breaking a normative law calls for some appropriate again, but it does not invalidate the law. And that is why Hume is correct and Peschke wrong on this point. Peschke’s notions of ‘intrinsic’, ‘existential ends’ and ‘ultimate end’ are question-begging and return us to the normative question of who decides and how, a question you seem too hidebound by dogma to engage with.

  64. Posted 31/08/2010 at 19:27 | Permalink

    Science and philosophy are different subject disciplines, if you don’t mind my stating the obvious. Scientific laws are discovered or verified by controlled observation and experiment, and they disclose what is the order in nature. Normative (or moral) laws dictate how rational beihgs ought to act.

    Hume is correct only until we bring in the notion of a Creator (the ultimate ‘is’) from whom alone can conclusively be derived an ‘ought’ insofar as he is the supreme Legislator and Judge.

  65. Posted 31/08/2010 at 21:23 | Permalink

    Michael, state the obvious as much as you like: we must all concentrate on what we are good at. Science and philosophy are indeed different disciplines, but we are trying to discuss the nature of science and the statements one can make as a result and that is properly a philosophical issue.

    Forgive me again, but your last sentence explains your frequent self-contradiction: you start from a particular dogma and then seek to justify it without question. This is the inherent weakness of all theological speculation – it is cannot bear the weight of any analysis of its starting principles and so has to weave a complex web of obfuscation in order to preserve itself.

  66. Posted 01/09/2010 at 05:45 | Permalink

    Peter, why don’t you study the work of Thomas Aquinas? The Summa Theologica is available on line at http://www.newadvent.org

    Not even you would dare write him off as an intellectual lightweight.

  67. Posted 01/09/2010 at 08:56 | Permalink

    Michael, I already have a copy of the ‘Summa Theologica’, thank you, and a tremendous work it is, which carries great historical interest. Aquinas is certainly no lightweight, but nor does he provide the last word on all matters and so quoting him does not end the argument or make one more consistent. As I stated above, Aquinas’s problems, like all theologians, are his base assumptions, not how he reasons from them. Theology by definition starts with its end result and then works backwards to justify them. That is why is so much more limited that other academic disciplines: it always begs the question of what if we don’t believe and can never answer it.

  68. Posted 01/09/2010 at 09:45 | Permalink

    Michael, Hume is only correct until you bring in irrational, unfalsifiable belief, of course.

    Your stance is faith-based and this subjective. It disregards basic freedoms. Legislating those freedoms away does not invalidate them, rather it invalidates the legitimacy of the entity so legislating.

    Nobody is infallible, so if they say things that are fundamentally flawed, then one must reject those things. If they attempt to couch logic in a bed of belief, it must be rejected also, for one cannot build on sand.

  69. Posted 01/09/2010 at 09:56 | Permalink

    Thomas Aquinas was a philosopher as well as a theologian, and his metaphysics is robust even if you strip away those parts of his work which depend on the existence of the fact of divine revelation.

  70. Posted 01/09/2010 at 11:24 | Permalink

    Michael, I completely agree with you on Aquinas, but, if you’ll permit me, that is your problem and not mine. I’m more than happy to see Aquinas as one of the greatest philosophers and I have a lot of time for the modern form of virtue ethics that have been built on his work. Indeed, getting back to the initial point in my blog, such thinking can be used to justify the form of reciprocity I argue should replace entitlements.

    But the problem – for you – is precisely the dependency on divine revelation and the fact that this has led you into continual confusion and contradiction.

  71. Posted 01/09/2010 at 14:35 | Permalink

    Tim and Peter, you’re both on the verge of confusion. Tim, you say that my stance is faith-based and disregards basic freedoms. On the contrary, if you start with the first principle of philosophy: the maxim ‘things exist’, then you can deduce that there is a Creator who makes moral demands on creatures, and you can do so without asserting that there is divine revelation.

    Now, how do you justify, on postmodernist grounds, the proposition that men ought to be left free to do as they will instead of being made to do as they’re told?

  72. Posted 01/09/2010 at 15:12 | Permalink

    Michael, a clever ruse – call someone else confused to hide your own confusion.

    Of course, you can deduce an enormous amount from the premise ‘things exist’, not much of though need be inevitable.

    I’m not sure why postmodernism has suddenly popped up. After all it is yourself, not Tim or me, who has rested your argument on subjective premises and then shifted your ground once you are challenged.

    Perhaps we could get back to the subject of the blog, assuming that is you wish to debate rather than ignore what is being asked of you.

  73. Posted 01/09/2010 at 15:35 | Permalink

    Michael, the only risk of confusion is if we adopt your framing.

    In no way can you rationally go from “things exist”->”Creator”->”moral demands” without massive self-serving presumptions.

    For a start, if a Creator existed for all time, then why not “things”, thereby removing the need for a Creator. Even if a creator existed, who is to say they want moral demands? “demands”?

    I do not have to “justify” why Man should be left free – it is for others to try to justify who has the authority and legitimacy to be the ones who want to tell man to “do as they are told”.

  74. Posted 01/09/2010 at 18:11 | Permalink

    All right,let’s get back to topic: In relation to entitlements: “What matters now is not what one does but the mere fact that one is.”

    What we’ve been doing all this time is arguing about first principles. What one does is the basis of acquired rights. The fact that one is is the basis of natural rights.

    What is the metaphysical basis for the existence of a capacity for earning, and for the existence of an acquired right? And for the existence of natural rights.

  75. Posted 01/09/2010 at 20:55 | Permalink

    Michael, I was criticising this idea not supporting it. My argument was against the idea that one ought to receive a benefit without regard to any conditionality and without regard to the fact that this benefit is derived from the income of others. I feel therefore you have misunderstood my point. To help you I promise not to use irony again (whoops).

    I feel your last two paragraphs are not really back on the topic at all but are an attempt to return to your previous arguments We have been through this already without really getting anywhere.

  76. Posted 02/09/2010 at 05:54 | Permalink

    Ah, now we’re getting to it! Should the receipt of benefit be made conditionality on willingness to work? The answer is affacted by the answer to two other questions.

    (1) Is work a basic right or a good for everyone? In that case it must be guaranteed to everyone irrespective of its commercial profitability or social usefulness.

    (2) Is work the privilege of the productive? If it is, then there is likely to be a contingent of people who are not. Therefore they have no business to be in a workplace and ought not to be expected to work.

  77. Posted 02/09/2010 at 07:15 | Permalink

    Man is born free.

    If that man does not commit force or fraud upon another, they should not be impinged upon. Talk of their “rights” is disingenuous if in so doing you are taking away superior rights to furnish them, and that is what you have been doing. This does not mean Man is subordinate to Mankind, it means Man is subordinate to the prejudices and beliefs of other Men, which is fundamentally illegitimate. Unless there is consent at each individual level, the real term for it is slavery.

    When one talks of Rule of Law and rights therein, that is another matter, for those rights are freedoms from, not a right to. Those rights constrain the State, not obligate another.

  78. Posted 02/09/2010 at 11:02 | Permalink

    1) If work is “a good” – and that is a vague term anyway – it does not follow that it must be guaranteed. It is not a “right” as I have aid time and again, for it would then force others to provide it. However, nobody should “ban” people from working.

    2) Work is not a privilege of the productive nor idleness the expectation of the unproductive. Many people who are unproductive “work” and are “paid”. Do they “earn”? The key is if their earnings are coerced. So, if a private company employs the grandson of the Chairman, so be it, but if a politician spoons in their offspring at a cost to the public purse, I object greatly.

  79. Posted 02/09/2010 at 11:24 | Permalink


    I was interested in the research evidence, used to make the initial commentary on “entitlement and resentment”.

    The assertions made about “people” are quite wide ranging. Are the views expressed a hunch, or is there verifiable factual and numerical information to support them? Who are these “people” exactly? How many of them are there?

    The phrase “eradicate the sense of entitlement” is a great political slogan; implying these “people” are afflicted with some psychological disorder that needs to be cut out.

    Speaking to real “people” from outside the Ivory Tower may enlighten on their real plight and confirm or disprove the hypothesis; even provide enlightened solutions.

  80. Posted 02/09/2010 at 11:27 | Permalink

    Michael, I was merely repeating what I said last week! As to getting somewhere, I fear not because, as Tim has stated, you insist on misusing concepts or indulging in very imprecise language.

    I actually think that you are being more individualist than either Tim or I. You see concepts such as ‘rights’ and ‘good’ as intrinsic qualities rather than relational entities. However, if you see rights as relational they are always competitive and so we need to look at rival claims rather than base any decisions on absolutes which will tend merely to be grasped by the more powerful.

  81. Posted 02/09/2010 at 11:36 | Permalink

    “If that man does not commit force or fraud upon another, they should not be impinged upon.”

    There’s a value judgement if ever there was one. Why should they not be impinged upon?

    Now, suppose you took morals out of it altogether and said: ‘Liberty is the highest good.’ If I must preserve my liberty, then I must obey the law of the state whatever it is. If I break it, I am likely to lose my liberty, as the police usually turn up in numbers and each one is bigger than I am.

  82. Posted 02/09/2010 at 11:39 | Permalink

    If work is neither a right nor a good, then it is a matter of indifference whether people work or not. If people work under a contract then they earn by force of the contract. But why ought their counterparties keep the contracts? If no moral or legal reason can be given, then they do not earn.

  83. Posted 02/09/2010 at 12:41 | Permalink


    It is not a value judgement, but stating the obvious that nobody has legitimate justification as to why people should be so impinged.

    As for your second paragraph, it makes no sense. It has been made clear that “laws” in themselves are not justification, for they could be the result of despotic tyranny. The framing you present is not valid, but incomplete and arbitrary.

    “But why ought their counterparties keep the contracts?” Simple – non aggeession: no force or fraud. Breaking the contract is fraud and indeed a form of theft – theft of the worker’s time and labour.

  84. Posted 02/09/2010 at 13:22 | Permalink

    Still, my point to Michael bears repeating since it didn’t elicit a response from him…

    Of far greater importance than coercing some business into hiring someone they don’t want to because people have some kind of “right to work” is removing as many barriers to entry as possible that prevent what Michael called people with no “productive property” starting something up for themselves.

    Lack of access to capital was identified 160 years ago by the likes of Proudhon and William B Greene as a fundamental factor in leaving so many people dependent on being able to sell their labour services alone to employers and downward pressure on wages as a result.

  85. Posted 02/09/2010 at 14:11 | Permalink

    To JHarris re the evidence for my comments. First, i should admit to the loose use of ‘people’: what i should have said was a general presumption towards. The basis for my argument is the work of many academics such as Murray, Wilson, Marsland, and others who find a general presumption towards entitlement. Likewise politicans such as Gordon Brown and Bill Clinton have actively talked about ‘the entitlement society’. Likewise there is a considerable literature on the culture of resentment. So it is not a hunch, even if it not something that could be tested in the quantitative manner you imply.

  86. Posted 02/09/2010 at 14:17 | Permalink

    To continue in response to JHarris: I explicitly suggest there is a culture of entitlement and resentment and do not see it as a psychological quality. It is a relational problem and not an inner condition. It can be eradicated not by re-education or medication but through altering incentive structures, sanctions and the manner in which benefits and taxes are considered. My point was to suggest – and without any metaphysical intent, despite Michael’s determination to draw me in – that there are two sides to the equation of benefits and not merely the issue of how much individuals receive from the state.

    Sorry for the anonymous post above – I was using another PC this morning.

  87. Posted 02/09/2010 at 16:07 | Permalink

    Let’s assume, Tim, that nobody has legitimate justification as to why people should be so impinged. If morals is removed entirely, then nobody has legitimate justification as to why people should not be so impinged.

    A morals-free universe is one of unrestrained liberty with no opposable claim against impingement founded on anything resembling justice. In other words, it means a free-for-all, the rule of the strongest, in a universe which is nasty, British and short.

  88. Posted 02/09/2010 at 16:33 | Permalink

    I concur with Peter’s comments 3:11 and 3:17 and of support for Jock Coats in the need to dismantle barriers to independent self-employment.

    I would also add that one major factor in making it easy to employ someone is to also make it easy to fire someone. Strong labour laws make employing someone very risky. You end up only employing “dead certs” and taking no risks, for once you have someone, they are hard to get rid of. If one could “take a gamble” on someone, you would see more liquidity in the job markets. You might have the same number of unemployed, but you might find that people remain unemployed for shorter periods and in terms of mental health, that can only be good.

  89. Posted 02/09/2010 at 16:52 | Permalink

    Michael, your segue to removing morals entirely is non-sequitur. Further, we must establish what you consider to be “morals”, for this may well bring us back to subjective ideas and beliefs, not any objective position. I am not going to agree that YOUR idea of morals is essential to even have a concept of legitimacy without your first outlining what you mean by it. I refuse to allow you to sneak your framing of “morals” in as a basis/foundation.

    Nice try. No cigar.

  90. Posted 02/09/2010 at 17:29 | Permalink

    Morals is that set of precepts which tell us what we must and must not do, and which could come only from a Supreme Being who imposes them on us on such terms that we cannot relieve ourselves of the obligations they impose.

    Last month Archbishop Chaput of Denver Colorado gave an address in Slovakia in which he said the following.

    “There is no inherently logical or utilitarian reason why society should respect the rights of the human person. There is even less reason for recognizing the rights of those whose lives impose burdens on others, as is the case with the child in the womb, the terminally ill, or the physically or mentally disabled.”


  91. Posted 02/09/2010 at 18:19 | Permalink

    Michael, no there are very logical and utilitarian reasons for respecting persons, especially as it is done by other persons and not society as such, and this should be obvious merely by looking at how people actually behave. To suggest that it is entirely due to a Supreme Being takes us back to theological fallacy of prior presumption I tried, and failed, to get you to engage with a day or so ago. You really are very stubborn in your dogmatic certainties. Do you never feel the need to think for yourself?

  92. Posted 03/09/2010 at 05:20 | Permalink

    The blog name is the blog name of Peter, but the voice is the voice of Ayn Rand.

  93. Posted 03/09/2010 at 08:59 | Permalink

    Michael, I hope not. I have very little time for Rand as a person and still less for as a thinker. Her problem was that she sought to develop a theology instead of a philosophy. I’m on the side of Edmund Burke and the little platoons.

  94. Posted 03/09/2010 at 09:26 | Permalink

    Ayn Rand? Nonsense.

    Try and name a logical system (e.g. consequentialist) that does not have justification for the non-aggression principle.

    In fact cold hard logic and survival supports the non-aggression principle (and property rights that spring logically for it) for an animal that needs to co-operate and divide labour to survive and thrive. At the core is the concept of consent and voluntary collectivism. The Welfare State is not a voluntary collectivist concept, for there is no opt-out. It is imposed upon a geographic monopoly. It is Totalitarian in nature.

  95. Posted 03/09/2010 at 10:58 | Permalink

    Tim, rights cannot spring from anything but a moral or legal order. Otherwise, non-aggression is whatever the strongest say it is. We aren’t animals but people possessed of reason.

    Totalitarian? Au contraire! Totalitarian is whatever claims the whole person, in the internal and the external forum, as though it were a religion or a secularist world-view, and at the same time coerces that total claim through the agency of the state. If only Hans Buchheim’s book on the subject were still in print.

  96. Posted 04/09/2010 at 06:53 | Permalink

    Tim, I’m not sure it is helpful referring to the welfare state as totalitarianism. It dramatically overstates the true situation and isn’t helpful.

    In any case, there are many relations that are not voluntary, or cease to be so after a particular decision is made. My wife and I chose to have children but once they arrived we cannot renege on our responsibilities.

    Indeed, thinking about it, the relationship between parent and child is one of the few areas where entitlements properly exist and commitment is unconditional. But this is because of the nature of the bond that exists, and which does not exist in many (or any) other relationships.

  97. Posted 04/09/2010 at 12:15 | Permalink


    I am not talking about rights and again you try and bring in your version of “morals”. We ARE animals, animals which can reason.

    and @Peter, yes, I did say the Welfare State is Totalitarian IN NATURE. If I am wrong, say where people can opt out of paying into employment insurance, health insurance or education. They cannot. One is forced not only to pay, but to pay into a single scheme under pain of imprisonment. It needs to be said as many people seem to be in denial of this fact and use pretty words as a figleaf.

    I am not suggesting we remove all the welfare state, but end the State monopoly (and no, that does not mean “privatisation”).

  98. Posted 04/09/2010 at 12:24 | Permalink

    Further, we see the “cost to the NHS” being used to control peoples’ lifestyles, we see hounding of private schools and even more, home educators. The description Michael gives of Totalitarianism is not that far off from how some hold the Welfare State, the NHS and State schooling in the domains they operate.

    Peter, I agree, there is a responsibility once you have children, but that is a consequence of one having them, i.e. directly one’s own actions, not the consequence of another’s.

  99. Posted 04/09/2010 at 21:03 | Permalink

    Tim, the sense of personal responsibility for one’s choices, be it over children or anything else, is precisely my point. But still, the relation ceases to be voluntary, and in case of the children it never is.

    On totalitarianism, I just think that this language is too excessive for what is a fairly mild organisation within what is an open democratic society. We should reserve these labels for when it really counts. in addition, it allows those who don’t agree with a libertarian position to dismiss your views as extreme. I’m not sure that the ability to opt out is a definition of totalitarianism in any case: it is far too inclusive a definition.

  100. Posted 04/09/2010 at 21:55 | Permalink

    Thesis: ‘The Welfare State is totalitarian in nature because one must pay into it on pain of imprisonment’.

    Therefore (1) national defence, police services etc are totalitarian in nature because people must pay taxes on pain of imprisonment.

    Therefore (2) the rule of law is totalitarian in nature, because many laws bind on pain of imprisonment.

    Therefore (3) a free society must of necessity be lawless.

  101. Posted 05/09/2010 at 03:11 | Permalink

    Hey, Michael, now you’re beginning to get it…

    (1) Yes, and also that they are monopolistic and therefore inefficient.

    (2) sort of: not so much the “rule of law” but the fact that a ruling group makes whatever laws it more or less pleases, and then gets (1) to enforce them. Law, or what is “just” can be “discovered” in a Common Law fashion, we don’t need “legislation”.

    (3) not at all: see (2) above.

    It strikes me that Christianity must have little confidence in its founder and the rectitude of its moral guidance if it relies on state enforcement rather than moral persuasion to uphold what is right and just.

  102. Posted 05/09/2010 at 06:43 | Permalink

    Michael, “Thesis…”. Incorrect. That is taking one dimension and, frankly, I believe you know it. The rest of your post is therefore irrelevant. But,

    a) as you come to mention it, I do consider taxes for defence etc. as “necessary evils”, not “good”. It is important to keep them so labelled, as things that are “good” tend to get justification to increase, and “necessary evils” ask us to continually review and try to minimise, which is the correct stance to take IMHO, even of these things.

    b) your point 2 is interesting. Many laws should not be laws at all, such as on drug use. Why imprison when treatment is needed. You make my point and this is quite separate from Rule of Law.

  103. Posted 05/09/2010 at 06:50 | Permalink

    Peter, Yes, the relation does, and I agree, not forgetting one enters into it (normally) voluntarily and directly due to personal action, NOT an obligation that is created by the personal actions of strangers.

    As for the Welfare State, I know the term is extreme, but I would welcome suggestions for an organisation and supporters that wishes to do what it does in the way it does. Supporters wish to have one way, no escape, punishment and ostracism for non-conformity or evasion from it. The problem we have is that people DO think, incorrectly, that the Welfare State (in terms of health and edu) is only cuddly and benign, mild. No, it is not mild. Ask a home educator if you do not believe me.

  104. Posted 05/09/2010 at 11:11 | Permalink

    Tim, I take your point, but all the concepts we are discussing here are relative ones and so it will inevitably depend on the position we are in. One’s view of welfare depends on the viable alternatives, our knowledge of them and our experience of what we have now. Hence, it will appear, rightly or wrongly, that the status quo is normal and any change from it extreme.

    As a housing researcher I frequently come across, and have done for years, people on the left who talk of ‘the housing crisis’ in the UK. My response is that what is happening now in Pakistan or Darfur is a crisis: we have a little local difficulties. Isn’t your view of the welfare state the same?

  105. Posted 05/09/2010 at 14:41 | Permalink

    Jock, no known civilised society has ever been without at least some legislation. The wicked are subject to the law by suffering its coercive power, but the virtuous and the just obey it with a good will and not because they are forced to do so. The Statute of Merton is the oldest Act of Parliament on record. By the time it was enacted the common law had come to full development. But it was only law on the basis of the King’s authority, for it was he who appointed the judges.

  106. Posted 05/09/2010 at 14:43 | Permalink

    It’s not that Christianity has little confidence in its founder and its moral order to if it relies on state enforcement rather than moral persuasion to uphold what is right and just. The state has to do this anyway, for its own reasons.

    What Christianity has confidence in is the fact that very many people are personally wicked and liable to disobey just laws if they can get away with it.

  107. Posted 05/09/2010 at 14:48 | Permalink

    Tim, you regard taxes for defence etc. as “necessary evils”, not “good”. But why are they necessary? Your unarticulated major premiss seems to be that man is not by nature Aristotle’s political animal, that left to himself he lives better outside political society than within it, or is sufficient for himself so that he has no need to. That means he must be either a beast or a god.

  108. Posted 06/09/2010 at 02:23 | Permalink

    Where did the king derive his authority from, Michael? Oh yes, conquest, then set about monopolising “the law” as the powerful are wont to do. What a great statute to start with – one that set an example for most legislation coming after it, even to the present day – one that created privilege for the few and usurped the natural copyhold rights of the many, one which, effectively, led directly to the c17 civil war between armed enclosers (”Roundheads”) and the one king since Merton who had attempted to stop and reverse enclosures that were hurting ordinary people.

    Even Magna Carta was only required in reality because of the monopolisation of authority.

  109. Posted 06/09/2010 at 02:28 | Permalink

    As Herbert Spencer quoted in The Sins of the Legislators:

    “from the Statute of Merton (20 Henry III) to the end of 1872, there had been passed 18,110 public Acts; of which he estimated that four-fifths had been wholly or partially repealed….We forget that before laws are abolished they have generally been inflicting evils more or less serious; some for a few years, some for tens of years, some for centuries. Change your vague idea of a bad law into a definite idea of it as an agency operating on people’s lives, and you see that it means so much of pain, so much of illness, so much of mortality.”

  110. Posted 06/09/2010 at 09:44 | Permalink

    What’s this anti-libertarian talk of natural rights, copyhold or otherwise?

  111. Posted 06/09/2010 at 09:53 | Permalink

    This is getting really interesting! Is a form of libertarianism tenable which is based only on voluntary acts and agreements? Or would it not be better to base libertarianism on the idea of personal responsibility in an imperfect world in which there are a multitude of social arrangements most of which predate us and so cannot ever be said to be voluntary? We need to get away from the ‘desert island’ perfectionist view. There has never not been society, obligation and therefore coercion.

  112. Posted 06/09/2010 at 10:37 | Permalink

    Sorry, for the anonymous posting again – using a different PC. Why won’t technology take responsibility for itself?

  113. Posted 06/09/2010 at 16:34 | Permalink

    Peter, technology won’t take responsibility for itself, because it’s libertarian and anarchic.

    Comme plusieurs des bloggers sur cette page!

  114. Posted 06/09/2010 at 17:41 | Permalink

    Peter (@5/9 12:11), as you say, any change from the status quo is “extreme”, but we have to move people from it, to open their eyes. Correct naming is very important, and it has to be said that some people have a Totalitarian view of the Welfare State and act to make it so. “monopoly” does not cover it properly, for we talk of a de facto monopoly that has dissenters hounded. What word to use? I am open to suggestions!

  115. Posted 06/09/2010 at 17:53 | Permalink

    Michael (@5/9 3:41), defending people from force or fraud is not “coercion” just as self defence is not assault. Use of “virtuous” and “just” are subjective (again).

    (@ 3:43) “very many people”? “wicked”? Well, doing things if they can get away with it, yes I would say that can happen, so deterrence indeed plays a part, as in the likelihood of being caught, for that is establishing consequence of ones actions, which is in line with Libertarian views on self-responsibility.

  116. Posted 06/09/2010 at 18:09 | Permalink

    Michael (@5/9 3:48) While States abroad exist that are illiberal, we are at risk from States threatening the property rights and liberties of the citizenry. While we still have a State, that State cannot be legitimate unless it at least (and preferably only) performs protection of the citizens from threats against their freedoms from without and within. Libertarians are not isolated individuals, but against coercive/forced collectivism, as in not seeing them as “good”.

  117. Posted 06/09/2010 at 18:13 | Permalink

    @Peter “There has never not been society, obligation and therefore coercion”

    One could say there has never not been slavery, but we fight that and wish to see an end to it. However, yes, we need to look at where we are now and where we can go from here, so this is why I am Minarchist, but, in knowing we should aim for better, only consider it at best a necessary evil, striving to minimise and never falling back on considering the State “good”, for that drags us back to “more good is better”, the Statist mind.

  118. Posted 06/09/2010 at 18:16 | Permalink

    OK, last one – sorry for batch posting, I have been tied up all day.

    “technology won’t take responsibility for itself, because it’s libertarian and anarchic.”

    Then you do not understand “Libertarian”. Maybe you confuse with “libertine”.

    Libertarianism is, at the core, about self-responsibility and not abdication to some group.

  119. Posted 06/09/2010 at 20:15 | Permalink

    How can you be ‘responsible’ if there is no such thing as justice except as a figment of someone’s subjective imagination?

    ‘Responsible’ means ‘answerable to’. But answerable in terms of what? Of having done right and therefore merited a reward? Of having done wrong and therefore merited punishment?

  120. Posted 07/09/2010 at 06:40 | Permalink

    Tim, my point is that there can never not be the state, in one form or another. If we accept that individual freedom is a social relation – hence ‘freedom from … ‘ – there must be some means of allowing this. You can refer to this as social order, if you like, but it does not negate the fact that social relations have to be embedded in some form of order for them to be operational.

    You suggest that ‘we have to move people’ and ‘to open their eyes’: but can we really force people to be libertarian against their will? Do we really believe that people are deluded and prey to some sort of false consciousness? How can a libertarian seriously claim to know what’s best for others?

  121. Posted 07/09/2010 at 08:18 | Permalink

    Responsible to oneself and to others in terms of non-aggression. There is nothing subjective about not taking, not coercing, not defrauding.

    I said “justice”, in the form you use it, is subjective, not that there is no such thing as “justice”. As Jock rightly says, once you get monopoly power with the ability to define what is “just”, Rule of Law can often have nothing to do with it. Rule of Law is quite separate from Rule BY Laws.

  122. Posted 07/09/2010 at 12:25 | Permalink

    Peter, I am pragmatic. Right now, there has to be a State. If and when we can do without it, then that is another issue. Can we do without it? I doubt it, for it would need an environment without external threats, but I keep an open mind.

    As for opening eyes, that does not mean people must change their minds or any force is involved, just that they can see alternatives and are not be automatically scared of them.

    Many people are brainwashed into thinking, for example, that like cannot exist without the NHS as we have it today, without State monopolies on education, without the whole apparatus of the State. They are scared of even thinking or hearing alternatives and get hostile.

  123. Posted 07/09/2010 at 12:37 | Permalink

    You can certainly be responsible to yourself in terms of being able to judge your own actions according to conscience.But why ought conscience to be obeyed anyway?

    ‘Justice’ is about who owes what to whom, and why.

  124. Posted 07/09/2010 at 13:52 | Permalink

    (cont from 1:25) Further, and I am a tad surprised you can suggest such a thing, Libertarianism is not about “knowing what is best for others” as in forcing that upon people, for, under Libertarianism, people can organise into voluntary collectives or whatever they wish as long as they do not force others. It is, in fact, the ABSENCE of “knowing (forcing) what is best for others”. If I did not think it was “best” for all, I would not believe in it, but as to forcing others who do not force me? No way.

  125. Posted 07/09/2010 at 16:02 | Permalink

    Tim, you pull me for the phrase ‘knowing what is best for others’, but if you do not believe that your ideas on the structure of society are not better than anything else, why do you subscribe to them? And how serious are they?

    This is an issue that has troubled me ever since I read Jan Narveson’s ‘The Libertarian Idea’ a decade or so ago. You believe it is the best, and argue for it, but if you let others then do as they will and they create a slave-based society, does that mean that libertarian is wrong or the method one sets about achieving it is wrong, or indeed might it not be both?

  126. Posted 08/09/2010 at 07:17 | Permalink


    The term “knowing what is best” is usually tied to forcing that upon others, for most people in politics do not respect individual sovereignty and personal freedoms. They have the conceit that “they know” and then set about enforcing it, including attacking those who oppose or dissent. In fact you (accidentally?) used the term in that way, with the implication that Libertarians would force their world view upon others.

    I do not “know”, but I “think I know”. Do you understand the difference? I am aware of the limitations, that people may want to organise themselves in their own ways. The less State monopoly, the more space people have to do so.


  127. Posted 08/09/2010 at 07:29 | Permalink


    I do believe it is better than anything else, and it is very serious.

    Libertarianism is not just a way, it is the absence of a single way. It is the opposite of Totalitarianism and Authoritarianism.

    As for slavery, that would violate the non-aggression principle and the concept of Freedom of Association (or in this case, dis-Association) and would be against the Rule of Law.

  128. Posted 08/09/2010 at 12:18 | Permalink

    Tim, I presume you meant by your last sentence that you would force those who created a slave-based society within your libertarian framework to desist from their chosen way of social organisation. Or would you just expect them to desist when they understood the reason, sorry Reason, behind your framework? In any case, why would people not choose to follow the way you think you know is best?

    Also what about those who voluntarily established monopolies within your ideal framework – what would that violate? Indeed how long is the list of violations?

  129. Posted 08/09/2010 at 12:29 | Permalink

    Tim, another point: all these principles, concepts and rules – when did libertarianism become so categorical? Not a ‘a’ but ‘the’. If you think you know might they not better be referred to as ‘possible’ concepts and ‘tentative’ rules. All these capital letters don’t exude much doubt.

    As for libertarianism not being ‘just a way but the absence of a single way’, this sounds rather like cod Confucianism: as the Chinese sage might have said: ‘libertarianism is the sound of only those hands clapping that want to’.

  130. Posted 08/09/2010 at 13:46 | Permalink


    It is not their chosen way that is the point, but that they coerce and use force on others. Presuming a Minarchist State and that the social organisation was within the geographical domain, then, of course, the State steps in to maintain Rule of Law.

    A voluntary monopoly exists only if no other entity decides to compete. The question does not arise at the point something becomes a monopoly, but of how it creates and maintains that monopoly. If it uses force, coercion, theft, fraud etc, then it being a monopoly is not the crux, it is an organisation conducting those acts. If they try to have a monopoly and a competitor enters the field and overtakes them – tough.

  131. Posted 08/09/2010 at 14:01 | Permalink

    “a” vs “the”. I am not the author or pedlar of a set of rules. I just use this and capitals to isolate these concepts from regular words, such as “Rule of Law” as opposed to rule of law, so to alert the reader to the fact that it is a concept (or a range of differing but similar concepts).

    As to clapping hands, you miss the point so let me just make it clear again – Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism. You should know what they are, and so when one wants to control, Libertarianism does not. When one pushes a single way, Libertarianism does not, and so plurality can occur.

  132. Posted 08/09/2010 at 15:01 | Permalink

    Tim, I think you will find that many political theories will set themselves up as the opposites of totalitarianism and authoritarianism. But then is there really only one form of these? Are all the totalitarian regimes of the past identical and defined as the opposite of libertarianism?

    And incidentally, why should I have to know something in your libertarian utopia? Why cannot I be willfully ignorant of the true yet varied path to enlightenment you have placed before us?

    Re: hand clapping: I understand what you are trying to say. My point is that talking of the ‘way’ you make libertarianism sound like a hippy cult.

  133. Posted 08/09/2010 at 15:55 | Permalink


    re Totalitarianism. I never said they were identical nor an exact opposite. Really, do I have to explain this?

    re: knowing. No, you do not “have” to know anything. Never said you did, nor is it a utopia – Minarchism is pragmatic, a compromise of necessary evils and not held as a preferred option by all Libertarians either. Your enlightenment is your own responsibility – nobody can do that for you.

    re: “the way”. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Is THAT suggesting a “hippy cult”? No.

  134. Posted 08/09/2010 at 16:22 | Permalink

    Tim, it must be such a strain to be so misunderstood, you poor thing. Might I suggest you look up the word ‘Irony’ in a dictionary. Try p for ‘Patronising’ whilst you’ve got it open as well. Note the use of capitals to signify that these are concepts and not just words (perhaps Michael could join us for a discussion on nominalism?).

    My main – and serious – point is that is you are very aggressive about your libertarianism, in all its non-aggressive glory, and very definitive and what would and would not be allowed. You may not have have used the words ‘exact opposite’ but you certainly did not choose to qualify your terms.

    And a skinned cat is still dead, one way or another.

  135. Posted 08/09/2010 at 17:11 | Permalink

    It isn’t a matter of ‘knowing what is best for others’ but of judging in political prudence what it is well to do for the good of all.

    Now, what’s the question about nominalism?

  136. Posted 08/09/2010 at 19:30 | Permalink

    Michael, welcome back! I thought you could bring a scholastic view to our dispute over the designation of concepts by capitals, as in ‘Rule of Law’ instead of ‘rule of law’. As Richard Weaver would have it, the decline of civilisation started with William of Occam’s rejection of the universals of scholastic realism (did Roosevelt know when he planned the New Deal?). Tim would have us return to this Platonic ideal in his search for definitive concepts which allow us choose how we skin our cats.

    Alternatively we could talk about entitlements and the nature of welfare.

  137. Posted 08/09/2010 at 21:42 | Permalink

    “you poor thing”

    Do you want to be taken seriously, Peter? Your attitude over the last few exchanges has been odd to say the least and of no credit to you. Your motive, if you have one, is unclear.

    In regards to reactive self-defence, I am not “aggressive”*, but assertive, and I do not apologise for it. You seem to not like that, as well as my fundamental reasons I used to explain a position which you then describe as definitive in a pejorative way. You were earlier complaining (without evidence) I was not serious. Make up your mind.

    * I hope you are not going to waste our time going on about my use of quotations…

  138. Posted 09/09/2010 at 06:52 | Permalink

    Tim, forgive me if you don’t appreciate my attitude, but I find the use of irony quite effective in bringing out the contradictions of your rather evangelical attitude to what is supposed to a philosophy of liberty. There is undoubtedly an underlying intolerance in some strands of libertarian thought and it is legitimate to bring this contradiction out when you manifest it.

    Whether you take me seriously or not is a matter of complete indifference, and how on earth are you capable of determining what does me credit or not? I suggest you stick to debate and leave my personal development to those whom I respect.

  139. Posted 09/09/2010 at 07:26 | Permalink

    Furthermore, Tim, why do you feel the need to control the terms of this debate? Why the need to dictate to others how they should discuss issues with you? Is your time so precious, or might it be because your arguments are rather more open to critique than you are happy with? In any case it demonstrates an intolerance to others that cannot be consistent with liberty.

    As to wasting your time, no one is forcing you to contribute. Changing the world is a full time job, so if you have better things to do …

  140. Posted 10/09/2010 at 11:26 | Permalink


    It is not wise to use irony (and hypocrisy) via such media as this as it can backfire. It cam

    Interested to know what contradictions you think you have somehow exposed by your acting in such a way. In fact you appeared to divert your energy to attack not what was being said but who was saying it and how. That is normally a clear sign of failure to land a glove.

    As I have already said, you are responsible for your personal development, so why continue to talk as if I am trying to be? Just because you declare not to care what others say does not give you the right to attempt to silence comment or reaction.

  141. Posted 10/09/2010 at 12:03 | Permalink

    Further, I have no intention of controlling the terms of the debate. If anything you seem to be attempting that with your behaviour. You appear want to have your cake and eat it – talking to people in such a way, then getting all outraged and supercilious when they fail to take it totally without complaint. Fine. Now I know a little of your MO.

    Further, intolerance and liberty are not mutually exclusive. I am not tolerant of the intolerant, nor am I tolerant of my freedoms being impinged, nor my property taken. Was that comment more of your “irony” or is it that you need to understand more about Libertarianism?

    BTW Your use of pejorative terms such as evangelical are unsubstantiated.

  142. Posted 10/09/2010 at 13:39 | Permalink

    Tim, why do you think I wish to silence you? I have no control over this blog and you know that. And making ad hominem comments is hardly an example of intellectual security. Whether you seek to control the debate or not is immaterial – I doubt if you are capable of it on the evidence of your comments so far.

    And please, i am in no way outraged by your little murmurings. I find your evangelicalism, and then your denial of it, rather amusing as well as a symptom of an inability to listen to others rather than seek to preach to them.

    Finally, to be clear and without any attempt at irony: talk about the issue in the blog or shut up!

  143. Posted 10/09/2010 at 14:50 | Permalink

    Criticising behaviour is not ad hominem, Peter. Contrast with your “I doubt if you are capable of it” sneer – and you doubt others’ intellectual security? Oh dear.

    That and

    “Finally, to be clear and without any attempt at irony: talk about the issue in the blog or shut up!”

    it seems you are in need of taking your own advice, Peter. We are off topic because your odd meanderings which all seemed to kick off once I pointed out issues in your arguments or phrasing. I also note you neglect to back up your claims of inconsistency but continue in with your pugnacious (and, ironically, insecure) attitude. You appear to be exhibiting psychological projection, dear boy.

    So, back on topic…

  144. Posted 10/09/2010 at 14:50 | Permalink

    The problem with using the State as the vehicle is that it is very difficult or even impossible to remove the concept of entitlement, let alone the feeling of it. A major dimension is the very fact that the State is a monopoly distributing other peoples’ money and so should not act in an arbitrary manner. It clearly cannot make its own personal decisions based on emotion or feelings and must restrain subjective, personal reactions of officers. So it lays down rules. Rules are not very good as an arbiter of attitude, behaviour and, for example, the corresponding sense of deserving or undeserving.

  145. Posted 10/09/2010 at 18:24 | Permalink

    Tim, ‘mea culpa’, and all that.

    Now onwards: On your second comment, I agree with you on the difficulty of getting rid of a sense of entitlement once the state provides, but what would be interesting is to speculate on whether state provision necessarily leads to a culture of entitlement, or whether state involvement derives as a result of the culture already being there, which therefore offers an incentive to a certain type of political organisation. I would also state that once the culture is present it doesn’t much matter what rules the state might use to allocate resources.

  146. Posted 13/09/2010 at 15:56 | Permalink


    I suspect there is latent but dormant sense in the nature of mankind. It appears to have grown just as any other positive feedback loop does. Slowly at first, then as each new benefit is added the sense grows and the expectation and demand for more, ruthlessly exploited by those building a client state.

    The creation of across the board, universal benefits and the ever more pervasive nature of the State have exacerbated it IMHO. Before, benefits needed to be applied for. With the NHS, one was “born with the right”, before, the State was hardly involved, now it is hard to avoid it.

  147. Posted 13/09/2010 at 16:04 | Permalink

    So you have the latent force in Mankind, the desire to exploit it by certain groups and the difficulty for the State to operate without creating legal entitlements when it “tries to help people”.

    When you have help via true charity, there is no legal entitlement, plus the subconscious knowledge that if you misbehave, get greedy or upset your benefactors, the flow may dry up.

    Thus, for me the route appears to be to end State entitlement and so return it to a true, consensual charitable situation, attenuating the feedback loop by a very significant degree.

    However, getting from here to there is not straightforward. Proxies such as insurance may have merit.

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